Wiki of the Month February 2011
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Our Brant is a local-history wiki created by the County of Brant Public Library, meant to make it as easy as possible for local residents to collaborate on historical information about the County of Brant, Ontario, and to share memories about the past. The site was created as a response to the lack of a centralized online resource for collaboration on local history topics in the County. It targets local historians and genealogists as users, and is advertised on the Library's websites and through its physical branches.
Our Brant is hosted on the wiki farm Wikia. It currently uses the Semantic MediaWiki and Semantic Forms extensions, with plans to add support for Semantic Maps in the future.
Who uses it?
Our Brant is primarily used by genealogists, local historians, and others interested in the history of the County of Brant. It has a small, growing core of registered users and contributors. In addition, due to the site's unusual niche, there are a number of contributors who prefer to submit content on paper to be incorporated into the wiki by Library staff. A majority of the site's users are new to wikis and to uploading content to the internet, so a major focus of development has been on enhancing ease of use and reducing the amount of work a user has to perform in order to contribute content and make it findable.
Semantic MediaWiki and Semantic Forms were originally selected in order to help simplify the traditional wiki editing interface. Following the example of Placeography, the interface was designed to use structured forms for as many types of pages as possible, using inline documentation to help guide users who are unfamiliar with the wiki process in creating pages. SMW use has expanded significantly since then; it is now used for all of the site's browse and search features in order to create a consistent site structure without requiring extra work from users.
The goal of SMW use is to remain as transparent to the user as possible, while enabling querying and sorting of wiki pages.
The core of the site is the collection of local history articles: personal memories, along with pages on famous local people, locations, and others. Each of these pages is created by a specific form with several structured properties per page. Due to the geographic basis of the site, each page is associated with one or more communities within the County. The page for that community is then made up largely of queries to create lists of pages by subject which concern that community.
SMW is also used for Our Brant's cemetery database. The Library has a collection of cemetery records which are being indexed on Our Brant using SMW. Each burial record is entered into the wiki as its own page, with all facts stored as semantic properties. Those properties are used in queries to enhance results - for instance, every burial record has a "potential family members" entry which lists spouses, children, and other potential relatives based on data retrieved from other graves in the database. Semantic Forms, combined with SMW, is also used to create a user-friendly search engine which acts as a front end to SMW queries.