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I've recently joined a new lab; an experimental physics group of ~30 people, consisting of postdocs and PhDs and a few PI's. All of these people are using/sharing/rotating between a number of setups, machines, fabrication techniques, and so on. From what I've gathered the way information about these things is exchanged is mostly horizontal; the new PhDs learn from those who have already been there for a while, and they themselves learned from those who have already been gone for a few years. In my opinion, this way of learning leads to a lot of lost expertise over the years (PhD cycles), or at the very least to a lot of inefficient re-discovering of what was already known at some point.

I therefore thought it would be a good idea (not my own of course, it was already done like this in my previous group and I assume it to be common practice in many places) to start a wiki-type environment for our lab. A place to collect knowledge of the different setups (manuals, wiring diagrams, tips and tricks when encountering issues), fabrication recipes, maybe even administrative steps to take when a student enters or leaves the lab. This is not an exhaustive list by any means of course.

My question was if anyone here has any experience with this, in terms of how to set something up and what good practices would be. It definitely does not have to be free if that means better privacy and features.

This question Good practices with lab wikis? touches on it a little, but that's all I could find. That's probably also because the question is perhaps a little offtopic; setting up a wiki is perhaps not the most academia related question one could come up with, but I do feel like because it is only to be used in the academic setting some of you might have experience and insight I wouldn't get somewhere else. So if anyone has any experience with this, or any tips on how to get started, that'd be much appreciated.

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    I suggest you don't worry about the technical side until you deal with the social side. The wiki will languish in irrelevance unless you can get people on board with using it. – Jack Aidley Mar 18 '18 at 17:56
  • The social side I've got covered! Everyone I've talked to is enthousiastic about it and willing to write pages, although only time will tell if they remain so. – user129412 Mar 20 '18 at 20:11
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We use wikidot which is free and has several features if you ask for an educational status, which is given for research and education purposes (see here).

Once you set up the wiki, I suggest putting some initial effort into creating the layout and some basic content in each section. Then, I find that the most difficult part is to get people to add new content - basically the same problem as documenting lab work or code. This is why I personally assign people tasks of writing to the wiki, and then it gets done (usually).

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    From the looks of it this is a great suggestion! I'll have to look into it a little bit more as our group also has some corporate interests (quite the legal/organisational beehive to be honest), but I think this is a great starting point. As for the most difficult part being getting people to contribute, this is true for sure. I'm going to gather a group of 3 or 4 students who were very much in favor of this idea when I discussed it with them and start making a number of basic pages and how-to's, making it as low effort as possible for others to add something. – user129412 Mar 18 '18 at 14:27
  • And indeed, assigning people is also a good idea. I won't go for that from day 1 as it is good to have the illusion that people will contribute on their own, but in practice that's rarely the case. – user129412 Mar 18 '18 at 14:28
  • There are other possibilities such as Basecamp (basecamp.com/pricing) but I use it via an educational package... – Solar Mike Mar 18 '18 at 16:17

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