Picking Wiki Software

Dokuwikijpeg5When I first started looking at open-source Wikis to put up on my company site as a group wiki, Google sent me to a site called WikiMatrix.  WikiMatrix compares and lists all available Wiki software.  It makes it easy for Wiki developers to list their Wiki app on the site and offers a comparison of all the Wikis on the site.  At the time of this writing, the site lists 137 different Wiki software applications available.  Ok, now what do I do. I'm certainly not going to download 137 software applications and compare them.  Let's break this down.

There are commercial Wikis and open-source Wikis.  I prefer open-source, because I'm not worried about support, and of course, PHP based so I can do my own support. Since this is for a local group, I'm only worried about English, not international.  And I can do the install on our server, I don't need a hosted server.  Using the compare wizard on the site we're down to 29 Wikis. That's still a lot.

Next, I took a look at the most popular Wikis  in the list of 29.  The more popular PHP Wikis,  the more developers developing extra functionality, and the more answers to questions.  The most popular Wikis are DokuWiki, MediaWiki, and Tiki Wiki CMS Groupware.  These three are, also, the most popular Wikis of all 137 Wikis on the web.

There is a major difference between each one.  I watched a video on the web about TikiWiki CMS Groupware.  The TikiWiki is postured as an all-inclusive Wiki that is updated every six months.  The plus was the bundled  functionality as one unit.  The bundled functionality is up to date with each release.  The other two Wikis increased their functionality with plugins or extensions to the core Wiki.

I downloaded TikiWiki several times.  I tried the latest 10.0 release, loaded it twice, and then the 9.3 release.  None of them installed properly.  I wrote an email to let TikiWiki know of the problem.  I got back a tracking page, which made me log into the site, after I registered on the site.  After registering, sending back the email that I was indeed who I said I was, I was told that the tracking page was not available to users of the site.  In short, I came away with the impression that TikiWiki was a platform where no one knew what the other person was doing.  From that my impression was that TikiWiki would probably have a lot of unsolved issues.  I tossed it.

We're down to two: DokuWiki and MediaWiki.  Two fundamentality different Wikis that are the most popular Wikis on the Web.  I downloaded them both.  What's the difference?   Mostly, the way they store files.  There is basically two methods of storing Wiki information.  Wikis that store their information in text files that you can edit and read, and those that store their information in a database.  DokuWiki uses files, and MediaWiki uses a database.

I cut my teeth on DokuWiki.  MediaWiki is the wiki software used by Wikipedia.  My first thought was, I didn't need a gorilla, and thus was initially scared off.  I was attracked to the idea of openning a file in an editor to edit a page without going through the web page.

What I discovered was that Wikis are weird, and different than any other software I've used.  Since Wikis are supposed to be used by everyone and from a Web browser, I thought I'd be using HTML markup with CSS for display. Wrong.  First, Wikis have their own special markup syntax that supposedly makes them easier to use.  I don't know about that.  It's another markup language to learn to me.

Second, I'm use to a text editor, editing, and saving a file, if I want to create a page I open up the editor and create the page and save it.  Wikis have a slightly different paradigm that makes you shift your thinking.  The only way to create a new page is to edit an existing page, and put a link to the new page in the existing page, then you click on that link, and edit the new page, that seems backward to me, but thanks to DokuWiki I finally got it.  Thus every page in a Wiki is always linked to another page.

Having looked at both Wikis, DokuWiki is ideal for smaller groups.  It has the same functionality as MediaWiki, and pretty much the same syntax to learn.  You can install plugins to increase the DokuWiki functionality and templates for different themes.  This is a full functional Wiki with a lot of features available from a mulitude of plugins, and one I recommend for smaller groups.

The files in DokuWiki can be edited directly on the server in an editor, but in the end that was what turned me to MediaWiki.  In playing with DokuWiki, it was easy to delete a file on the server which made it to easy to break a link and in the end a fairly easy way to mess a site up.

mediawikMediaWiki uses the same basic syntax as DokuWiki.  It had much more functionality packaged in the core, like 9 themes, you can easily switch.  There is an extensive list of extensions to increase functionality, similar to DokuWiki's plugins.   It also is twice the size of DokuWiki checking in at about 65Mb, where DokuWiki was about 35MB.

MediaWiki seemed to be a much more professional looking software application from the initial install.  Everything in MediaWiki is stored in a database, and thus needs to be edited from the browser, making it harder to mess up the links by editing files directly on the server.   Since my group consists of a bunch of savvy developers with access to the server, the better choice, and the one I ended up with was MediaWiki.

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