In a 2005 interview with the BBC, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee referred to the rise of wikis, or “editable Web spaces,” as meeting his original vision for a readable and writable communications medium. The success of such a medium was already apparent, as Wikipedia (only four years old at the time) had already surpassed 750,000 English language articles and today ranks among the highest trafficked websites on the planet.
A major reason for the popularity of wiki-based websites is the facility in which pages can be created, maintained and organized even by individuals with no programming experience. Lowering the technical barrier to entry increases the opportunity for like-minded individuals to work together with the common goal of creating high-quality documentation such as that hosted by Novell, corporate intranets such as Intel’s Intelpedia, and community-driven tutorials such as those found at DIYInfo.org.
If you’re interested in deploying a Wiki for your own purposes, you’re in luck because a great number of commercial and open source solutions are at your disposal. In this article I’ll introduce some of the most popular solutions, providing you with some background from which you can continue your investigation.
While you may know that Wikipedia is a project fostered by the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation, you may not be aware that the very same software used to power Wikipedia is available as an open source project! It’s called Mediawiki, PHP-based software that supports both MySQL and PostgreSQL. Keep in mind that this software is identical to that used on Wikipedia, meaning all of the Wikipedia-specific features are also available to you, including the familiar editing interface, ability to hold background discussions about the content of a particular page, and complete control over user editing privileges.
At the same time, you’re free to change the look and feel to suit your particular needs, and you can disable many undesirable features. For more information about what’s possible, see the Mediawiki’s detailed FAQ.
TWiki‘s history dates back to 1998. It has been under active development ever since with a major release occurring almost annually. Of all the wiki products introduced in this article, TWiki strikes me as particularly promising for organizations seeking features that surpass the mere ability to create and manage simple Web pages. For example, TWiki enables you to create and integrate wiki-based applications such as a contact database, FAQ, and meeting minute manager. Additionally, Twiki’s corporate sponsor Twiki, Inc. offers commercial training, support and hosting solutions.
DokuWiki is perhaps the easiest of the 10 wiki solutions discussed here to install and maintain, primarily because all wiki data is stored in text files rather than a database. Despite this convenience, DokuWiki is an incredibly powerful solution particularly for small businesses and personal users, offering among other features page revisioning, namespacing, and the ability to upload images and other multimedia files.
Instiki is a Ruby on Rails-based wiki solution created by none other than Rails’ creator David Heinemeier Hansson. In addition to offering all of the standard wiki features, Instiki offers some pretty unique features including the ability to easily compress and transfer the entire wiki to another location, view RSS feeds of recently revised pages, and perhaps most interestingly, integrate with LaTeX as demonstrated here .
If you’d like to run a topical Wiki but avoid the hassle of installing and maintaining wiki software, check out Wikia, a free hosted wiki solution used by over 150,000 communities around the globe. In fact, you might use Wikia to first verify that a wiki covering your desired topic doesn’t already exist. For instance, Wikia’s Star Wars-inspired Wookiepedia has amassed almost 80,000 articles. If you’re a Call of Duty gamer, check out the Call of Duty community wiki, which although barely three years old already hosts almost 2,500 articles.
Creating a Wikia-hosted wiki is free and takes only a few moments. To do so, head over to the registration page. If you do create a new wiki, be sure to tell us about it in the comments!
MoinMoin is a Python-driven wiki that has gained widespread acceptance among the open source development community, used by projects such as Ubuntu and Apache to power their mammoth documentation efforts, the latter of which manages more than 70 wikis targeting each of the major Apache projects.
PmWiki is another PHP-based wiki, which offers all of the usual features of a popular wiki solution. However, it stands out because of the ability to customize the look and feel of a wiki using the “theming” approach commonly embraced by blogging solutions and CMS platforms. At the time of this writing hundreds of downloadable themes were available via the PmWiki website, in addition to a theme gallery.
Although numerous commercial Wiki products are available on the market today, Atlassian’s Confluence product appears to outshine all competitors, having won multiple prominent awards and boasting a list of more than 8,000 users in almost 100 countries. Whether you’d like to integrate your wiki with SharePoint and Microsoft Office, manage multiple blogs, or incorporate social features such as the ability to follow fellow wiki contributors, Confluence seems to offer it all. See this list for a complete breakdown of available options.
Although licensing costs for larger deployments can be significant, small companies can get started using Confluence for a mere $10. If you’re running an open source project or non-profit organization, free licenses are available. See the pricing list for a complete breakdown.
If you’re a Java developer and are looking for a capable Java-driven wiki solution, JAMWiki will probably fit the bill perfectly. With the stated goal of feature parity with the aforementioned Mediawiki project, JAMWiki also offers a number of features useful for Java developers, including support for almost any J2EE application server, the ability to integrate with Spring Security, and a native HyperSQL database.
10. ScrewTurn Wiki
So far I’ve covered wikis written in PHP, Python, Ruby and Java, leaving some of you wondering whether anything is available for .NET users. Indeed there is, and it’s called ScrewTurn Wiki. Built atop ASP.NET 3.5 and capable of integrating with Active Directory and SQL Server, ScrewTurn Wiki is a dual-licensed project, meaning you have the option of using its open source version or purchasing a commercial license which includes one month of email support and the ability to use the software under terms not otherwise dictated by the GPLv2 license. Although relatively new compared to the other projects introduced in this article, the interface already supports almost a dozen languages, and a number of official and third-party plugins have been released.
Keep in mind that this list barely scratches the surface of what’s available. See a much more complete list over at (where else?) Wikipedia. Are you currently using a wiki solution at your home, school, or place of business? If so, tell us about your experience in the comments!
About the Author
Jason Gilmore is founder of the publishing and consulting firm WJGilmore.com. He also is the author of several popular books including “Easy PHP Websites with the Zend Framework”, “Easy PayPal with PHP”, and “Beginning PHP and MySQL, Fourth Edition”. Follow him on Twitter at @wjgilmore.