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What's a Wiki?
If you need to create a website to organize a large amount of information, especially if you're working with a team or want to allow visitors to edit or add to that information, then using wiki software is the way to go. Wiki software allows you to create websites that can be collaboratively edited from the front end.
Wiki software is a type of content management system (CMS) for websites. You may have heard of other popular CMSes like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla. Wiki software is similar to those in that it allows you to add, edit, and otherwise manage all your website's text, images, layout, and other content.
What sets wiki software apart from other content management systems is that it enables your website visitors to also add and edit content to your website, without having to login to a backend or dashboard. Depending on the software you use and your settings, you can allow anyone to edit your site, or require visitors to sign up for accounts before they contribute, or only allow members you have approved to contribute.
Wiki Software Uses
Wikipedia is probably the most famous wiki-type website on the web, but there are many other possible applications of wiki software besides creating online encyclopedias.
Wiki software is also often used for:
- Company intranets
- Fan websites for books, TV shows, and other works of fiction etc.
- Schools, colleges, and universities
- Research centers
- Software or game FAQs, knowledgebases, and help centers
- Collaborative websites with information on specialized topics such as gardening or genealogy
- Catalogues of places, software, recipes, music, groups, organizations, etc.
Any time you want to collaboratively collect and organize information on a website, no matter what the topic or audience, wiki software can help.
Popular Wiki Software
The most well-known wiki software available is MediaWiki, which was originally developed for Wikipedia but is now available as a free and open source download.
However, there are many other wiki software systems available, each with their own features, strengths, and weaknesses.
MediaWiki is most commonly used for public wikis meant to be read and edited by a broad audience. It's designed to be scalable for very large websites using multiple servers, and has a small core which is extendable via thousands of available extensions. While MediaWiki can be extended to serve as a forum or a blog, it's not designed for those uses specifically, and may not be the best software for websites that need them. It is also designed to make all information public, so it isn't the best choice if you need specific permissions for different users.
PhpWiki is another free wiki software application - actually the first one ever written in PHP. While it has a basic, limited core, it's also extendable using plugins. While similar to MediaWiki, it isn't as popular, so it may be difficult to find community support.
DokuWiki is also a PHP-based wiki application, meant for creating documentation by developer teams, workgroups, and small companies. It shares many of the basic features of MediaWiki, but doesn't require a database (it stores information in plain text files instead). It also has built in access controls and authentication connectors that make building an enterprise or private wiki easier. It's extendable via plugins, and you can also offer a “bounty” to request any new features you would like to be added.
PmWikiM is a free, open source alternative to MediaWiki. It's designed to be simple and easy to use by those with little technical expertise. There's no need for a database, since PmWiki stores all its information in plain text files. However, you can set it to use a MySQL or SQLite database via plugins. PmWiki also has a template feature so you can easily change the look of your website.
Which Wiki Software Should You Use?
The wiki software that's right for you will depend on your goals and needs for your website.
While MediaWiki is the defacto standard because it's so well-known, it is primarily developed specifically for use on Wikipedia, and may not be a suitable option for your website. MediaWiki was designed to be just a public wiki, not an all-in-one CMS. If you need other features such as a blog or forum, you might want to use a more general CMS. MediaWiki also may not be suitable for private or enterprise wikis, because it doesn't offer many options for customizing permission levels.
If you're looking for a simple, direct alternative to MediaWiki, DokuWiki is a popular choice with a healthy community for support and development. PmWiki is also a light, simple application that may be a good choice for those with little technical expertise.