How to Choose the Best Wiki for Your Project

Learning About Wiki Software

wiki software

What You'll Learn

Interested in launching your own wiki?

Whether your wiki is for a hobby or for team collaboration, you have plenty of options for software. Wiki software is remarkable for its ease of use and powerful features.

In this article, you'll learn what some of the best wiki software options are.

We'll look at their standout features and how they compare. You'll also learn about excellent free options as well as enterprise solutions. Furthermore, you'll learn how to navigate web hosting considerations that may come into play.

Ready? Let's get started!

What is a Wiki Software?

What is Wiki Software and Web Hosting?

If you have a large amount of information that needs to be accessible to and editable by a group of people, you might be considering some type of Wiki software implementation.

If so, what do you need to launch your own Wiki? What do you need in terms of web hosting?

What is a Wiki?

If you have ever used WordPress, Drupal, or Magento, then you know what a content management system (CMS) is.

Wikis are also content management systems — as its name implies, the goal of a CMS is to manage your content in a way that makes it usable for people.

A large dump of files, for example, is not particularly useful, especially if no one can find what they need when they need it.

How Customizable are Wiki Designs and Structures?

More importantly, though, is the front-end/client-side website that comes with most Wiki software.

You are free to design your website however you'd like, but more importantly, using this interface, anyone with the appropriate rights can edit the content contained in the Wiki.

Wikis do not tend to be static resources that can only be edited by a select few (though you can certainly implement something using this model). Rather, Wikis are dynamic collections of docs that evolve over time.

why use a wiki

What are Wikis Used For?

One of the more popular websites on the internet is Wikipedia, which is a user-curated, user-edited series of encyclopedia articles hosted using a Wiki. Whenever you are creating a Wiki, you are essentially creating your own Wikipedia (just on a smaller scale).


Journalism, as a wiki? Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, speaks about his newest venture: WikiTribune. Find out about it now.

Typical Functions for a Wiki

Some uses for Wiki software include:

  • Storing documents for a school- or work-based project accessible to those who are working on the project
  • Sharing a company's human resources manual for access by all employees with the company
  • Collecting information from a group of individuals who share something in common (such as restaurant reviews from people who live in a particular city)
  • Fan websites for games (both video and tabletop), books, movies, or TV shows

The possibilities are endless!

What is the Best Wiki for My Needs?

The best Wiki engine for you depends on your purpose.

Some questions for you to consider as you review the options available will be covered below.

Questions to Ask Before Committing to a Wiki

The last thing you want to do is to go with a Wiki software without doing any background work.

These are the questions you should bear in mind:

  • Are you using this for personal reasons or for professional reasons?
  • Does the Wiki software come with the features and functionality you need?
  • Does the Wiki software come with the security features you need (IP address-based bans, blacklists, port controls, and so on)? Enterprise teams often have stricter requirements in this regard.
  • How easy is the Wiki software to use?
  • Do you need an all-in-one solution (or a solution that is as close to the all-in-one model as possible)?
  • What is your budget?
  • How comfortable are you with setting up Wiki software? Do you want something over which you have complete control, or are you looking for something that will have all the major decisions made for you, such as design?

In order to ensure you don't waste hours of your time on an unsuitable Wiki, it's worth doing research first.

Wiki Software Options

There are many different Wiki options out there, so which ones are worth your time and which ones are not?

It can be tough to narrow down the list of available options, so below, we cover some options we think you should definitely consider when deciding on the right Wiki option for you.

We've got both self-hosted options, as well as software-as-a-service (SaaS) options.

self-hosted wiki options

Self-Hosted Wiki Software Options

As you read through the options we present below, you will notice that all are open source (and are therefore free Wikis).

However, the downside to this is that you are responsible for getting the Wiki up and running and making it available to the world via the internet.

Most importantly, this means that you will need to seek out the web hosting (and other infrastructure) needed to serve your Wiki.

Here are a few Wiki software platforms:

  • DokuWiki
  • Matterwiki
  • MediaWiki
  • PhpWiki
  • PmWiki

Depending on the Wiki software you choose and the web hosting provider you use, installation could be as simple as clicking just a few buttons (in some cases, it may even be a single button) or it could be a labor-intensive process involving lots of file transfers and manual configuration.

DokuWiki

DokuWiki is a PHP-based Wiki engine that is lightweight in its demand for system resources and does not require a back-end database (all files are stored in plain text).

Currently, DokuWiki supports over 50 languages, is device independent (meaning it is accessible regardless of the computer or mobile device you are using), and is open source and free to use.

dokuwiki homepage
DokuWiki is versatile and easy to use. Browse the DokuWiki site to see the plethora of tutorials and how-tos.

DokuWiki's clean, readable syntax is similar to MediaWiki's (see below for additional information about MediaWiki), and though this option is intended for software documentation purposes, it can be used by those needing to share a large amount of text-based content.

Maintenance, Backup, and Extensions

Maintaining and backing up DokuWiki, as well as integrating it with other apps, is fairly easy in DokuWiki.

Furthermore, the product ships with access controls and authentication connectors so that it can be used in certain Enterprise settings.

However, IP address-based bans, which is typically a built-in feature, can be added to DokuWiki using a plugin. To customize DokuWiki, there are a large number of extensions and plugins you can integrate and use with your setup.

Matterwiki

Matterwiki specifically designed for use by small teams.

It stores each article that it has under a topic.

The article, in addition to the content itself, contains information on who made changes, as well as what changes were made and when.

notion wiki
This screenshot shows an example of a Matterwiki wiki.

Is Matterwiki Easy to Use?

When editing Matterwiki articles, users do so use a simple WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, so you do not need to learn any type of markdown or other formatting languages to use Matterwiki fully.

The Matterwiki technology stack includes a Node.js API, a React.js front-end, and a Sqlite3 database.

The Node.js API makes it easy for you to integrate your Wiki with your app or blog.

MediaWiki

MediaWiki is another open source Wiki option written in PHP. Originally built for use with Wikipedia, MediaWiki is now also used by several other Wikimedia Foundation projects, including Wiktionary and Wikimedia Commons.

MediaWiki is designed to be highly scalable, comes with more than 900 configuration settings, and over 2000 extensions that change existing features (as well as add new ones).

If you need a Wiki that can handle even complex projects that see high levels of traffic, you cannot go wrong with MediaWiki.

mediawiki
MediaWiki offers an abundance of resources to help you get started.

How Private is My Content?

The biggest caveat to using MediaWiki software, however, is its public nature. MediaWiki's contents are designed to be highly visible.

If you need a Wiki that protects your content from unauthorized access, MediaWiki may not contain sufficient access control features for you.

However, you do get public displays of user IP addresses, so people using the Wiki are identifiable.

PhpWiki

PhpWiki is the open source implementation of Wiki Wiki Web (which itself was the first available Wiki option). It is written in PHP, and generally speaking, it is used to edit and format paper books for publication. Users can make edits to existing pages using an HTML form.

5 other PhpWiki software features include:

  1. Support for multiple storage backends
  2. Dynamic hyperlinking
  3. Themes for visual customization
  4. Scripts, for changes to the behavior of the Wiki
  5. Access control

PmWiki

PmWiki that looks and function like normal web pages.

However, each page has an Edit link that lets your users modify existing pages and add new pages to the website using basic editing rules.

Your users do not need to know or use any HTML or CSS. Access control lets you set permissions on who is allowed to edit your pages and who is not.

You can set permissions based on the page itself, a group of pages, or the website itself, and you can maintain a "blacklist" of users who cannot access your Wiki based on IP address.

What Control Do I Have as an Admin?

Whoever has site administrator privileges can change the appearance and functions of a PmWiki site using skins and HTML templates.

You can either make your own or download a pre-made skin that you would then modify.

PmWiki ships only with essential features, but if you want to customize your implementation and add additional features, there are hundreds of extensions (which PmWiki calls recipes) available from the PmWiki Cookbook.

saas wikis

Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Options

Are you not interested in doing the legwork required to set up a Wiki? Regardless of whether its time or knowledge that you do not have, you can rest easy since there are plenty of great software-as-a-service (SaaS) Wiki options available.

The biggest downside to the SaaS options is the cost — you are trading convenience for a monthly fee (typically determined based on the number of users you have).

However, this does mean that you do not have to worry about setting up your Wiki; everything is ready for you to use as-is.

The following software is best as SaaS Wikis:

  • Atlassian
  • Notion
  • SharePoint
  • SlimWiki
  • Wikia

What are Wiki Farms?

When researching, you might come across the term "wiki farm." This refers to a server (or an array of servers) that offer users the tools they need to get up and running with a Wiki. Wiki farms can be commercial options or not.

Technically speaking, the SaaS options we describe below could be described as Wiki farms, though (as you'll see), they tend to be much more.

Atlassian Confluence

Confluence that is designed to act as the single source of truth for a given team or organization.

Popular with many technology/software startups, Confluence is gaining traction elsewhere as well.


Curious about Confluence? This 2-minute video provides a quick overview.

With Confluence, you can store more than just text-based files — in addition to things like meeting notes, project plans, or product requirements, you can include dynamic, multimedia files such as audio files and video clips.

Further Notable Features of Atlassian

Other useful features, especially if you are working with large teams, include:

  • Robust feedback features so that you can collaborate with ease (and so you do not have to spend time searching email or chat threads for a decision).
  • Organization features that work for even the largest corporations, and support for mobile devices and on-the-go work.

You'll also get Wiki admin features like access management, version control (so that you know who changed what and when), and templates to create beautiful docs for your organization.

Need more? There is sure to be an add-on for whatever it is you need.

Notion

Notion. Rather than act simply as a Wiki, Notion is something you can use to manage all types of documentation.

For example, you can use Notion to consolidate your files into three categories:

  • Docs: for your files in Google Drive, Quip, Dropbox Paper, and so on
  • Wikis: if your organization uses multiple Wikis or content management systems (such as Confluence, GitHub Wiki, or WordPress core)
  • Tasks: if your organization uses multiple productivity apps (such as Trello, Basecamp, or Asana)

notion wiki
Notion offers a free version of its collaborative wiki product.

Is Notion Ideal for Team Management?

Notion claims that it, along with its Slack integration, is "all you need to run a team."

Things you can create include:

  • Task boards
  • Design specs
  • Knowledgebase
  • Coding docs
  • Team Handbook
  • Roadmaps

Everything in Notion is organized by teams, and editing content is done via drag-and-drop interfaces.

SharePoint

Microsoft's SharePoint software does not brand itself as a Wiki option, but it is indeed a robust, full-featured content management and storage system for documents.

It has been in existence for a long time, and with Microsoft's backing, there is little you cannot do with this product.

SharePoint is available as a cloud-based service (SharePoint Online) or as a software suite you install locally (SharePoint Server).

Should I Opt-In for Sharepoint Online?

When opting for SharePoint Online, there are several SharePoint plans from which you can choose.

Generally, you choose your plan based on whether you are a small or a mid-sized business or an enterprise-level corporation.

Depending on the option you choose, you'll get a differing set of features (with the latter options getting you additional security features for your SharePoint implementation).

SharePoint Server takes its cues from SharePoint Online when it comes to how it runs on whatever infrastructure you provide (yes, as an on-premises solution, you are responsible for providing for everything SharePoint might need).

SlimWiki

SlimWiki is a simple, beautiful Wiki software solution for teams designed to minimize the friction from generating content.

slimwiki example
Slimwiki provides an easy-to-edit, attractive template for wikis. You can embed photos and video and alter the layout. There's a free version that gives you up to 1 GB of storage. (Image via WhoIsHostingThis.com)

SlimWiki like beautiful layouts (that are professionally designed) and typography, drag and drops placement for your files and media, and page history, so you can see all changes made to a given page, as well as who made the changes and when.

Admin-wise, SlimWiki ships with data security and backup features, access management, and back-end optimizations so that everything runs as fluidly as possible for your users.

SlimWiki works well on desktops, laptops, and mobile devices like smartphones and tablets thanks to its responsive design.

Wikia

Wikia (which is short for FANDOM powered by Wikia) is a Wiki hosting service that is free of charge to use (it earns revenue from advertising and sold content).

The basis of Wikia is MediaWikia, which powers the communities that together comprise Wikia.

Each community specializes in a particular subject or theme, with the most common interest begin pop fiction franchises of books, films, games, and so on.

Wikia is just one of many options out there that cater to a specific audience — if you want a Wiki for a niche field, you are likely to find one.

choosing wiki web host

Choosing a Wiki Hosting Provider

If you decide to go with a self-hosted option, what should you look for in a Wiki hosting provider?

If you have already chosen the hosting option that you want to use, check to see if the Wiki hosting plan you have chosen meets the minimum server requirements for your software.

Luckily, Wiki options tend to not be resource-intensive, heavy applications, so you should be able to find an option that meets the requirements with ease.

Easy-Installation and Cost

There are some hosting providers that offer one-click installation for certain Wikis.

If you can find a provider that meets your needs and offers this option, your setup process will likely be much easier and go smoother.

Cost is certainly something to keep in mind — many self-hosted Wikis are free of charge, which means that you can spend more (if you want) on your Wiki hosting.

However, that does not mean you have to break the bank when it comes to purchasing hosting.

Security of the Host and Wiki Software

Security-related issues are something you will want to keep your eye on.

Though you will have administrative access from the back-end of the server, a lot of changes will occur on the front-end.

You will want to make sure that your Wiki hosting option is capable of handling security requirements for both.

In addition to access control and the like offered by the Wiki, check out things like IP address protection, SSL certificates, and the use of the HTTPS protocol.

Scalability of the Software via the Host

Finally, scalability is important for Wiki hosting — what do you want to do when your Wiki grows?

Do you want to simply switch plans with your existing host, or are you willing to move to a completely new host?

Starting with a VPS hosting plan or the dedicated server might be overkill for a lot of people, but if you are looking to grow early and quickly, it might be worth it (especially if it means you do not have to change hosting providers).

wiki addons and integrations

Helpful Add-Ons and Integrations for Your Wiki

One of the biggest perks of using Wikis is their capability to integrate with other tools you might be using, such as Slack or WordPress.

Here are some of the things you can do with such integrations.

For Slack Users

SlimWiki is a simple, beautiful Wiki for teams that come with a Slack integration. The Slack integration allows you to search your Wiki pages or create new pages using the /wiki command.

The Notion integration with Slack allows you to publish all notifications generated by Notion to Slack. Your teammates can now see that someone has updated a page, created new pages, and so on simply by checking the appropriate Slack channels.

The Slack Connector for Confluence Cloud allows Confluence users to keep their teammates informed using Slack channels.

You can set up notifications to be pushed to Slack whenever pages are created or updated, blogs are published, or comments left on articles.

For WordPress Users

It might seem a bit strange to integrate a Wiki (which is essentially additional software) into a content management system, but if you are in need of additional organization, you can add the Yada Wiki or Encyclopedia / Glossary / Wiki plugins to your WordPress implementation.

There are several ways this integration can be done.

For example, Yada Wiki is more like a sub-organization system for your WordPress Site, while Encyclopedia / Glossary / Wiki expands the organization features built-in to your WordPress site.

wp wiki tooltip
The popular WP WordPress Tooltip plugin has a 4.5-star rating from users.

Finally, if you have a Wiki and a WordPress site, there may be plugins that allow you to integrate the two. For example, there's the WP Wiki Tooltip plugin that adds explanatory tooltips that display content from a MediaWiki installation.

Summary

Wikis are a great way to manage a large amount of content, especially in the context of a team-based setting.

There are many ways to get Wiki software up and running, and in this article, we covered the options available to you, as well as their pros and cons.

Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the primary purpose of using wiki software?

    Most people use this software as a means of organizing information, either for public or private use.

    Furthermore, it allows others, such as the general public or a particular group, to add information or make changes.

    The ability to edit on the front end, as well as the back end, makes this type of software unique.

  • What is the best example of a website using wiki software?

    Since its launch in 2001, Wikipedia has continued to grow, making it the top example of a website using wiki software. This website contains millions of pages of information, all of which can be edited by anybody at any time.

  • Is wiki software only useful for websites that provide public information?

    No. Despite the fact that a wiki based website can be public, such as Wikipedia, many companies use this type of software for internal use.

    It gives employees a place to share and edit information, all without the need for complex communication and a back end system.

  • What are some other uses for wiki software?

    In addition to private companies, others that rely on this type of software include colleges and universities, research centers, fan websites, and catalogs.

  • What are the most commonly installed wiki software applications?

    There are many types of wiki software to consider, with some of the most popular including: MediaWiki, PmWikiM, DokuWiki, and PhpWiki. These may be among the most popular wiki software applications, but there are others to consider.

  • How much does it cost to use this type of software?

    It depends on the application you select. There are both free and paid options. Free versions do not typically have as many features as those with a fee, however, they may offer more than enough to meet the needs of the admin and users.

  • Which wiki software should you install and use?

    There is no right or wrong answer to this question, as each one offers a unique experience along with powerful features.

    The best thing you can do is compare the pros, cons, features, and reviews of each one. This will allow you to better understand what the software offers and how it will fit in with what you are trying to accomplish.

  • What are the most important features of wiki software?

    Not everyone is interested in the same experience from wiki software, but there are many features that are important to most people.

    These include but are not limited to: all in one content management system, blog functionality, forum functionality, and editing capabilities.

  • Are there any extensions and add-ons that can make wiki software more powerful?

    Yes. This depends on the software you are using, but most have extensions and add-ons that provide additional functionality. This allows for more customization, ensuring that the software meets the needs of each user.

  • What type of support is available for wiki software?

    This is determined by the type of assistance you require.

    If you have questions about downloading and installing, your hosting company may be able to provide support.

    For questions regarding technical aspects, how to use the software, and features, the software maker is the best place to start.

    Many companies provide users with access to a support forum, user guides, and other documentation.

  • What is the process of installing wiki software through a hosting account?

    Some hosting companies offer one click installation of wiki software which allows the user to get started quickly and efficiently, without any technical knowledge.

    If this is not available, you will be required to download and install the program on your own.

  • What are the server requirements for running wiki software?

    Varying from one software application to the next, you should first understand the requirements before attempting to download.

    Once you have a clear idea of the server requirements, you can consult with your hosting company to determine if your plan is compatible.

  • What are the security issues associated with wiki software?

    Just the same as any software, choosing a secure application is of utmost important.

    With wiki software, even though admins have the ability to work on the back end, most of the changes are done on the front end.

    Even so, these sites can be the target of hackers, so choosing a secure option is ideal.

  • What is the best way to deal with growth?

    Your wiki-powered website may grow over time.

    When choosing wiki software, find an application that can handle your growth requirements to ensure that you can continue to add users and content as you see fit, without being forced to make a change to another provider.

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