Best Free Online Wiki Announced!

my_documents_thumb1(Part 7 of 7) For several weeks I have explored and shared both the Enjoyable and Disappointing of free, online wikis from the most popular to a couple of up-and-comers.

These highlights have consisted of the positives as well as negatives, the latter of which will hopefully be addressed by each respective wiki. Before I announce the best wiki, I want to first touch on those areas, the “to do” items, that represent some of the most important and helpful changes for current and potential users of these wikis.

A few of the points below were previously mentioned when discussing a particular wiki’s Disappointing elements. I only mention them again, to emphasize the significance of these items, as more than things that should be seen as To Do, but are more accurately represented as Must Do’s.

Wikia’s To Do

  • 00 wikia_home Reducing the sense of information overload and page clutter, will go a long way toward improving the overall Wikia User eXperience (UX). With so many choices, so much content, numerous ads, and an incoherent visual flow, one is forced to spend an inordinate amount of time scanning pages to find desired actions and navigation choices.
  • Expand the type of authority and control a user can have over their created wiki. If someone can be a wiki administrator, then, as administrator, they should be able to decide which edits are allowed to remain, and by whom those edits can be made. Furthermore, authority should allow for a variety of access permissions for its members, as well as the ability for the wiki owner to CHOOSE whether or not to have it be part of the larger wiki community or exist as a private, secure wiki.
  • WYSIWYG. I know that a user interface that allows for WYSIWYG editing of pages is in the works and becoming partially available on Wikia, but its full implementation is an absolute requirement in today’s wiki landscape.

Wetpaint’s To Do

  • wetpaint Wetpaint presents a very well refined and enjoyable User eXperience (UX) with the need to smooth out some rough edges…
    • Any good wiki eventually develops a high level of traffic and, more notably, content changes. The ‘What’s New’ dashboard provides for a high level of access to everything going on within the wiki over the last 30 days. Wiki users should be able to both (a) receive wiki change information by email, with full change details (what was added, what was removed), and (b) subscribe to site-wide changes or to specific sub-sections of the wiki hierarchy.
    • The entire wiki can be easily exported for local editing and storage. Wetpaint should also allow for the re-importing of all, or part, of the previously exported content, thereby allowing offline editing of the wiki.
    • Wetpaint has a social-consumer orientation. With the inclusion of productivity widgets (e.g. table of contents), Wetpaint can easily expand its attractiveness to a broader market.

PBwiki’s To Do

  • 00-pbwiki-homepage PBwiki provides robust functionality for both editing wiki pages as well viewing those changes. However, it still maintains parts that can be identified as needing improvement…
    • Improve the visual representation of content changes. For example, when showing changes that have occurred within a table, provide cues as to which rows and columns were altered.
    • PBwiki comes with a variety of useful wiki page templates; displayed in list form, the templates are useless to anyone who does not already know the appearance and function of each. Allowing for inline previewing of these templates when creating new pages would enhance the User eXperience (UX)
    • When renaming a page, a user should not be penalized if that page is linked to by many other wiki pages. Renaming of a page should automatically result in the seamless updating of all relevant links.
    • Beyond the occasional formatting problems encountered within the WYSIWYG editor, there are further issues surrounding the area of usability that warrant attention, most notably with respect to the editing of tables. When selecting multiple cells of a table and then proceeding to change the text color, highlighting, or other formatting is applied, all of the selected cells should be affected, not just the first of the selected cells.
  • Wiki comments, just as occurs with created and modified pages, should generate, and be included in, email alerts to users. Furthermore, the users should be able to receive the comments independent of content changes and be able to submit replies that will appear within the appropriate wiki page comment thread. (update: as of today, comments can now be received via email)

Google Sites’ To Do

  • 00-google-sites-homepage Google Sites allow for viewing the change history of most content pages, except their special, and very useful, List Pages. List Pages should be treated like all other pages of content and have a browsable change history of adds, deletes, and other modifications.
  • Creating and using tables is a way to implement a historically trackable version of List Pages. However, various table options, such as ‘clear format’ can result in broken formatting throughout the wiki page. Also, the table form factor should be compatible with the page layouts (i.e. not break) that it is permitted to be used within, e.g., multi-column layouts.
  • While allowing for the changing of a Title of a page, but not the URL/filename can have its benefits, these benefits do not outweigh the ability to rename the page. There are many strong exemplary cases, such as where the content of the page no longer fits with its name or where there exists a typo within the page name.
  • TOS! Terms of Service (TOS), previously mentioned as an Undesirable, must change before people can believe a Google Site private wiki is actually private. This is a top To Do item and an absolute requirement before anyone can create a private Google Site and have the requisite trust and confidence in this product.

Versionate’s To Do

  • 00-homepage Having a more customizable homepage, allowing for a standard editable wiki page, file-folder interface, or some combination of the two, would go a long way in reducing the learning curve associated with their unique experience.
  • Versionate should go beyond their basic RSS feed for change notifications. Allow for email updates, showing the before and after differences, of all wiki changes.
  • Accessibility, Redundancy, and Interoperability are critical in the wiki world. Along all these lines, Versionate will have to take large strides; from the allowing of a site backup (that can actually occur in less than 2 weeks time!) to allowing for 3rd-party interaction with its components.
  • Credibility. For any online company, credibility is key to success. In the past year, the only updates that have occurred are within comments posted to 3rd-party sites (for example, The Product Guy and Digg) in response to articles. There have been zero formal posts to the Versionate blog, nor notifications that (a) the founders have moved on to another company, (b) they plan to continue support of the Versionate product, and (c) they may give it new features. Before focusing on the concrete challenges of new or improved features, the solution to the softer challenge of restoring trust and credibility in this promising product must be nurtured and reestablished over a long period of time.

Of course

Of course, those that use a wiki certainly will have a preference of one over another. Everyone has different needs, and those needs align with different features and strengths of each wiki discussed, and possibly even among others not discussed within this series.

This adventure into the world of wikis has been a broad based attempt at teasing out the basic and general features and functionality that the average wiki user finds most appealing and beneficial. Some people place extra value in wikis with strong social communities, others, like Dean Collins, want to be able to manage multiple wikis from a centralized dashboard.

There is more to life than Wiki

There are many, many wikis that were not included within this survey of the wiki space. (Confluence, Wikispaces, etc.) To perform this assessment it was critical to adhere to strict rules that would result in a manageable set of wikis. Of course, I could have reviewed the top 5, the top 10, top 100, or more popular wikis — I could have spent the remainder of my life doing so. The top 3 wikis along with the up-and-comers provide a very comprehensive set of the types of wikis that are free and hosted. If you have experiences with other wikis, please feel free to share with the other readers of this blog ; share the good, as well as the bad experiences you have had with various wikis. Time and resources and the desire to not spend the rest of the year (or lifetime) looking at only wiki products were all factors in determining the scope of this wiki product series.

And, most importantly…

The Best Free Online Wiki Experience is PBwiki for the reasons stated throughout this series, as well as having: (1) a firm grasp on the usability needs of a wiki user, (2) the most comprehensive feature set, and (3) providing outstanding support to its user base, not just in the form of addressing problems, but also in actively communicating status, product updates, and other helpful news via their product blog.

Think & Share…

What other wikis have you enjoyed using? Why?
What features do you feel a wiki must have?

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Jeremy Horn
The Product Guy

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