Category: wiki

Enterprise wikis reviewed update

Things move fast in the Web 2.0 world! Only a couple of weeks back I wrote a review of Enterprise Wiki software in which I mentioned PBWiki and Socialtext amongst others.

I like Socialtext and would have recommended it had PBWiki not just shipped its new interface. The PBWiki interface is friendlier and easier to get around for non-techies so I went for that.

Now today I see two posts mentioning that a new version of SocialText is en route which will make SocialText a much more compelling enterprise app.

Socialtext is adding Socialtext Dashboard and Socialtext People. From Michael Arrington’s post:

SocialText Dashboard, pictured above, is a Netvibes-like customizable home page. Users can add SocialText widgets that show information from the company’s wiki – total edits, a list of workspaces, change summaries, etc. Other widgets are for productivity, like a calendar, or just for fun, like a YouTube widget.

All Dashboard widgets are Google Widget compatible, which means that, subject to security settings, they can also be added to sites like iGoogle. But more importantly, all iGoogle widgets can also be added to the Dashboard page. So you can, for example, pull Gmail directly into your SocialText Dashboard.

While in Socialtext People, users can create profiles and add “friends” within the organization. You can monitor the activity stream of mutual friends as well, which includes outside services such as Twitter. And as Rafe Needleman points out in his post:

You can tag yourself “M&A” if you’re in business development. Others can tag you, too. Then, if you’re looking for someone with a particular skill or hobby, you just search on tags. Tags are easier to update, and because of that you’re more likely to see good information in individuals’ tag clouds, compared to a bunch of form fields that no one wants to bother with. Of course, tag clouds and folksonomies are also less rigorous than straight data fields, but you know what they say: They make it up in volume.

So, if you haven’t rushed out after my last post and dived into PBWiki, you might want to think again about SocialText. It just keeps getting better and better.

Enterprise wikis reviewed

Long story short, PBWiki is yer only man.

Why?
I was chair of the it@cork Conference organising committee last year. The committee is made up of volunteers who are all busy with their day-to-day jobs so getting times to meet which suit everyone is always challenging.

To help with the organisation I rolled out a private wiki where we posted meeting minutes, kept track of action items, posted to-do lists and updates on (potential) speaker status’. The wiki was a hosted PBWiki and it was a great success.

It was then decided to rollout a wiki to facilitate the organisation and running of all it@cork committees and subcommittees. The wiki software needed to be able to:

  • handle multiple wikis (one per committee/subcommittee)
  • handle user and group permissions
  • give stats around wiki usage and
  • be cheap or free (it@cork is a not-for-profit)!

I searched around and discovered that Atlassian’s Confluence enterprise wiki product has a free community license specifically for not-for-profits. PBWiki, and SocialText didn’t have any mention of a free Enterprise class offering on their sites so I didn’t really pursue them.

Boy was that a mistake! The setup of the Confluence wiki was far from straightforward. It took two of us the best part of a day to simply install it. Remember that as I was doing this for it@cork, this was not billable time. I was installing it on my own server and because Confluence requires TomCat as its webserver it had to run on a separate port to Apache. This meant several people couldn’t view it in their organisations.

Worse though was that once it was successfully installed, it was a disaster. Uptake and use of the wiki was minimal because the UI was appalling.
A couple of quick examples:
– a simple task which requires many steps, adding (or removing) users to/from groups goes like this:

  • Go to Administration
  • Scroll to bottom of page and click on Manage Users (why not dynamically have the most used menus at the top or failing that use general stats to move most used features to the top, or have two (or more) columns of options so no scrolling is required)
  • Click Show All Users (why? why aren’t they all listed by default?)
  • Click on the user
  • Click on Edit Groups
  • Select Groups and click Join (or Leave) – there is no feedback to tell an admin that this action has been saved

Editing groups doesn’t appear to be possible at all i.e if I want to remove 7 people from a group containing 25 people, I have to go into each user profile (using all the steps above) and remove them individually. It should be possible to do it in one simple step from within a Group Admin page.

Confluence backend

Other problems with Confluence included the fact that there are almost no stats around use of the wiki available and there is a bug in the users and groups which meant that the permissions applied to the groups were not percolating down to the members of those groups. A pretty serious bug I’m sure you will agree.

I Twittered recently that I was looking to get off Confluence and onto another Enterprise wiki platform and within minutes Ross Mayfield, Chairman of SocialText had contacted me (despite being on vacation!) offering me a SocialText wiki for it@cork. Yes please I said (poor guy, I nearly bit his hand off!).

The backend of SocialText is far cleaner, simpler and more intuitive than Confluence.
SocialText wiki backend

However, for completeness sake I also contacted PBWiki and when they heard this was for it@cork, they immediately offered business edition wikis at no cost. This was spectacular news as it@cork were already familiar and happy with PBWiki.

The PBWiki backend is the cleanest and simplest of the three (it is also the only one which fits vertically on a 1024×768 screen).
PBWiki backend

Not only that but when you compare the edit screens of both SocialText and PBWiki, PBWiki definitely comes out ahead in usability.

So we have a winner – PBWiki.

What surprised me in this is that when I Twittered looking for an alternative to Confluence, not one person suggested PBWiki. I have no idea why this is. PBWiki has both Enterprise class functionality and a UI which is completely non-intimidatory. I predict no issues with uptake by users this time round.

By the way, I did also try out DekiWiki and Twiki but I ruled them out quite early on.

UPDATE: Zoli Erdos posted a response to this post where he highlighted a couple of points I didn’t make clearly enough here:
1. I compared a non-hosted version of Confluence to hosted apps like PBWiki and SocialText. However, hosted Confluence is NOT available under the community license. As this was for a not-for-profit a community license was all we could go for. PBWiki and SocialText had no such restrictions.
2. I tried out DekiWiki but the lack of an ability to create Groups ruled it out quickly.

TiddlyWiki

I have started to use TiddlyWiki a lot recently. TiddlyWiki is a wiki platform which runs on your personal computer.

TiddlyWiki

TiddlyWiki runs entirely out of html and so simply by visiting the TiddlyWiki site, you have downloaded the application! Chose File -> Save As… to name it and save it to an appropriate folder on your machine.

TiddlyWiki is blog-like in that new articles (Tiddlers) appear like posts in a blog. But it is unblog-like in that they are not displayed sequentially, but rather called by links or searches on the page.

It is very handy for notes-to-self – especially when you are offline. It can be hooked up to an online version and synched but I haven’t tried this yet.

The application was written by Jeremy Ruston who was taken on by BT as head of Open Source when they saw TiddlyWiki