WetPaint, a popular hosted Wiki solution, announced this week that they are to provide person-to-person and private messaging between users of their Wiki network. This means that Wetpaint Wiki users can now send single or multi-person private messages, to connect and collaborate with others about their interests. On reading this news, it got me thinking about Wikis - or more to the point, who is using them and for what purpose. Firstly, I'll briefly describe wikis and then we'll explore the range of wiki products in the market right now.

What is a Wiki and where did they come from?

A Wiki can be described as a website that allows visitors to add, remove, edit and change its content. The invention of the Wiki is credited to a guy called Ward Cunningham, who in 1994 developed a site called WikiWikiWeb. It was/is a place to collect information on people, projects and patterns in software development.

What can a Wiki be used for?

The most successful Wiki to date is the all encompassing, encyclopedic mammoth that is Wikipedia. We all know it, most of us love it (some of us don't) - but the fact remains it is one of the most visited destinations on the web. I did some looking around for other big Wikis and have come up with a few examples:

Wiki Travel is a project "to create an open content, complete, up-to-date, and reliable world-wide travel guide". I looked up my home town in Ireland and found very up to date information on all that the town had to offer. If you are about to travel somewhere, it's worth dropping in on this site first.

CookBookWiki is a cooking wiki with over 30,000 recipes and cooking related articles. Their mission is to document every culinary tradition of the world.

Memory Alpha is a wiki that gathers information on the fictional universe of Star Trek! The shear volume of Star Trek related information on this site is unfathomable. The English version of the site has over 24,000 articles - with a lot of those available in 13 different languages. If I was a Star Trek fan, I would think it was pretty damn cool.

A good source of what other Wikis there are out there, can be found at WikiIndex - which is essentially a Wiki about Wikis!


The weird and wonderful Wiki of Memory Alpha

What can I use a Wiki for?

Ok so up to now we have seen some examples of Wikis in use in the real world, but what benefit can a Wiki be to you as an individual or a company? Many wikis in use today are private and outside of the public eye. More and more companies are using a Wiki as collaborative software. They are a great way to maintain internal documentation; all of your staff can contribute and edit documents as need be. A Wiki could even be used to replace large chunks of your otherwise static intranet.

For example, in the company where I work we have discussed using a Wiki to build up a collection of support documentation for the software we build. At the moment we just have a pile of static articles that are updated from time to time by a handful of people in the company. If we were to use a Wiki, anyone in our office could easily edit these articles regularly and therefore keep a far more up to date store of information.

On an individual level, WetPaint (for example) is used by people to build Wikis on just everything. Current examples include wikis on smart phones, dogs, Celtic FC, Q phones, book lists, XBox 360, cancer, and Lost. So if you have got something you are passionate about and want to build up a publicly accessible and editable resource, then WetPaint just might be the solution for you.

Where can I get a Wiki?

Ok so you want to build a Wiki, where do you go? Well you have 2 options: you can get a hold of some Wiki software and host it yourself, or you can use one of the many hosted solutions out there. Here are a few examples of each:

Hosted Solutions

PB Wiki by most accounts seem to be the biggest consumer wiki farm currently in operation. They have a feature packed system for you to use for free.

Wik.is is another popular free hosted solution. They have some great ideas on their front page for what you can use your free wiki for, so if your looking for inspiration...

WetPaint is a free hosted wiki solution that is ad supported. It targets non-technical internet users who want to collaborate online.

JotSpot is worth a mention. It was bought by Google last November and has been closed to new users ever since. However seeing as it's Google's entry to the world of Wikis, it is probably one to watch for the future.

Central Desktop's primary focus is building simple tools for small teams and workgroups. With plenty of features and packages starting from $25/month, it looks like a good option if you just want to see what a wiki can offer your company - without having to invest too much money or resources.

Update: Wikia is a wiki hosting service founded by Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia Founder) and Angela Beesley. Wikia particularly targets communities, both those established offline and those with a purely online following. It is free of charge for readers and editors.

Software Solutions

MediaWiki is the mother of them all. Why? Well for a start it's free, and secondly it powers Wikipedia - so you can't get more of a thumbs up than that.

Bit Weaver is an open source content management system based upon TikiWiki. The base installation is bare, with nothing more than a theme switcher and user management system. Additional functionality is added by add-on packages.

SocialText is an enterprise wiki and weblog. It is available as a hosted service or a hardware appliance. Pricing is a bit sketchy on their website. When you go to the pricing page they just have a link saying "Contact Our Sales Team For Pricing". When you see that, you know its going to be dear ;-)

Atlassian is a probably the leading wiki provider for enterprises, in terms of its sales. It also has a new product called Confluence Hosted, so it has both software and hosted versions. [Note: Atlassian is a recent R/WW sponsor]

I have no doubt missed loads of great services and sites to power your future Wiki, so for more information on options for building one, check out the Wiki Matrix. They offer a free online comparison tool that details over 100 different wiki solutions.

Conclusion

The future looks bright for the Wiki. As more advanced Wiki solutions are built, they are becoming more and more blurred from the original Wiki DNA. They are evolving. 

In some ways, social networks are Wikis - where anyone can edit their own section of content. Indeed the Internet as a whole is one big Wiki, with various restrictions. Then again, a Wiki is like small version of the Internet when you control the content. 

Overall, if you want a place for people (staff, fellow enthusiasts, etc) to share, collect and maintain data relating to a topic - then a Wiki might just save you a lot of hassle.