Aviva Directory » Computers & Internet » Software » Internet & Intranet » Authoring » Wiki Engines

Wiki software is used to build collaborative knowledge base websites. Wikis use one of several forms of wiki software, which may also be known as a wiki engine, a type of content management system.

Some wiki engines are open-source, while others are proprietary. Many of them are standalone applications, while others are part of other software.

The focus of this guide is on the wiki software, or engines, rather than on any particular wiki projects, the most famous of which is Wikipedia, although Wikipedia is actually a collection of hundreds of wikis, each relating to a particular language.

While there are several wiki engines today, the basic concept of a wiki is one of collaboration. Not every wiki is open to editing by anyone, as is the policy of Wikipedia, but the software is designed for collaboration.

Wiki software is not a new technology. The first wiki engine was WikiWikiWeb, developed by Ward Cunningham in 1995. The risks that are inherent in allowing anyone to edit the content of a wiki may be illustrated by the world's first wiki, as the home site to WikiWikiWeb has been read-only since 2014 due to attacks by vandals.

Security enhancements have been built into modern wiki engines, however.

Perhaps because of the popularity of Wikipedia, many people view wikis as repositories of encyclopedic information. However, a wiki can be whatever its users want it to be. Teachers use wikis to provide updated information to students and to organize project resources in a common place. Businesses use wikis to manage their own projects and to ensure that new clients are given the same attention as existing ones. Programmers use wiki engines as a vehicle for developers to contribute new code and to take part in project discussions. Individuals sometimes use wiki software as a platform for websites that allow for limited collaboration, taking advantage of their CMS features.

When Cunningham developed the first wiki concept, he took the name from the Hawaiian word for "fast" and the technical side of the software was inspired by the Apple HyperCard system, which was a simple yet effective system that allowed users to create virtual stacks of cards that supported links among other cards. To that system, Cunningham added the capability for users to comment on and add information to cards created by other users.

While wikis may be the face of collaboration on the Internet, they are often used in closed environments, such as schools, businesses, organizations, and individual projects.

Various wiki engines commonly share a few characteristics. The files for the wiki are centrally located, so that information is freely available to all users. While this option can be modified in various ways by the administrator of a particular wiki project, the software includes the ability for anyone to add or edit information without prior approval. Content areas of a wiki can be edited through a web browser without the need for special tools. Although there is a learning curve, the formatting languages behind a wiki are usually simpler than other programming or scripting languages, even HTML. Finally, each page includes a history page that shows all recent changes and, as a security precaution, most of these pages allow for an easy reversal of these modifications or additions.

Many hosting services include one or more wiki engines as part of the hosting package, usually allowing for a one-click installation. Another option is to use a hosted wiki service, in which most of the technical stuff is taken care of for you. The choice between self-hosting or managed hosting is largely one of sacrificing a degree of control for convenience.

Another choice that will need to be made is choosing the right wiki engine. In some cases, this may be a matter of choosing between those that are made available through whatever hosting plan the administrator has signed up for, although many plans will allow clients to install their own wiki software.

A wiki engine is a software program that runs on a web server, where it will allow users to create, edit and publish wiki pages. Perhaps the best-known wiki engine is MediaWiki, the platform used by Wikipedia. There are many other choices, however, and most are open-source.

There are more than fifty wiki engines available, but they can be divided into five general types: desktop wiki engines, hosted consumer wiki engines, industrial wiki engines, specific-use wiki engines, and development wiki engines.

In order to choose the right wiki engine, the administrator should research those that are available and consider their own skill level or expertise, the anticipated volume of active users, security concerns, and the need for automation of tasks.

Besides MediaWiki, other popular engines include DokuWiki, MoinMoin, MojoMojo, TiddlyWiki, TWiki, and XWiki.



Recommended Resources

Search for Wiki Engines on Google or Bing