Sunday, October 07, 2007

In search of the perfect wiki

A few weeks ago I went to a dinner with a few church IT folks where we discussed several things. One thing that was mentioned was using a wiki for internal documentation. And I've been racking my brain about that ever since. I mean, it's not a revolutionary idea. We are already using Trac for some project management and minimal wiki, and I've looked into DokuWiki a bit.

Ever since the dinner, I've been on a quest to find the perfect wiki solution. There are several choices and they all have their ups and downs. The problem, is, I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist (a maximizer according to StrengthsFinder). So I don't just want any old thing that will get by, especially if it will mean converting to a different one in a year.

I want tagging (emergent categorization), user friendly (WYSIWYG editor, clean interface, easy to use tools), access control (so sensitive docs can be protected), discussion/commenting, good version control, good attachment handling, LDAP authentication (so users don't need to remember yet another username & password), mature, runs on Windows, preferably free/open source, extensible/customizable, etc. TWiki sounds intriguing, I may just have to try it, but it doesn't appear to have the cleanest interface - seems a bit clunky. MediaWiki is the most popular, but appears weak in ACL and some enterprise features. Some of the non-free and hosted options look appealing - but a wiki isn't exactly in our budget.

So, why a wiki? Because it's cool, and everyone else is doing it? Well, sort of. More like it does certain things a lot better than a file share. Accessible from any web browser, better searching, better linking, better collaboration, more flexible categorization, anyone can edit and version control are the main benefits. My thought is that we'll start with IT, then get other departments to start using it, and perhaps allow our field staff to use it as well (like best practices for campus ministry, etc.).

I love tagging and linking so much more than limited hierarchical folder structures. So much information falls into multiple categories and relates to other things, both of which current file systems don't handle well. Hierarchies aren't evil, but limiting a file to a single category under several levels of folders is not the best solution. Also, allowing anyone to edit (when appropriate) means so many more people can provide input, while version control allows easy undo.

I recently discussed some of my wiki research with my office manager who is tired of all his e-mail and is looking into better solutions for task/project management (something more user friendly than Trac, more like Basecamp).

I will keep researching wikis and let you know what we decide. I would love to hear which wiki you are using within your organization and about your experience.

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