What do you expect from wiki software?

Migrated. Originally posted: 2008-03-2

I use a wiki to record procedures, processes, configuration information, and other info I need to track in working with build systems and databases. I think my use is typical of any IT department or software development department. Of the two most popular wikis in corporate environments, I prefer <a href=”http://twiki.org/”>TWiki</a&gt; to <a href=”http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki”>Mediawiki</a&gt; (of Wikipedia fame) because of its “breadcrumb trails”. Let’s look first at more basic needs in a wiki.

I use the following features, which I want to be able to activate easily, with a character or two before and maybe after a text string or before a line.

  • unordered lists
  • ordered lists
  • bold
  • simple tables – generally 2 or 3 columns, short phrases in most, comments in one
  • line break – especially useful in tables
  • end paragraphs – by puttin a blank line in your text
  • easy links to other pages – CamelCase words as automatic links is easy and generally standard
  • easy links to other web pages outside the wiki
  • setting a different name for a link

I also expect these other features:

  • able to force users to log in before editing or writing
  • versioning of entries – able to look at the last 100 changes to a page

I have also come to appreciate automatic “heirarchical” back links. This works when you create a new page in your page by opening a link from another page. After you save the page, a “breadcrumb trail” shows the pages “before it” from the top page down to the page you created it from.

If you created two new pages, “alpha” and “beta”, with “alpha” created from the home page of the wiki, and “beta” created from “alpha”, you would have a breadcrumb trail at the top of “beta” like this.:

Home -> alpha -> beta

I like this. I frequently write 300 to 500 lines of info about a set of related topics. I split them up into pages of 50 to 100 lines each, with a top page that links them all. This becomes easy in TWiki, because it creates the breadcrumb trails I just described. If I send someone a link to one of the detail topics, they have an automatic link to a higher level page that links to all the related topics.

This is the biggest reason why I recommend TWiki over Mediawiki. In order to set up links to related pages in Media wiki, I have to provide all the links myself, not just some. Another is that Mediawiki doesn’t provide shortcuts for some simple things like bold. For bold, mediawiki lets you use HTML, as in <b>this would be bold</b>.

Mediawiki is a great product for Wikipedia, but Wikipedia is not organized heirarchically, and should not be, so Mediawiki does not provide support for the way I work. TWIki rocks!

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