Your own knowledge base wiki software

For over a decade, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has been the first stop for millions of internet users for information about all kinds of topics.  Since its inception the website’s structure has remained unchanged: based on a simplified content management system, or wiki software, any permitted author can create and edit articles directly in their web browser. The individual editing stages allow different versions of the same articles to be generated; this way, changes can easily be made and discussed. Users can browse the digital lexicon for a particular term using the search function. Unlike traditional CMSs, wiki software offers a very limited range of options with regard to layout and design.

Wikipedia itself can be considered the model upon which other wikis are based. As with Wikipedia, a wiki (Hawaiian for ‘fast’) uses powerful wiki software for processing and managing information. This software enables businesses, clubs, and communities to make their own wiki, making knowledge management an easier process.

Wiki farms – the assisted solution for small projects

Creating a comprehensive knowledge base requires more than just the correct applications. To install and use the software, you also need the corresponding wiki hosting environment with appropriate access rights. There are, however, interesting, resource-saving alternatives for small-scale projects.

Like with blogs, there are many ways to create wikis without having to worry about installation, set up, and hosting. Many providers offer something called a wiki farm for this exact purpose. The wiki software is already installed on these servers and provides the basis for different customers to create their own wiki. The set-up takes place via a user interface in the browser. If your wiki deals with a short-term or limited project, these services can provide an excellent and cost-effective solution. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that your content is available to the public and that you don’t have complete control of the data.

With commercial providers such as PBworks, the price of each wiki varies depending on which package you choose (incl. storage space, number of wikis, etc.) and the wiki software used. As well as these, there are also several free services such as the entertainment platform Wikia and the more education-oriented Wikispaces. However, these services offer no right to server availability and long-term archiving.

Stay in the driver’s seat with wiki software

If you’re planning to create a knowledge bank, it’s a good idea to install and configure the current wiki software on your own server or a rented one. With this, you can adjust the wiki to best suit your wishes and requirements and have full control of the availability and security of your files. However, creating and managing your own wiki is costly both in terms of time and money, and on top of that, having the required know-how about server administration is integral to the success of your wiki. Here’s how you can make your own wiki:

Find the right programs

As a wiki creator, you have a host of programs at your disposal, all of which are suited to different budgets and requirements. Whether your key criteria is user friendliness, knowledge management functions, management of access rights, distribution, or costs, the wide range of wiki software can offer a program that suits your intentions. As well as Wikipedia’s own MediaWiki , DokuWiki , TWiki , and PmWiki are among the most popular wiki solutions. You can find an extensive list of applications here.

Planning wiki hosting

To start, ensure you have the necessary server requirements (hard and software) for your chosen wiki program. Since the majority of wiki applications are pretty modest, a web space with PHP or another script language is all that’s needed. A database such as MySQL, however, is not necessary for all wiki programs. Some hosts offer preconfigured installation packages, such as the platform Tiki, which belongs to 1&1’s Click&Build applications; both of these options can be conveniently set up with one click. The only problem is that wikis can be vulnerable to spam, particularly if they follow Wikipedia’s example in allowing editing permission to all internet users, which can lead to trouble with the provider.

Installing wiki software

Download the software package from the provider’s website and unzip it in the web directory on your server. Rename the file to your desired wiki name, which will be shown at the end of your website’s URL. Then create a database for your wiki (if necessary) and start the installation process as instructed by the provider. Finally, complete the wiki info section. This is where you can determine basic information (i.e. the wiki’s name, language, license, and administrator account) and link your knowledge management platform with the appropriate database.

Configuring your wiki

Once you’ve already made your own wiki, you can start to adjust it to your preferences. Some options, such as the custom Skins and CSS coding, allow users to change the layout and appearance, for example by adding a suitable logo. If you’re happy with the display, you can start to focus on the required structure of your knowledge base. Depending on the wiki software you’ve selected, you will have some or all of the following configuration options:

  • Define access rights: create the required user profiles and determine their levels of access rights (i.e. administrators and authors). This is how you retain control and protect your wiki from unwanted attacks, regardless whether it’s an internal or public wiki.

  • Creating categories: by creating category pages and subpages (if needed), you can organize related themes and make your wiki more manageable. It’s also recommended to have other organizational features such as a homepage with a general introduction as well as an FAQ page.

  • Configure templates: templates can be uploaded to other existing pages, enabling users to select and share comments on articles and passages.

Public wikis and their defining features

Whether you’re hosting your knowledge base on a wiki farm or on a server, managing a public wiki while looking for contributors requires you to carry out some important tasks that extend far beyond editing your platform’s design and layout.

If it’s your goal to acquire new coauthors, you first need to write interesting entries to gain potential readers’ attention and peak their interest. Plugging your wiki on social media, blogs, and forums is another good way to be noticed online. If you’ve got great quality content together with a winning concept, you’ll soon be gaining users who want to help build a comprehensive wiki. It’s therefore a good idea to create a style guide in advance for new contributors, remembering to include guidelines for language and quality, as well as linking the pages.

Once the wiki community grows, you can start expanding the rights of approved members and can even create administrators. Sharing the responsibility for the wiki guarantees the continual maintenance of existing articles and ensures that content standards remain high. Even if you have lit the initial spark, nothing ensures the long-term success of a wiki like a solid community of members.