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April 12, 2005 / jnolen

Free wiki hosts

I've been seeing the proliferation of free wiki hosting services lately. Two that have lately come on my radar are Wikispaces, and Schtuff (Not a fan of the name). There are even more listed here.

Wikispaces seems especially nice, at first glance. It has a wonderfully clean interface — easy to understand, easy to use. Of course, it's also pretty early in development so there's not a lot of clutter. And they do an excellent job with the out of the box experience.

Wikispaces is focusing the wiki community. And it really is a community: once you've logged in, you can edit any page on any wiki, whether you created it or not. As they say, "Wikispaces are public, so everyone else will have the ability to help build and edit pages."

Interestingly, their T&Cs insist that everything you submit to one of their wikis is automatically under the CC Share-alike license. So that's going to make it unsuitable for a lot of applications, but it's a noble sentiment. This could mean that they compete more with projects like CivicSpace or Drupal than the other strictly wiki projects.

Schtuff is also fairly well-designed. It seems to be further along than Wikispaces, and is open for any kind of use. They don't mention any sort of business model, so either it's going to be advertising, or they're using this as a starting platform for something else.

Anyway, the more I see of this trend, the more I am convinced that productized, downloadable server software is the most-likely-to-succeed business model for a wiki vendor. I still think that the hosted service is a necessary component of the business plan, but it is best viewed as a loss-leader used to get people to in front of the product.

Hosted versions were probably a good place to start for all of these companies. It’s definitely easier to develop and maintain that kind of software with limited resources. You can move faster because you don’t have to worry about an installed base. But there will come a time when making a user-installable version becomes unavoidable. Developers who have been planning for that day will be sailing. Those that haven’t will be facing down months of clean-up and hardening and ease-of-use work which will suck time and stall feature development. I’ve been in that situation before and it’s not pretty.*

All of the products in this market, commercial and non-commercial, are advancing extremely rapidly. At this point, it’s difficult to see why I would choose one of the paid wiki hosts over the free ones. (JotSpot is a slightly different matter: they’ve been able to differentiate their offerings with pluggable applications. If you need those features, there is nowhere else to go at the moment.)

* I know this “plan-ahead” warning sounds counter-XP, but it need not be viewed that way. In XP, you’re supposed to build the Simplest Thing That Could Possibly Work. Well, when you’re developer AND the admin, then the simplest thing is a much lower bar than when someone else has to admin your software. So it’s not that you’re doing more Big Design Up Front, it’s that you have to have an accurate understanding of what the simplest thing really is.


  1. Brian Keairns / Apr 12 2005 1:52 pm

    I think the picture for selling hosted applications to large companies is more complicated. From my experience selling a business wiki to large corporations, if you’re selling to a business buyer such as a business unit manager they are very open to a hosted solution and once we’ve discussed the options they see a lot of advantages in it.
    We’ve installed our product in two of the top ten largest financial services companies in the world and they love the hosted model.
    One of the reasons we got the business is that we were dealing with business managers with an immediate need for a knowledge sharing application to support a new business initiative and getting a solution from their IT group wasn’t possible because they had too much backlog. We could deliver a solution on a very tight timeline and they didn’t have anyone else who could commit to that timeline.
    What they are more concerned about is getting the right kinds of support for the application. It’s not that they want a big consulting group to spend a bunch of time on site but they do want someone to train people, to make sure their project managers are well equipped to encourage wider adoption, and to make sure the application is really producing the intended business results.
    I think this idea is supported in other application areas besides wikis as well. Companies like and Rightnow have been successful in large corporate accounts. eLearning vendors like Centra and GeoLearning have huge hosted installations. GeoLearning has a hosted eLearning application used by the government with over a million users that can access the product. Even Siebel is starting to be successful with hosted applications.

  2. Notes, links and conversation / Jan 26 2006 10:56 pm

    Free hosted wikis: comparison of wiki farms

    For the preparation of an event (not job-related), I was searching for a free hosted wiki, to avoid the hassle of installing one myself. The wiki will be used to collect ideas for the programme, keep track of task lists, and let people subscribe for th…

  3. abhay / Jan 30 2006 12:42 pm

    Are there any installable and customised (with plugins)wiki platforms.I have explored the possibility of Jotspot and ProjectForum but there were security issues with them.
    Help needed?

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