Find me a wiki, fast!
My friend Jason is teaching a class at UCSB and he decided to set up a wiki for his students — mostly as place to collect links to the reading material that he's assigning. I'm sure he'd love for his students to actually use the wiki to communicate back to him, but we'll have to wait and see if that actually happens.
In any case, Jason asked me to recommend a free wiki host that he could use. I told him to check out Wikispaces, Schtuff, pbWiki (a relatively new vendor that I intend to review in more detail later), XWiki and WikiCities. I thought it might be useful to go through his decision-making process as a bit of real-world customer research. [Jason, if I misrepresent any of your opinions, please let me know in the comments.]
First of all, Jason did not evaluate either JotSpot or SocialText because they were not free. In actuality, he might have used either of those vendors because his part of the class would have been over long before the free trial was up. But that seemed liked cheating. So I stuck to the free-as-in-beer hosts.
Secondly, Jason definitely needed a hosted solution. He had neither the time nor the inclination to set up something himself. So none of the download-and-install options would have been right for him.
Those constraints led us to the list above. There are no doubt other free wiki hosts that I missed, but these were the ones with which I was most familiar and that I have seen mentioned most frequently.
Jason found XWiki far too complicated for his small class of business majors to deal with. And he was concerned with making the barrier for participation as low as possible,
PBWiki was admirably simple, but didn’t have enough in the way of author attribution for this use-case. If any of the students did decide to add content to the wiki, it was important to know from whom it had come. PBWiki, like Backpack, seemed geared almost entirely as a personal wiki.
WikiCities, on the other hand, is almost the opposite of a personal wiki — they are only interested in hosting projects that would be of value to a large community of users. This is an admirable mission, but rendered them unsuitable for the application at hand.
So that narrowed Jason’s choices down to Wikispaces and Schtuff. The two seemed fairly similar, except for the CC-license requirement of Wikispaces. Jason is not, in general, opposed to the CC-license. But it didn’t seem appropriate in this case — neither useful for him or for the community, and possibly confusing for the students should they decide to participate. So on that basis he decided to put his content into a Schtuff space.
We could have done more detailed research on all of these products. No doubt there are much longer lists of pros and cons to each of them. But this is a fair outline of the decision-making process (which, truthfully, took place in about a half an hour just before the first class). Perhaps it will prove a helpful exercise for someone.