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June 29, 2005 / jnolen

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.


  1. Ross Mayfield / Jun 29 2005 7:21 pm

    Should have cheated.

  2. Patrick Lightbody / Jun 29 2005 7:55 pm

    Confluence has a free personal edition thatmight do the trick.

  3. Jason / Jun 29 2005 10:42 pm

    An accurate summary, Jonathan (and thanks again for all your advice). A few additional comments….
    I had already tried xwiki for another experiment (my wedding), and found it to be lacking. My fiancee couldn’t get the thing to work on her Mac, and I hated the fact that the Google ads actually covered parts of the navigation in my browser. I understand that nothing is for free, and I’m perfectly willing to endure ads for a solid service, but not if the ads themselves prevent me from the utility I need.
    Also, I should mention that I did think hard about using Confluence (we use this at work, and I’m already a big fan). However, I specifically needed a hosted solution, and Confluence was not the answer for that requirement (or at least according to what I grokked from the Atlassian site).
    Schtuff proved to be solid for my limited requirements here. And they had the lowest barrier to become a customer of any wiki provider I’ve seen- I didn’t even need to give an email address. This turns subscription modeling on its head somewhat, and I’m interested to see how well they fare with that philosophy long-term.

  4. Isaac Garcia / Jul 1 2005 6:43 am

    Check out CentralDesktop. Its a new group collaboration tool. It leverages the ‘good’ of wikis and improves on the functionality by integrating document management, document search, task management and other goodies.
    -Isaac Garcia

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