I've been playing around with pbWiki, a relatively new entrant in the lineup of free wiki hosts. I mentioned them briefly in this post about Jason looking for a wiki. So far, I'm very impressed with the service. Others seem to be as well — the front page brags of almost 6,000 other wikis created. [Aside: I would love to compare some real stats on signups and usage from all of these free wiki services.]
pbWiki is the brainchild of David Weekly, (also known for IMSmarter, and SuperHappyDevHouse.*) Actually, the first cut of pbWiki was built in less than 24 hours at the first SuperHappyDevHouse on May 28th. He started with the code from TipiWiki2 (which apparently has fallen to wiki-spam) and expanded from there.
pbWiki focuses on simplicity — as David said, “since wikis are supposed to be as simple as they could possibly be and still work, just make the experience stupid-simple.” And he has succeeded in that goal. The process of getting started couldn’t be easier. The front page is brilliant in it’s austerity. It’s a plain white page, with just a few words, five links and a two-item form. Fill in the textboxes (name and email), hit submit and, bam!, you’ve got a wiki. It’s a very gutsy choice, but I think it works well. Much like Backpack, it encourages a new user to engage very early in the process.
The design of the service is great — at least in so far as it is entirely unobtrusive. There is almost no interface chrome, and only the simplest of text-and-line buttons. The service gets out of the way in favor of the content. Like Backpack, the wiki markup is very limited, but is probably enough for basic purposes. They have also included a nice backup feature: you can download a zip of your content at anytime.
The business model still seems to be in flux, but it follows the same pattern that we’ve become familiar with over the past few months. The free, public wikis will have adSense ads. And pbWiki offers a premium version ($5/mo or $50/year) that gets rid of the ads, gives you more upload space and “customization capabilities.” (I wonder what this entails.)
The team behind pbWiki are doing a lot of things right. They’re do a great job of communicating with their users. They have a surprisingly active forum. They have their own wiki available, including a page detailing their change log, their todo list and active bug list. It’s low tech, but it’s very useful information.
pbWiki fits snugly into the market being defined by Schtuff, WikiSpaces, SeedWiki, editMe, Backpack and others. At this point, these products are all fairly similar (with the exception of Basecamp, who have chosen to narrow their focus somewhat). I don’t see a lot in the way of feature differentiation. I think the real challenge at this point is a) getting in front of enough people and b) convincing those people that they need a wiki in the first place. So while I’m sure all of these folks will continue to add features over the next few months, I think the battles to be won are in the marketing arena.
* SuperHappyDevHouse is an absolutely killer idea. I can’t wait until I am able to attend one. Just gotta get to SF at the right time. And buy a PowerBook, I guess.