Choosing a wiki

I wanted to put a wiki on Septivium and bewildered by the huge choice I resorted to asking my modest Twitter following for recommendations (twice). Here’s a quick summary of what I found.

I didn’t have many requirements:

  • It should look nice. So much software made by geeks looks rubbish and ugly.
  • It should be easy to install and easy to use.
  • It should have ‘discussion’ pages like Wikipedia because I like them and thought they might be useful.

It doesn’t seem like much to ask.

I first tried MoinMoin as it didn’t look horrendously ugly. My word, that was a pig to install. After one attempt I gave up following the installation instructions which are spread over several confusingly similar pages and try to cover every possible eventuality. I found someone who had written simpler instructions that just worked. But were still long.

There’s a plug-in to get Discussion pages working but it failed me, complaining about DiscussionTemplate being missing. And I could find nothing that would suggest how I find or make this. Plus, MoinMoin is way too complicated for me. And it looks complicated. Way too much going on.

So, onward. I thought about MediaWiki but it seemed even more overkill for my purposes than MoinMoin.

DokuWiki looked OK but I wasn’t entirely convinced about its ability to add Discussion pages.

I spent a little while playing with Drupal for the first time in years. It does a huge number of things and I thought it might be a good base for any future community-type stuff I’d want to do at Septivium. But adding a wiki involves a lot of customisation and while installing all the necessary extras went fine (seriously, I was hugely impressed with how easy Drupal and its modules were to install) the wiki still felt a bit of a kludge. Maybe I could have got it looking and working nicely but Drupal is so configurable it was a long learning curve.

So I set that aside, almost reluctantly, and moved on to PmWiki which is what I’ve settled on. It was extremely easy to install, looks pretty simple, and there’s a simple change to enable Discussion pages.

Although it’s not over-complex, it’s not the prettiest thing in the world. I tried another of its many themes, but the Discussion pages modification doesn’t work with some/most/all themes so I’ve reverted to the default theme.

There we go. I can’t believe it’s nearly six years since Tom Coates wrote about ugly wikis and a nice, simple design for a BBC wiki. Why are they all still so hideous and over-complex?


  • Thanks for writing this up. I'm quite disheartened about the state of the wiki software still. Clearly an area that needs WordPressifying. I guess the demand isn't there right now to acquire the momentum needed.

  • And yet so many people have spent so much time developing so many different pieces of wiki software. You'd think some of that time could have been spent making one really good piece of software. Definitely needs to be more WordPress-ified. Easy install, elegant interface, web-based configuration...

  • I'd like to put a vote in for WikkaWiki, which I found very easy to install and set up; not sure what the templating is like yet, but I was impressed with the out-of-the-box experience.

  • Phil,

    I believe Expression Engine's Wiki extension fulfills all your criteria. Example link, from the developer's site:…

    I am a fan of EE (not associated with the firm) because it plugs right into your XHTML designs, instead of you having to conform to theirs, because the template system is just too complex and the learning curve steep (I am looking at you Drupal!). This makes it easy to style it any way you like.

    Downside, the version of expression engine with the wiki costs $100:…



    Ps: Maybe I am shooting blanks here, but did you use to frequent the telnet chat ages ago? I came across you on Twitter and thought I'd remembered your name. Maybe I'll see you at SxSW.

  • Thanks for the suggestions. WikkaWikki does look quite nice. I forgot about Expression Engine but I didn't really want to pay anything at this stage.

    And yes Florian, I did used to hang out on Spacebar, around 95/6. I still pop in occasionally just to see familiar names sitting idle :) Come say hi at SXSW.

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25 Feb 2009 at Twitter

  • 6:52pm: Thanks for wiki thoughts, again. I settled on PmWiki as the least awful option. Wrote the decision process up here
  • 4:03pm: Very impressed with Drupal but considering it overkill when I JUST WANT A SIMPLE, PRETTY, EASY TO INSTALL AND USE WIKI.
  • 2:46pm: Shaving an entire herd of yaks.
  • 9:20am: Having a lot of fun.

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  1. Billy Bragg (17)
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  3. Tom Waits (6)
  4. Miss Kittin (6)
  5. Hefner (4)
  6. Hank Williams (4)
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