Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Less and less convinced

In News on Mar 29, 2010 at 00:01

After having played around a bit with the recently installed Forum + Wiki site, I’m having some serious doubts about switching over to it. Here’s the Sandbox page, as example:


Looks great, right? So what’s the problem?

It’s too powerful and it’s too complex.

The #1 feature which drew me to Wikidot, is its unification of a discussion forum with a wiki. The forum is very good: hardly any setup needed, good threaded discussions, good notification options, and good admin interface. Perfectly usable, right out of the box. As I described here, the combination of a timeline-oriented forum and a project / topic oriented wiki sounds like the pefect way to merge the two major areas one would like to have on a community-based site.

But the wiki, if you pardon my French, sucks

It’s an attempt to shoehorn formatting options, style elements, and content management features into a wiki-like syntax which just doesn’t make sense. Tables, tabbed views, modules, footnotes, formulas, … the list doesn’t end, but the confusion just increases as you go along. There are numerous ways to create links, yet I can’t make internal and external links appear differently on the page. The way to change a link’s title depends on the type of link used. Some features are modules, others are built-in. I don’t know about others, but as I’ve been trying out a few things, I’m not getting more and more used to the syntax – which to me is a sign that it lacks regularity.

In terms of site structuring features, there is too much functionality: sections w/ table-of-content, tags, categories, and parent-child page relationships. The problem with this is that every contributor will choose a different mechanism when adding new pages. Some people will put everything into a single page, others will try to create “islands of personal hierarchies”, twisting the available features to match a personal preference for specific pages. I don’t fancy spending my time editing pages and adjusting structures to try and unify things. And I’m only going to end up stepping on everyone’s toes if I change something they spent ages perfecting to look “just right”.

Don’t get me wrong. There is a lot to like about Wikidot.

But for an open community site, which aims to help lots of people find their way around, while letting active members share and contribute highly informative nuggets of knowledge (link broken as of 2010-04-05), I think the Wikidot format has (far!) too many degrees of freedom. Style should be pleasing (which is evidently a personal preference) but most of all it should be uniform. This daily weblog gets information across because its style was defined long ago and has become unimportant – both for me as writer, and for its readers, judging by the friendly emails I keep receiving.

A drawback which bothers me more than I expected: posting on the forums requires signing up with Wikidot.

The other thing I found out is that browser-based editing is tedious. There’s not much Wikidot can do about that (it does explain why I prefer email-based discussions over web forums).

If only someone would create the perfect community site … open source, preferably, with minimal lock-in!

I’m inclined to keep the current forum and wiki as is for now. They are not perfect, but Wikidot is too much of a compromise. Maybe something else will come along …

Update 2010-04-05 : this particular wiki is no longer being used.

  1. I have used TikiWiki ( in some internal projects and the users liked it. A loot of modules and you can “dumb it down” by blocking HTML edit etc. I do not know if it is right for you? Try it for size (-;.

    • Thanks, that one does indeed look pretty good! I’ll explore, in my “copious” spare time :)

  2. Comprehensible concerns…

    I always had to delimit the features of my wikis (and adapt all the documentation :/) so they were really easy for all kinds of people again. No Fonts, no Colors, no no no. It’s about content!

    Text, headlines, bullet-lists, indentation. I even disabled Tables because people always messed them up accidentally and somebody had to revert/repair. That “someone” was me most of the time even if there were 10 other people capable of understanding the problem in the source – they just did not care enough.

    Same with the structure. I always had to rename pages, move content and delete old/obsolete information :/

    I hope you find a better solution! Please remember my favourite “Moin” when checking out ;)

  3. i dont really know a lot about this stuff. but i have seen that there are some Forum or Bulletin Board extensions to MediaWiki. i have some available hosting that i would be more than willing to let you play with installing packages just to try out different options. i like that MediaWiki also has a dot/graphviz plugin! great for dynamically creating charts wiki style!

  4. I’m going to have a go with TikiWiki. Thanks for the other suggestions. At the end of the day, decisions like these have long-term implications (alas!), but there’s no way I could evaluate them all and find the “best” one. All I can do is try and pick one which is good enough… and then move on quickly!

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