A FamilyWiki?

Stephanie and I have this idea for a cookbook project we’d like to work on together, and it occurred to me that a wiki would be a great candidate. Actually it may have been Stephanie who first suggested using something like a wiki.

Last night, while taking advantage of this luxurious, completely unscheduled three day weekend, I jotted down a to-do list of projects, and realized that several might benefit from some level of wikification (easy collaboration, non-rigid-structure, online access). But rather than create one-off wikis per project, I had a eureka moment! Why not just create a single “family wiki” for the both of us? Something we could both use as a private braindump for anything we want to share or work on together: research, itineraries, to-do lists, recipes, whatever—all within its malleable confines.

My wiki experience begins and ends with MediaWiki, the wiki engine behind Wikipedia—I actually host a site powered by it exclusively: editplus.info—so I spent some time last night re-educating myself on what else was available. I kind of like the idea of hosting the wiki myself, but of course that means I have to configure and maintain it myself.

On the hosted side of things, StikiPad, Wikispaces, and PBwiki seem to be the three biggest contenders. They all have full-featured, usually ad-supported free versions, with fuller-featured, ad-free versions for a small fee/month. It’s just that for something like this, I don’t feel like I should have to pay. Though I have to admit, StikiPad looks pretty good.

On the self-hosted side of things, MediaWiki (PHP), MoinMoin (Python), Instiki (Ruby), and DokuWiki (PHP) appear to be the leaders. Thanks to Wikipedia, editplus.info, and some projects at work, MediaWiki (and their wikitext format) just seems to make the most sense to me. The only downside is that using MediaWiki as a private wiki always seems like such a hack. That and the default Wikipedia Monobook skin is starting to show its age.

Finally, where would we host it? Stephanie and I both have fairly identity-centric domains (soleilisme.com and justinsomnia.org respectively) so methinks it’s time our blogs get together and create a cyberspace lovechild.


I’ve got a stikipad account and would recommend it if you don’t mind shelling out for a hosted service. Otherwise, I would set something up yourself.

MediaWiki seems like the obvious choice given that you’re at least a little familiar with it and that it’s under active development. Of course, then you have to put up with the weight of all those wikipedia features you’ll never use. As for a “private” MW — if the whole thing is private you can use htaccess to restrict who can see it.

Stay away from Instiki — it’s been abandoned in the past, and rails hosting, particularly on dreamhost, can be dicey. My personal favorite (at the moment) is PMwiki, but it tends to need a lot of customization to work Just Right. Thankfully, it’s easy to hack.

I might play with a free stikipad account just to see what I’m missing, but yeah in the end, I just set up MediaWiki install (via svn) and turned it private:

$wgGroupPermissions['*']['createaccount'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['read'] = false;
$wgGroupPermissions['*']['edit'] = false;

Btw, had fun poking around Lulu last night, thinking about self-publishing a cookbook we’re using the wiki to write.

I use Stikipad, but a word of caution: the team behind it seems to be breaking up, and there’s no response to service requests.

Also, 37signals has wikis that they call writeboards.

MediaWiki is kind of a big gorilla; I like PmWiki too.

don’t forget about Twiki… A great way to get a local wiki up quickly with no setup is using a JumpBox. We have JumpBoxes for Mediawiki, Dokuwiki and Twiki currently. Running it on VMware player or VMware server is a zero-cost, zero-setup approach that might work well for the projects you’re describing.


I’ve been using Dokuwiki as my project / braindump space for over a year now, http://wiki.boydstudio.ca. MediaWiki seemed like overkill for what I wanted to do.
Dokuwiki was simple to setup and run. I’m now using it for some courses I teach as well.


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