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5 Wiki Tools for Building Online Communities

Social, collaborative, educational, and support environments share common theme

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Popular for the past 20 years or so for building collaborative knowledge bases and encyclopedic sites like Wikipedia, wikis have evolved into social, knowledge-sharing experiences. Newer wiki products are fully integrated online community platforms with other social technologies like blogs, discussion forums, and news feeds. Here are 5 well known wiki tools, free or commercial grade, with examples to give you ideas to grow and share your online community for public or private use.

1. MindTouch

MindTouch
Commercial grade wiki products and services offered by MindTouch have been lauded by Forrester Research as an alternative to Microsoft and IBM products of similar type. MindTouch's cloud-based wiki for public or private communities, are referred as enterprise content management (ECM) systems. MindTouch Wiki platforms demonstrate varied uses, like knowledge bases or executive dashboards; a stunning example of what you can do with a wiki is Autodesk's WikiHelp, a customer contributed knowledge community to support fellow users. Free, open source wiki software, MindTouch Core v10, based on GPL v.2 standards, is rated number one by Sourceforge.net. For example, SongBird, a digital music service, offers a developer repository using the MindTouch open source platform to extend its product resources. MindTouch developer resources are also available as a wiki community site.

2. Microsoft Office 365

Microsoft Office 365
Design your own wiki? Wiki page libraries will help you create one in the Microsoft Office 365 team site. If you're not familiar, Microsoft Office 365 is a commercial grade cloud-based product to build online libraries, collaborate among colleagues, extend resources, and connect enterprise communities, public or private. A wiki library is easily set up in SharePoint Online, as part of Office 365 and enables you to build wiki pages for your intranet or external facing collaboration and content management system. Team members working in the field or remotely can easily access the wiki library in Office 365 using a web browser.

3. Wikispaces

Wikispaces
Wikispaces is easily an educational tool as it is a personal group website. The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) rates Wikispaces as among the top 25 workspaces for teaching and learning. Free hosted Wikispaces are offered for educational use. Depending on your organization's access requirements, Wikispaces permissions may be established for public, protected, or private editing and viewing. Individuals, like teachers and small groups requiring a central online space can easily set up Wikispaces in minutes to collaborate and share resources. Commercial grade wiki packages are geared for large organizations requiring a dedicated wiki environment of unlimited wikis and private label for branding. Best examples, to see what others in education are doing, include Mr. Bruce's History Class designed by and for students, and Pottsgrove School District's Wikis.

4. Atlassian Confluence

Atlassian Confluence
Atlassian Confluence is popular among software product development teams, as testimonial of its long client list. For public or private use, Confluence wikis are a commercial grade, cloud-based solution or downloadable software to install on your server. The Confluence working environment allows you to create your own space, use workflow tools, calendars, drag and drop file sharing, and social features like share, @mentions, and activity streams. Confluence third party plug-ins help save you time to customize the interface through themes and usability for desktop and mobile designed wiki sites and even diagramming components in Confluence pages. Open source licensing is available if your project qualifies through Atlassian's application process. If Confluence's look and feel is what you're after, you may also want to consider the SharePoint Connector, enabling your Confluence wiki to reside inside SharePoint.

5. MediaWiki

MediaWiki
MediaWiki software is free, open source to host on your own web server. Not to be confused with MediaWiki's Wikipedia, although this is one example of this traditional wiki style for encyclopedia like content. MediaWiki provides software to build your own public facing wiki, extending your company's online domain and hosted on your web server as a service for customers. A couple of tech-savvy team members can help install the programs and database and may be well worth your while. MediaWiki's design is geared for high traffic community sites, much like Wikipedia. Some site examples to give you ideas of how this traditional wiki is being used, include: Tax almanac contributed by tax professionals and hosted by Intuit, a library of U.S. state and local government rules run by the non-profit group, Sunshine Review, and a knowledge base of enterprise communication equipment and tools hosted by Siemens.
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