March 24, 2006

Thoughts on Establishing a Wiki Farm

Posted at March 24, 2006 02:31 AM in CaseWiki , MediaWiki , Wiki , Wiki , collaboration .

Following in Jeremy's footsteps, I am going to jot down my thoughts on a wiki farm at Case. I will try to avoid saying why a wiki farm is needed. Jeremy already did an excellent job at communicating that point.

By now, hopefully you are aware of what a wiki is and why it is useful. Although the Case Wiki is a great start, many still desire something that is less official, something that is smaller, something that is more customizable. Enter a wiki farm. A wiki farm is someplace you can go to create your own wiki. A wiki for every individual. A wiki for every group. Wikis viewable by just you. Wikis viewable by just your department. Wikis editable by students in a class. It doesn't matter. You have it any way you like it.

A wiki farm at Case is a great idea. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter:

How independent are separate wikis?

Are separate wikis actual separate wiki software installations, or are they simply spaces within a master wiki? The former would theoretically allow higher per-project customization and possibly even allow multiple wiki software packages to be utilized. The later would establish a more-controlled and uniform environment, but potentially at the cost of customization.

How do you leverage authentication and authorization?

For authentication, there are two methods: CAS for authentication of university people, Sympa ( for authentication of external people. For authorization, we can do group membership through LDAP, Sympa and the USG web service. Shibboleth can also be leveraged in there too. How are all of these methods combined seemlessly? We need to select a software package(s) that allows these all to be used.

Why can't we use a wiki hosting provider?

There are free wiki farms in existence. We could use them. However, they wouldn't integrate with our authentication and authorization architectures. Considering some wikis could be used to discuss sensitive university matters (say a wiki on how to invest the endowment), we would not want this information to leave the Case network. Reasons enough.

Consistency Matters

Wiki syntax can be difficult to master. Do we really want to introduce a separate syntax from the Case Wiki that is only valid on the wiki farm? If so, does this mean we are constrained to using MediaWiki?

What software is available?

MediaWiki is proven to work well for individual projects. We could install many instances of MediaWiki using custom software to manage them. I am very fluent in MediaWiki's architecture and could create something rather quickly.

XWiki is a promising wiki software product that natively supports creating multiple wikis, or spaces, within one master wiki. XWiki is opensource and is coded in Java.

Confluence is like XWiki, but costs money and looks to have a more confusing interface (from personal experience). Given financial situation of the university, rule out Confluence.

DokuWiki, TiddlyWiki, and others should all be considered. Many would require custom software to tie them together in a wiki farm. Wiki syntax is different for every wiki.

Can MediaWiki Work?

As stated earlier, I could hack out a farm control application for MediaWiki with relative ease. MediaWiki IS meant for single project installations. We would just have many installations controlled via the farmer interface and would give owners of each wiki control over what extensions to enable. However, MediaWiki can seem overpowering. It IS overkill to drive a 10-page, 5-user wiki. At the same time, syntax agrees with the Case Wiki. The work we put in to the development of the Case Wiki can easily be translated to the wiki farm. Because of the existence of the Case Wiki, MediaWiki is in a position of "why shouldn't we select MediaWiki" instead of "let's evaluate MediaWiki as a possibility." Is this logic flawed?

Other thoughts

Is there a market for the service? The reason for proposing a wiki farm is to give people a place to play that is not the Case Wiki. The Case Wiki can't serve everyone's need. There must be another service. Yet, would people utilize such a service? ITS has an internal wiki. IT for Enrollment Management has an internal wiki. The Case iTunes group has a wiki. My fraternity has a wiki. Would these groups have chosen the central wiki service if it were available? How do we encourage people chose the central wiki service?

Just some random thoughts at the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps when somebody gives the green light for the wiki farm, my thoughts will be consulted. Who knows.


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Comments is Jimbo Wales' other project. It's a hosted MediaWiki farm. They probably have some software to manage the wiki farm, and it's probably open source (though I couldn't find it right away, so ...). Or it may be part of MediaWiki already.

Posted by Andrew Witte at March 25, 2006 01:23 PM

What I’ve found most interesting about MediaWiki is that people are starting to use it to build “normal” non-wiki websites. Pages can be locked-down, so only certain users have editing privledges.

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