Socialtext 2.0 raises the wiki bar

Socialtext have just launched version 2.0 of their wiki product. I haven’t had a chance to actually play with it yet, but based on what I’ve read so far, and on watching the screencast of the new features, this is a phenomenal improvement over the previous version.

The original version too readily betrayed its roots in Ingy‘s ‘kwiki’ project. This was a really simple way to set up a wiki back in the distant past of 2003, and sparked a wave of plugin development for a while, but in recent years has fallen out of favour, with more and more people preferring MediaWiki for a Free Software Wiki.

I don’t know if Socialtext have built version 2 from scratch, or whether they’re still building on a kwiki core (the source is available, so I could presumably find out easily if I wasn’t feeling so lazy), but they’ve moved a long way beyond it now.

The most obvious addition is Wikiwyg mode, which is hardly surprising as they’ve been publicly working on that for quite a while now, and have teamed up with Wikipedia to try to make it happen there too. But there are lots of other nice features too. All the best ideas from the various other wiki products out there appear to have been neatly packaged up into a coherent whole with a lot of magic ajax dust to simplify many key tasks.

Tagging seems to be becoming popular on wikis now, and will hopefully displace the more hierarchical ‘Category’ approach of Mediawiki. Socialtext makes adding and removing tags very simple, especially with a style auto-suggest feature. Attaching files to a page also appears to be a nice feature, but I’d need to play with this to see how well the file handling is built in to other features (like search).

Of course there’s RSS everywhere, not just on recent changes and watchlists and the like, but also for any search query you want to watch over time.

Once nice feature from Kwiki has been retained: the ability to see inline what other pages are linking back to the page you’re currently on. Although most wikis have a “What Links Here?” feature, my anecdotal experience implies that hardly anyone ever uses it. Bringing this information right out front lets people stumble across interesting connections they might otherwise have been completely unaware of, which is a significant plus in a corporate or community setting.

The built in blog tool also looks interesting. There have been a few people playing with the wiki/blog combination for a while, but most just end with the worst of both worlds. On the surface Socialtext appear to have managed to get the best of both: pages that look and feel more like a blog than a wiki, but with the full power of a wiki backend – particularly for linking to other pages.

None of these features are particularly innovative: the real breakthrough is in just stealing lots of good ideas and tying them together really well. The one feature that did surprise me though, and maybe the key innovation (unless they snaffled it from some other wiki software I haven’t encountered yet), is the Dashboard.

In my experience the “Home Page” of a corporate wiki is generally terrible, and either remains fairly empty, or becomes little more than a mass of links to all the pages people wanted to create but didn’t know where to link them from. Socialtext have blown this concept away and replaced it with a Personalised home page for each user, displaying a dashboard of useful information: Recent updates, changes to your watched pages, a shared whiteboard, a personal (but not private) notepad, etc.: all the pages that people would either have to look at regularly anyway, or, more likely, forget to look at regularly. Bringing them together into a single page suddenly makes that page much more valuable, particularly, again, in a corporate setting.

Apparently there’s a whole bundle of new features under the hood too, particularly an API for interfacing with other software or building your own extensions, but I haven’t had a chance to explore these yet.

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be anything for storing structured information, which is now a key requirement for our corporate wiki, or I’d seriously consider switching to this. Here’s hoping for 3.0…

One thought on “Socialtext 2.0 raises the wiki bar

  1. I am a SocialText user and I am very glad of their new interface. The WYSIWYG feature works well, but I got used to the old way and still use the basic markers to get what I want to see on my pages. Once familiar with, I find them more flexible.

    The Dashboard is clearly a good innovation although the link to what was previously the main page of the wiki is a little bit too small and not visible enough.

    About the structuration of information (and this may be slightly but decisively different from what is mentioned at the end of the article), I feel like the power of wikis lies in the ability given to users to create their own links structures. This means that users are those who give it a structure of their own, hence not necessitating a precise feature from the wiki. But I fear I do not really address the issue here, so I’m looking forwar to discuss about it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *