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Wiki-in-the-Box - Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

 
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Wiki-in-the-BoxToday I'm going to get off the SharePoint Designer shtick, and go back to SharePoint basics. In particular, I want to take a closer look at SharePoint's built-in wiki functionality.

SharePoint's wiki has taken a lot of grief online lately. Some people look at various dedicated wiki systems, then at SharePoint, and come to the conclusion that SharePoint's wiki just doesn't measure up to the "best of breed". There is a big difference, however, between "not the best" and "totally inadequate".

The Real Question

If you use SharePoint in your company, and are considering whether to purchase a third-party wiki replacement, the question you really need to ask isn't, "Is SharePoint's wiki the best there is?", but rather "Will SharePoint's wiki do the job I need done?"

To help you answer that question, we'll take a look at what a wiki is, what you might want it to do, and what SharePoint's Wiki offers "in the box" to answer those needs. I'll also check out what simple enhancements are available (both within SharePoint, and via add-ons) to extend that built-in functionality.

Just What is a Wiki, Anyway?

Creating pages for the web has historically been a complicated process. It required page creation and editing on a client computer (usually with a specialized tool), and then uploading the finished pages to the web site. Linking required knowing where the target pages were going be relative to the current page.

Wiki-wiki is Hawaiian for "quick". The first wiki was designed to make it quick and easy to create and edit web pages, as well as the links between them. Rather than force users to understand HTML markup, and site structure, a wiki lets them create a link, and if the target page doesn't exist, it will be created automatically when the link is clicked for the first time. Combined with in-place editing, this effectively makes a wiki a form online content management system.

As noted earlier, a user doesn't need knowledge of HTML markup to use a wiki. However, because wikis historically have used plain text boxes for entering content, over time conventions have developed for a "wiki markup" for such things as bold and italic text, intra-page section headings, etc... I'll talk about this in more detail in the next section.

Note: WikiWikiWeb, the software created by Ward Cunningham for that first wiki, used a different syntax from most modern wikis when it comes to links. WikiWikiWeb used compressed text (i.e. Leading-cap words with no spaces between) to indicate text was a link. Current wiki markup convention calls for intra-site links (also known as wiki links) to be defined with double square brackets.

In addition to being quick and simple, there is another, non-technical, aspect to a wiki - something of a "wiki philosophy". This philosophy holds that a wiki should be open to modification by anyone who has something to contribute - even anonymously. Most public wikis hold to this philosophy, however it is not without its problems. For example, while the desired benefit - people with actual knowledge of a subject contributing and correcting inaccurate information - is clearly achieved, it is just as easy for others to post deliberately incorrect information, or even vandalize sites.

While such defacement is just as easily corrected, most modern wiki systems do incorporate certain safeguards - such as authentication, change logs, and approval processes - which can be implemented at need. Indeed, even WikiPedia, the most prominent wiki site on the internet, treats authenticated and anonymous contributions differently, and allows article (page) creators to prevent anonymous edits.

SharePoint Wiki - On the Surface

Now that you know basically what a wiki is, and how they were created to make it easy for non-technical users - and particularly subject matter experts (SMEs) - to create and manage web content, let's take a look at a SharePoint wiki site.

Note: SharePoint has two things called "wiki". The Wiki Library, and the Wiki Site template. A Wiki Library can be created on almost any SharePoint site, and is accessed through quick-launch just like any other SharePoint list or library. When you create a Wiki Site, a Wiki Library is created in it automatically, the site is set to use the Wiki Library's home page as its default, and a Wiki Pages section is created in the Quick Launch bar. The behavior of the Wiki Library itself is otherwise identical.

In most respects, a SharePoint Wiki is very similar to any other SharePoint site, as shown below. However, when you look a little closer, you start to see some differences:

Wiki-in-the-Box
  • Wiki Toolbar - The wiki toolbar gives you direct, 1-click access to editing a page, viewing its change history, or discovering what other pages in the wiki link to it.
  • Quick Launch Bar - Notice the Wiki Pages section. This is created in a Wiki Site only. Other "normal" sections (e.g. Lists, Discussions, etc...) are generated as needed if you add them to the site. On non-wiki sites to which a Wiki Library is added, this section is not created automatically.
  • Recent Changes Bar - The Recent Changes bar lists the last five pages that have been updated.

Whether stand-alone, or part of a wiki site, two pages are created by default in a SharePoint wiki library - the Home page (shown above), and "How to use this Wiki" (the text varies slightly to reflect the library or site context). While wikis, by definition, are very easy to use, a quick glance through the "How to" page can still be very helpful. It provides quick tips on the two elements of a SharePoint wiki that are not "obvious", especially to new users - the double bracket wiki link syntax, and how to create new pages.

To help prevent the creation of orphan pages (those with no incoming links), users are encouraged to grow the site organically, by editing an existing page and adding wiki links. Recall that, if you create a wiki link to a page that doesn't exist, a new page will be created when that link is first clicked.

Getting Started

The first thing you will probably want to do, is edit the home page to reflect your purpose in creating the wiki site, and create some "seed" links to get your users started.

Wiki-in-the-Box

Notice how I have "set the stage" for my users. I haven't actually entered any information yet, but by creating these links and a description, I have let people know the purpose of this site. Now, anyone with write permission can click on one of the links with dashed underlines, and they will be able to create content.

Which brings us to the first area of concern in many environments - if "anyone" can go in and modify these pages, what if someone totally messes things up? This is where the page history comes into play. By clicking the History button in the wiki toolbar, I can easily see what changes have been made over time. For example, in the screenshot below, you can easily see the changes I have made to the home page from the default, with added and deleted text highlighted in different colors from that which was unchanged:

  Wiki-in-the-Box

Because in most environments SharePoint is used with authentication, you will know not only what changes were made, and when, but by whom.

The Editing Experience

One of the complaints often leveled against SharePoint's wiki is its lack of support for "wiki markup" beyond intra-site page links. While this is true as far as it goes, it doesn't consider what that markup is designed to do - compensate for the plain-text editing features of most wiki systems. For example, to make italic text in many wiki systems, you enclose the text in ''double apostrophes''. Yet while there are some conventions, there is no true "wiki markup" standard.

Here is an example of the page editing experience in a SharePoint wiki:

Wiki-in-the-Box

Notice that SharePoint's wiki actually provides a full rich-text editor, with direct toolbar-based access to text formatting, external hyperlinking, etc... The results from these tools are stored as standard HTML markup. This strongly mitigates the need for specialized wiki markup beyond the already included internal linking.

Note: Out of the box, the rich-text editing experience is only provided for users of Internet Explorer. If you have many non-IE users, I strongly suggest that you download and install Telerik's RadEditor Light. This is a free tool, the use of which is fully supported by Microsoft. I have provided a detailed write-up of it in an earlier blog post. Even if you do use IE, RadEditor Lite provides many other features that are particularly useful in a wiki environment.

Digging Deeper

So, looking at the "wiki" features of SharePoint's wiki, we see a very easy to use system, which, while it may not offer everything a competitor's wiki has, isn't too bad. But the story doesn't stop there. The other side of the "SharePoint Wiki" equation is SharePoint itself. As a part of SharePoint, the wiki library comes with a number of very useful capabilities, especially around site management.

Much of the "SharePointiness" of the wiki library is suppressed from the default page views. Nevertheless, it is in there, just below the surface. The easiest way to access it is to click the "View All Pages" link in the Recent Changes bar. This brings up a standard SharePoint view of your wiki library:

Wiki-in-the-Box

From here, you have access to all sorts of abilities:

  • Setting Alerts to be notified of changes
  • Setting the permissions of the library, or even individual pages
  • Adding metadata fields - for example, subject tags, or even links to supporting documents
  • RSS feeds
  • Requiring approval and document check-out for changes.
  • Creating different views of the information

In addition, because wiki pages are considered individual files by SharePoint, they have individual URLs, making it easy to provide "friendly" links to users, as well as get detailed usage reports.

Because a wiki page is a "page" in SharePoint, you have a second editing option, under the Site Actions menu. This edits the SharePoint, rather than Wiki aspects of the page, and allows you to add web parts to a page in your wiki. These parts will only appear on that specific page, but can be used for virtually any purpose. For example, here I've added a web part that is a view of the wiki library which displays a page preview when you roll over a title:

Wiki-in-the-Box

Content in a SharePoint wiki is also automatically included in SharePoint searches, making it easy to find information even if you don't know exactly where in the wiki it is.

Conclusion

SharePoint's wiki features are a bit like Rodney Dangerfield - they "don't get no respect". Yet, while on their own they may not be best-of-breed in the wiki world, they are still quite useful. In addition, they do something no other wiki system does, they bring the rest of SharePoint, with all of its power and flexibility, along for the ride.

If you are considering deploying a wiki in your company, and you are already using SharePoint, look beyond what a wiki purist might see as perfection, and consider your actual needs. You will probably find that SharePoint's wiki will fulfill them.

 

Woody WindischmanAuthor: Woody Windischman
Site: The Sanity Point

Woody Windischman is a technology consultant with over 20 years of experience in a variety of roles, providing a unique perspective which allows him to see problems holistically.

Since getting acquainted with Microsoft IIS and FrontPage in the mid 90's, Woody has been deeply involved in the community - first having been awarded as a Microsoft SharePoint MVP from October 2005 through September of 2007, and then spending a year working directly with the SharePoint product team.

Page SizesProfessional Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007
Woodrow W. Windischman, Bryan Phillips, Asif Rehmani
ISBN: 978-0-470-28761-3

Comments

Matt Evans

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Great article, Woody. I like your pragmatic approach to the question of whether SharePoint wiki does the job. Also, like your point about all the SharePoint goodness that comes with the SP wiki.

Posted 16-Apr-2009 by Matt Evans
Kevin Davis

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Thanks for writing this up Woody - good job.

I'm the PM responsible for wikis in the next version of SharePoint - if any readers have thoughts / feedback I'd be glad to hear them. Feel free to mail me at kevin.davis@microsoft.com or catch me on twitter - @spwiki

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Kevin Davis
Woody Windischman

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Thanks, Matt!

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Woody Windischman
Christophe

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Same comment I made to Mark a couple months ago: in a "SharePoint wiki" posting a picture is a two-step operation, while a wiki would let you do it in one step.
So yes, the SharePoint wiki is that bad: it doesn't handle correctly the most common situation, which is to easily create a page that mixes text and pictures. Let's not forget the etymology, wiki is first of all about doing things quickly.
The good news is that this issue is easy to fix. Hopefully, we'll see it in...2010!

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Christophe
Woody Windischman

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Hi Christophe,

I can't agree with you about this making SharePoint's wiki "that bad".

If your image is already available online, all you need to do is put the image on the page. If it isn't, you have to upload it somewhere first. Wikipedia is no different in this regard, so I guess you wouldn't consider it - one of the very icons of Wikiness - to be true wiki, either.

Furthermore, regardless of how "bad" it may be, you are right in that it is easy to fix - so easy, in fact, that I told you how to do it in the article. RadEditor Lite (which I mentioned and recommended), completely removes that issue, as it includes a very nice in-place media manager. (The linked article goes through how to download and set it up on your SharePoint site.)

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Woody Windischman
Christophe

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Well, the success of the RadEditor confirms that something was needed here ;-)
I was not talking about "that" kind of easy fix. Keep in mind that you are on an end user blog, nothing that involves server side implementation is easy.

That said, thanks for correcting me. I get your point, and too many critics focus on features rather than actual users' needs.

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Christophe
Woody Windischman

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Thanks, Kevin!

Hi again, Christophe!

I get your point about easy fixes and server-side installs. This article was actually cross-posted from my own blog (http://www.thesanitypoint.com), which isn't as purely end-user focused. :)

As for 2010 and what you feel needs to happen in the next SharePoint Wiki, now that Kevin has so kindly posted his address here, definitely drop him a line!

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Woody Windischman
Eric

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Nice analysis Woody, and the comments have also been valuable. I concur that the SharePoint wiki isn't "that bad" but get a little further under the hood and you see things like nonconforming markup for intra-page (as opposed to intra-site page) links, which is a MAJOR headache for my users. Try doing an intra-page table of contents and you'll see how nasty things can get.

Hopefully Kevin is subscribing to comments and will pick up on that last sentence!

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Eric
EndUserSharePoint

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Eric - I've got a No Assembly Solution for the intra-page TOC. Comes out Monday. -- Mark

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by EndUserSharePoint
Woody Windischman

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Hi Eric,

You can, in HTML view, add an anchor bookmark to your target, then create standard hyperlinks to it in WYSIWYG mode (You do need to enter a root-relative URL, which is a pain). But true, it is not as friendly as would be ideal.

- Woody -

Posted 17-Apr-2009 by Woody Windischman
A Hidden Gem - the Preview Pane View in SharePoint | End User SharePoint

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

[...] Toward the end of my wiki article last week, I showed a web part added to a SharePoint wiki page. While people liked the idea of adding web parts to a wiki, what got even more reaction was the web part itself. [...]

Posted 23-Apr-2009 by A Hidden Gem - the Preview Pane View in SharePoint | End User SharePoint
Sarah

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

I'm wondering about a wiki migration - what if you have an existing wiki? How is Sharepoint with not starting from scratch?

Posted 23-Apr-2009 by Sarah
Matt Evans

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

I just gave you a shout out on my One Minute SharePoint Wiki post on Get the Point: http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/blogs/GetThePoint/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=196

Posted 24-Apr-2009 by Matt Evans
Praveen

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Hello,
i have a question.
we have a wiki site and many wiki page libraries.
multiple users will be accessing site, so multiple users editing should be allowed along with content approval for wiki pages.
when content approval, versioning is enabled, its not allowing multiple users to edit until wiki page in pending state is approved.

any help is highly appreciated.

thanks.

Posted 07-Jun-2009 by Praveen
Woody Windischman

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Thanks, Matt! (sorry about the delay)

Praveen,

If you are requiring approval, then it I believe the behavior you described is proper. Otherwise, people could be deriving or building their changes on inaccurate information. You really need to make the choice - is the information in that wiki going to be controlled by one person (i.e. the approver), or by the community?

What might be nice (but isn't a built-in feature) would be the option to "freeze" a page that has reached a certain level of maturity, such that future edits would need to be approved. Unfortunately, approval is not that granular - it is either on or off for the whole library.

Posted 27-Jun-2009 by Woody Windischman
Troy Geri

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

How do you link to an anchor on a page. I created an anchor around a heading as follows in the edit page - raw html -
Category

Then at the bottom of the page a link to the anchor as follows Back to top

It doesn't work?

Posted 20-Oct-2009 by Troy Geri
Guille

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

The wiki in SharePoint is a disaster. And that is the reason for the need for articles like this. It is written all over the internet, MS SP wiki is BAD! (Yes, I'm a SP user, designer, site admin, and also use the Atlassian Confluence wiki platform).

MS SP wiki kills any hope for collaboration in a true wiki sense. The learning curve is huge, and the structure so cumbersome; makes it only useful for just a few advanced users / admins.

Sorry I have to disagree with most that has been said above.

Posted 24-Nov-2009 by Guille
Opvissen

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Microsoft shows it still doesn't understand the concept of a Wiki.
Their Wiki is fully layout oriented and stores content as convoluted HTML code.
A properly configured Wiki (e.g. WikiPedia) has lots of content oriented tools, helping people to achieve a consistent template-based layout. Plus all the tools that are available to analyze the content. Try doing that with an MS Wiki.
Yes with SP you can make a system of linked pages, but that's about the only resemblance it has with a true Wiki.
Having said that, it's also true that Wikis lack a consistent universal Wiki language. But at least automated conversion is possible. Fat chance doing that with SP's Wiki garbage HTML.

Posted 25-Mar-2010 by Opvissen
EricB

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

I have to agree completely with Guille and Opvissen. I've been using wiki's since the early days of Ward Cunningham's perl-based 'meatball' wiki, all the way up through modern wiki's like MediaWiki (www.mediawiki.org) and TikiWiki (www.tikiwiki.org). I've had roles that have ranged from sysadmin to web site manager to team manager to group manager. Bottom line is - the current wiki capability in sharepoint is awful - unless what you really only need to do is very primitive - but it is still very cumbersome in comparison.

There are some addons that can make it more usable such as KWiz's Wiki Plus(kwizcom.com/ProductPage.asp?ProductId=524) and I do understand that in sharepoint 2010 the wiki has been greatly improved (http://download.microsoft.com/download/0/B/0/0B06C453-8F7D-4D8E-A5E5-D50DC6F8D8F4/SharePoint_2010_Beta_Overview_Evaluation_Guide.pdf) - but right now, today - the sharepoint wiki is primitive, pathetic and incredibly frustrating.

Posted 01-Apr-2010 by EricB
Beth Celuck

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Can two users edit the wiki at the same time? I am often asked this question and can not find an answer to it. I know it is designed to be editied by multiple users, but at one time?

Posted 27-Apr-2010 by Beth Celuck
EndUserSharePoint

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Yes, two people can edit the wiki at the same time. However, if they are editing the same page at the same time, the last one who saves wins. -- Mark

Posted 27-Apr-2010 by EndUserSharePoint
Woody

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Hi Troy,
To add an intrapage link you need to put an anchor with just a name tag. For example Top title text. You use the value in the name attribute as the value after the # tag in your return anchor Link to top

Posted 27-Apr-2010 by Woody
Woody

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Sorry - I couldn't embed the source and have it show up. :( Generally, use a root-relative page name before the hash.

Posted 27-Apr-2010 by Woody
EndUserSharePoint

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Woody - Send it to me and I'll get it setup. -- Mark

Posted 27-Apr-2010 by EndUserSharePoint
Shawn

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Mark,

Did your article about the intra-page TOC get published? I searched and can't find it. If you can provide a link, I would appreciate it.

Thanks

Posted 05-May-2010 by Shawn
Guille

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Look at the Confluence Wiki (Atlassian), and you will have a perfect example of what an excellent wiki is, targeted to the end users and community, not the admin elite.

Referring to the title of this blog, to answer the question: "YES, SP WIKI IS REALLY THAT BAD"

Posted 06-May-2010 by Guille
Philip

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Hi,

Good article. I am just starting out using Sharepoint Wiki and so far is ok. It was a little tricky to get anchors to work but I got there.

How did you make the contents page using a web part view. Which web part did you use and are there any further options that have to be set?

Thanks

Posted 03-Jun-2010 by Philip
Keir

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

Migration is a pain in the behind.
I guess Microsoft didn’t bother to look up Wiki on Wikipedia before building its wiki. IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE SIMPLE!! ( and yes, I have reviewed and use the 2010 version - same issues, worse even)
Lesson in technical nomenclature: When the description of the function of a tool incorporates the manner in which it is created and should be used (i.e. easy), be sure to make the tool easy to use; or use another name for it. Some suggestions: a Shiki, a crapi, squiki, a bliki etc etc

Sorry for the rant, would love any suggestions you might have for migration.

Posted 17-Sep-2010 by Keir
Learning curve?

Wiki-in-the-Box – Is SharePoint Wiki Really that Bad?

There is no learning curve for syntax; there are only links. The reason why SP wiki is aweful is primarily the lack of templates and categories. This article is far too positive on the things it DOES have, and yes, history is supported. But its all too cumbersome and to faint. If you use mediawiki or confluence you're way ahead. And both tie in with your active directory. Just make an iframe in your sharepoint and there you go: a great wiki in your document publication system.

Posted 18-Oct-2010 by Learning curve?
MediaWikiUser

SP2010 wiki offering is worthless

Wikis are still completely terrible in SP 2010. Do yourself a favor and use MediaWiki.

Posted 06-Oct-2011 by MediaWikiUser
madhuparna dutta

Template-based layout is possible in SP Wiki

Hi woody i am a wiki editor... my question is.. is it possible to create template-based layout like mediawiki  in SP Wiki 2010?
Please

Posted 09-Jan-2012 by madhuparna dutta
Mark

Yes, sharepoint wiki is that bad

Yes it is that terrible, and worse. Their goal should be to let users cut & paste from MediaWiki and have everything work. For example, auto table of contents from tags and monospaced fonts.

Posted 05-Nov-2013 by Mark
Wayne Eddy

The Sharepoint Wiki is medicore overall, but its fomatting is an abomination.

I've been using the Sharepoint Wiki for over a year.  It is pretty ordinary compared to the other wikis I've used, especially compared to MediaWiki and Wikidot, but the one thing that really gets to me is the ridiculous abomination of a way it deals with formatting.  I have never come across such a poor inconsistant, flaky, frustrating excuse for a software product when it comes to formatting.
 
Something as simple as deleting a space can change the font or indentation somewhere else on the page. 
 
Sometimes changing a font results in several lines of white space being added.
 
Sometimes it becomes impossible to make certain text not bold.
 
Sometimes the only way to deal with the problem is to copy everything into notepad, nuke the whole page in HTML view, paste everything back and reformat everything from scracth.
 
How Microsoft can be satisfied with this state of affairs is beyond me.
 
Yes, the sharepoint wiki is that bad.

Posted 28-Nov-2013 by Wayne Eddy

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