Reflections On 5 Years With Wikidot

by RobElliott on 12 Apr 2013 06:11

Today it is 5 years since I first signed up for a Wikidot account. It is still one of the best things I have ever done.


I had previous experience of Sharepoint but wanted an easier platform for my team spread around Scotland which didn't require servers, developers or any cost and which was good for managing a project, developing documentation and communicating between project members. Little did I realise that 5 years on I would be a Wikidot Admin, provide first line support on the platform, have developed a business (currently part-time) based on developing Wikidot-based websites, or that I get withdrawal symptoms if I'm away from my Wikidot activity dashboard for more than a couple of hours.

But as with any platform, application or interest, there are things about Wikidot that I like and things that I think could be improved. I'd like to share a few of these with you. It is purely personal, others will have different likes and dislikes and different experiences with Wikidot.

First the things that I like about Wikidot. It is an easy platform to get started with. You can have a site up and running in a few minutes and there is no big learning curve for a basic site. Yes there are things to learn, particularly as you start to develop more complex sites, but that is half the fun! And you don't need to learn it all immediately. Most days I am still learning new things or new ways of doing things.

An aspect I really like about the platform is that it is very flexible: you can build everything from a standard wiki to a knowledgebase to a commercial website or intranet. You can make it as complex or as simple as you want without the platform dictating what the result must look like (as Sharepoint does).

The features that Wikidot provides out-of-the-box are superior to those of its competitors. Features like the ListPages module, live templates and dataforms are incredibly powerful. These and other features like selecting and sorting on dataform values are not available in heavyweight competitor products like Confluence, or if they are they are plugins that can cost a lot of money and often cannot be used together. We get these for free, ready to go, out-of-the-box with Wikidot. And they work together beautifully. There are many powerful features with Wikidot that you just don't find in other products.

Strangely another feature which I think is a good thing is the absence of a WYSIWYG editor. There has been a lot of talk about this on the forums over the years but Wikidot has, quite rightly in my opinion, kept to a wiki syntax. Other platforms like Confluence (which I use most days in a corporate environment) have moved away from this in favour of wysiwyg but it reduces the flexibility of the platform and also seems to reduce what you can do. So I am pleased that Wikidot has resisted the tempation to replace the powerful and flexible wiki syntax with wysiwyg.

The support forum and the community admins are one of Wikidot's great strengths. A user with a question or a problem can get an answer very quickly 24 hours a day. We have admins in the USA, UK, Belgium, Austria and Australia so most timezones are covered. The speed, friendliness and quality of the support is better than any other platform I have dealt with.

The Admins and gurus themselves are first class and are always willing to help with answering questions, providing code solutions and giving suggestions. It is a real team and one that I am proud to be part of. And the snippets and applications that they have developed, for example the recent Android app, have made Wikidot even more accessible and powerful.

But there are things that I would like to see and that could be improved with Wikidot.

I hate the fact that in common with other free platforms Wikidot is seen as an easy target for webspammers and SEO backlink merchants. It is too easy for an automated program to create an account and webspam site in a few seconds. Currently there are many hundreds of webspam sites created every day and we spend too many hours deleting them. I would like to see a robust captcha system or other security so that it is much harder to create these sites which devalue Wikidot's reputation.

The lack of communication with Wikidot users and admins is also a source of frustration. We really have no idea what Wikidot is working on or what the overall roadmap is. This is not just confined to ordinary users, we admins have no idea either and certainly get no better communication than anyone else.

This poor communication also extends to not giving us any idea what the progress is on wishes that are submitted on the feedback site. Wikidot users and admins don't just create wishes because they're bored, it is because there is a perceived need for a new feature. There might be a very good reason why a feature can't be worked on or implemented, but too often a wish is rejected with no reason given which is a) unhelpful and b) very demoralising for the person who has made it. More often though a wish just hangs in the air with no response at all from the developers. And if they do give a response, like accepting a wish, a user has no idea when this might be worked on, let alone delivered. As an example I have a wish that was accepted in June 2011 and there has not been a single bit of communication (or development it would appear) since then. That is not good enough. I would not get away with that in my current dayjob as Intranet/KM/Wiki Manager for a very big European company and Wikidot needs to improve its performance and communication in this area.

Wikidot is, without doubt, one of the best, most powerful wiki platforms currently available and it beats Confluence, Sharepoint, Wikimedia, Wetpaint and other platforms in most areas. It's not yet a platform which corporate IT departments like due to the fact that it is hosted and can't have Active Directory integration. If this could be achieved it would be a world-beater. But I would be happy to see more modest improvement: responses to wishes, more systematic development of features and definitely more communication from the development team.

I have really enjoyed the last 5 years with Wikidot and am proud that I have been able to contribute. I look forward to the next 5 years. As a flexible wiki, website, intranet, knowledgebase platform ….you name it… it is hard to find something that is better or more enjoyable to use.

Rob Elliott
Wikidot First-Line Support and Community Admin Team

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