General Front and Back-end UpgradesWikipedia still uses a theme that doesn’t have a maximum width on the content area. In fact, I’ve looked at theme options for MediaWiki (the software that runs Wikipedia), and most of them are incredibly dated and not terribly user-friendly. Ditto for DokuWiki (though to be fair, there have been some fairly good themes adapted for it), PhpWiki, and many others. This is at least in part because most of the wiki software still in use is ancient by IT standards. It can be difficult to adapt modern front-end code to old platforms (depending greatly on how they were made). The age of these platforms shows in the back-end, too, as they were clearly designed by software/data engineers, and tend to be harder for anyone else to use. Oh, just about anyone can still learn these systems, but it’s a royal pain. To put it simply, we need new options. We need a whole new generation of (preferably self-hosted) wiki software that combines everything the older projects have learned with everything we now know about usability, UX, and content management. And for the love of all that is holy and good, we need something easier to design and code new themes for. Take Wiki.js, for example. It’s a relatively new project which is definitely on the right track. Now if only there was a PHP version, or at least an easier way to install Wiki.js, I’d be a happy camper. (If you’re a dev working on a new wiki project, please link it below.)
Favorites and Recently-Visited PagesWhen I find myself returning often to a wiki or knowledge base (that’s not Wikipedia), I often return to the same pages as before to refresh my memory on the minutiae of one thing or another. For example, I might need to look up a more obscure CSS property a few times before it really sticks in my brain. If you have users doing that, it may be helpful to provide them with a list of recently-visited pages for easy access, or a way to build a list of favorites. If member sign-ups are a thing that you want, you could use these features as something of a selling point, even. You may have noticed that all of the tweaks I’ve listed so far are tied to convenience. Never underestimate the power of convenience.
Final ThoughtsWikis in general are a smart system. Make a link to a page that doesn’t exist yet, the page is generated automatically, then you go and add stuff to it. It’s an “organic” way of creating content and navigating it, too. Knowledge bases are usually more hierarchical, and that formula works for them. These systems do not, in my mind, need a complete revolution. The theory behind them is sound enough that these systems are still in use despite the inconvenience presented by older (and sometimes incredibly complex) platforms. I’m eager to see what designers and developers could do with wikis and similar platforms while knowing what we know now. We’re accumulating new knowledge all of the time, and with all due respect to blogs, sometimes we just need a good wiki for it.
Ezequiel Bruni is a web/UX designer, blogger, and aspiring photographer living in Mexico. When he’s not up to his finely-chiselled ears in wire-frames and front-end code, or ranting about the same, he indulges in beer, pizza, fantasy novels, and stand-up comedy.