Enterprise Wikis


One of the professors in my department sought my help to install a wiki in his department-provided web space. Alas, our PHP implementation is too old, so I asked him to hold off his wiki intentions until we could upgrade the server. A faculty member also expressed an interest in a wiki.

It’s only a matter of time before other folks within the department will want to use a wiki, too. I do not want to have lots of independent wiki installations living on our server, each with their own account database and permission schemes. Ideally, I’d like to have a single wiki installation that we in I.T. can maintain, and which can be partitioned off for use by multiple users. It must be able to authenticate either against our ActiveDirectory server or against the OSU IMAP server so that I can avoid altogether issues of password maintenance. It must support some mechanism of privilege delegation, so that I can say “This user can administer these pages, but no others”. And it must provide some means of tracking who does what. It’d be great if it could be Kerberized, so that domain users don’t need to bother logging in just to this tool.

I recalled SocialText from somewhere, so I took some time to investigate. It’s certainly an interesting looking package, and almost does most of what I want. I sat through an online product demonstration with a very friendly sales rep. Alas, the sales rep spent too much time trying to get me excited about basic wiki features, even after I told her that I am extremely well versed in content management, rich text editing, and other wiki concepts.

SocialText’s core offering is a hosted solution. The pricing strikes me as a little exorbitant, but so be it. I’m not interested in a hosted solution: I want something I can install on my servers and maintain myself. Alas, SocialText does not offer such a thing. Instead, they offer a wiki appliance, which comes pre-configured to provide a drop-in solution. Pricing starts at $400/month.

I might need to have another product demonstration, in order to truly appreciate all of the “enterprise” functionality that SocialText provides. The sales rep jumped pretty quickly into ways she thought we might use a wiki, and as a result she was fairly wide of the mark. I don’t think any of our faculty would use a department wiki for course content when the University provides Carmen, the OSU-branded course management solution powered by Desire2Learn. A departmental wiki would mostly – I think – be used for internal coordination and collaboration outside of the context of any specific class or course. Profs and grad students might work together on research documentation, for example.

Given the fairly light use, at least initially, I don’t think SocialText provides us enough to justify the price. I did take a look at SocialText Open, the open source flavor of their enterprise solution. This is truly terrifying: it has 150+ CPAN dependencies, requires Apache 1.3 with specific configurations, and I was told by the SocialText sales rep that it’s nearly impossible to install without paid support. I guess, strictly speaking, it is open source since I can access the source code; open source says nothing about the source code actually being usable.

I asked for recommendations from COLUG. Pat suggested that I give Drupal a look: in particular the Organic Groups module. I did look, and I am impressed.

I’d been leaning toward using Drupal to drive the revamped website for the department. My only concern is that it’s got a fairly steep learning curve, even for most basic operations. I’m worried that I won’t be able to convince the faculty to use it, and they’d all resort to running their own wikis.

So, do any readers have any suggestions or feedback? Are there other packages I ought to look at? Is Drupal + Organic Groups up to the task?

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