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Grow Your Business Technology

How to Build a Wiki for Your Small Business

Wiki for small business
Credit: Shutterstock

Ditch your employee handbook, and consider giving your team a company wiki. A wiki is a website of sorts that allows for collaborative editing by a group of users, just as is true of Wikipedia. The collaborative nature can bring the team together, and save you time training new employees on company policies, new employee guides, document templates and anything else you require.

Wikis allow you to assign permissions to different team members who can edit pages or add new content. You organize different pages by categories and subcategories. The trademark feature of a wiki is the quick transition to related pages by way of hyperlinked keywords.

There are different approaches to building a wiki, and this guide will detail two of the most common routes for setting one up. The first is the easiest route, with user wikis hosted by third-party services and created with customizable interfaces. The second is an advanced method that requires some web coding knowledge.

If you don't have much technical know-how, then starting a wiki on a wiki-hosting service is likely the best route. Wiki-hosting services host your wiki on their servers and provide the interface for customizing it. These services are sometimes free, with a paid-premium version to unlock all of their features. There are also a select few that run ads on your wiki page, but these are for public pages.

These are some of the more popular services.

  • Wikidot is an enterprise wiki-hosting service with features for crafting wikis and other professional websites. There is a free version for making public wikis and paid premium versions ($49.90 to $239.90) for hosting private wikis for your companies. It features unlimited pages for your site and storage space for hosting documents and other files that you can share across your company.
  • WikiFoundry is a free wiki-hosting service where you can create private wikis for only members you invite. The interface and design are simple, with little room for customization. The service runs ads on your wiki, but you can pay a fee of $7 a month to remove the ads.
  • Tettra, a wiki-hosting and editing program, is an add-on for the chat program Slack. Team members connected through Slack can edit the wiki, add pages and share documents companywide. Tettra hosts all your content. This is a paid service with different pricing plans depending on the size of your team, starting at $50 per month for up to 20 users and going up to $500 per month for up to 300 users.
  • Wikia is best known for hosting public wikis about pop culture fandoms; however, users can create wikis on any subject in an easy-to-use interface for free. There is no option to make a private wiki, and the service runs ads on sites.

An option that may prove cheaper than a wiki-hosting service, depending on your circumstances, is to build and host a wiki on your own server or online hosting service. This takes more technical and online coding knowledge but can still be easy and manageable.

First, you'll need a place to host your wiki. You can use an onsite server that your company already owns, or you can rent online server space. There are some cloud services such as A2 Hosting, HostGator and Bluehost that are optimized for running wiki software. If you plan to make your wiki accessible to the public or available to your employees from anywhere with an internet connection, you'll also need a web domain.

Otherwise, users will only be able to access the wiki from your local network or a VPN. Since wikis are typically a series of text web pages, they shouldn't require much space, unless you also want to host bigger file types.

Next, you'll need wiki software to create and customize your wiki. Some of the more popular programs include:

  • MediaWiki, an open source program and the same used by Wikipedia. Using it requires basic knowledge of PHP script and CSS code. Even if you're not familiar with coding, MediaWiki's website offers detailed instructions on how to install it on your server and customize your wiki. It's free to download and use.
  • TikiWiki is a content management system (CMS) with a full suite of website programming features, but by default is a wiki platform with the essential tools to craft your company's wiki page. This platform has lots of plug-ins available for extra features such embedded video, documents and maps. TikiWiki is open source and free to download.
  • DokuWiki is an easy-to-install wiki platform that doesn't require as much coding knowledge as MediaWiki. It has an understandable interface and is easy to assign access priorities to team members. DokuWiki is also open source and free.

Many wiki hosting services, like Wikia and Wikidot, have their own interfaces for adding pages, info boxes and links. These features are usually self-explanatory and come with extensive instructions and support.

Editing your self-hosted wiki is more complicated and will take some web design skills, depending on your software. The common coding language for wiki software and web design software, in general, is CSS. This controls the look and layout of your wiki. Fortunately, you can find lots of premade CSS templates online. All you need to do is copy the code and paste it into the appropriate place in your software.

The other code you need to know is wiki markup, which controls the formatting of your wiki's content. Instead of a familiar text formatting toolbar, to change the heading type, font, size and other aspects of your wiki, you'll need to familiarize yourself with wiki markup language. Wiki markup is based on HTML. [See Related Story: 10 Best Resources for Learning How to Code]

Creating a wiki is a great communication tool to keep employees up to speed on your company's procedures and rules. It's a destination to point employees to for basic instruction, which can be easily added to for further clarification.

Wiki-hosting services offer a short learning curve but are less flexible and can be costly to run. Self-hosting, on the other hand, is cheaper due to the amount of open source software, especially if you already have a server to store it on. You may need to learn some coding to proceed if you don't already have someone on your team who's knowledgeable in basic online programming.