Saturday, March 21, 2009

TWiki vs MediaWiki part 2 - the battle

Ah TWiki. It is great. (See part 1 of this post for some background). Some of the things that I really like about TWiki are very subjective, but I'm going to list them anyway:
  • Its default interface is nice-looking and not too cluttered (big score against TikiWiki).
  • Its file-based storage is easy to understand, and gives me a confident feeling - an admin user with a text editor can access the page data directly to fix things if needed, run scripts, etc. I haven't needed to do that yet, but it's obviously a big plus compared to XWiki and most other wikis. (In case you are wondering - the only major downside as far as I can see is slow search when you have tens of thousands of topics. That bridge is so easy to cross that I don't consider it a downside at all).
  • It's very flexible, with a powerful template-based user interface and a solid collection of plugins.
Now I've started some consulting for a new web site that obviously needed a CMS. It's a bit like a Wikipedia, so I started looking at MediaWiki as an obvious implementation candidate. (It also turned out to be the only serious new candidate. There are various wiki feature comparison matrices on the net, and if you skip commercial candidates like Sharepoint and Confluence, and skip Google Sites because it's limited in many ways then it seems MediaWiki, TWiki and TikiWiki are more or less the main contenders). MediaWiki has some nice features, in particular its internationalization support. For many purposes it may be the best wiki around. It certainly is a serious contender. (I suspect that TWiki is more fun to use and look at, but didn't try to prove it).

Two things killed it for our purpose. It doesn't have sub-wiki's, which surprised me. It doesn't have page-level authorization! I know that authorization in general is a bit against the wiki spirit. The TWiki documentation doesn't hesitate to remind the administrator of that at every possible opportunity, but at least TWiki has the feature. This gives the admin the possibility to choose to use it or not. But the MediaWiki guys thought this wasn't a feature we should use, so they didn't build it in! To me this seems like two species of dinosaurs involved in a Darwinian battle for survival, with one of the dinosaurs saying 'oh, I'll pull out my own claws, I really shouldn't use them because they're not nice'. Should be an easy victory for the other guy.

So far TWiki hasn't let us down yet in this new setting. I takes a bit of work to turn it into a public CMS (instead of the free-for-all edit fest that a wiki is by default), but the result is quite satisfying from a technical standpoint. No ugly hacks needed. Yay.


  1. didn't you tried something like Drupal, a really good cms instead of a wiki?

  2. I haven't found much of TWiki good compared to let's say DokuWiki which is also file based. Sure it has a few less built-in but installing a plug-in in DokuWiki is simply a matter of giving it the download link via the admin interface, and it's way more clear to configure to my point of view. TWiki sound really like made for corporates by speaking their language.