Wiki Usability Notes

by September 27, 2007

At the Beauty & the Beast of Wiki panel last night, representatives of several Wiki software solutions (Wet Paint, Atlassian, Mind Touch, Zoho, and Brain Keeper) walked through their products and discussed their approaches to common Wiki usability issues. Though I was moderating the panel, I managed to jot down a few notes:

First Time Experience

How have you addressed the "blank slate" experience? What does a first time experience with your product look like?

  • Wet Paint: "The worst thing you can do is to drop a first time user directly into an Wiki editing experience."
  • A good first introduction to Wiki software is editing your profile page. People are comfortable doing that and they can learn how wikis work as they do so.
  • On Wet Paint, many people first explore who made a Wiki (start by clicking on profile pictures)
  • When someone tries to create a Wiki, show them other similar Wikis that exist for that topic. Odds are they may still make their own Wiki but later will connect with the related Wiki creators


Because Wiki pages can be created quickly and independently of each other, many Wikis experience navigation issues or become running set of links to a variety of topics. Have you attempted to address these information architecture challenges in your product design? Any thoughts on how your products can better help people organize their Wiki content?

  • Zoho: automatically creates site maps of Wiki pages. Each portion of the site map can be dragged and dropped to reorder contents.
  • Brainkeeper: allows you to tag portions of pages and search to locate just these relevant pieces of content
  • MindTouch: open API system allows you to add any form of navigation widget to any wiki page
  • Atlassian: allows people to create "spaces" that contain groups of wikis

WikiWords (CamelCase)

Though they give Wikis a lot of power, WikiWords can often confuse users and create cross-topic navigation issues. Have any of your products attempted to harness the power of WikiWords in a more approachable set of features or UI?

  • BrainKeeper: run a search on the text in the page to find related pages you can link to
  • WetPaint: provide a one button "add these links feature" which automatically suggests links that may be appropriate for a Wiki page
  • MindTouch: allow people to browse the Wiki hierarchy to find pages to link to
  • Allow direct linking to a file or page through a "type ahead" filter

Communities & Incentives

  • WetPaint: Visibly exposing people's identities helps to grow community. People gravitate to pictures of contributors.
  • Conversations are crucial for building a community
  • The 1% creator ratio holds but you only need 10 people to create a very comprehensive Wiki