Starting and Running a Wiki Website/Print version

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This short booklet is a guide on how to start a wiki website and run it, including the choice of wiki software, whether to host the wiki yourself or go for a hosted wiki, and what choices there are of hosted wikis.


Before deciding to start your own wiki, if you plan to write about something that may be of general public interest, there is a good possibility that there is already something similar online. Remember, a bigger wiki (with more participants) is often more fun. If, or rather when, you get hit by spammers and vandals, having a big community and others willing to help out can be invaluable. Perform extensive research using search engines to make sure that a suitable wiki does not already exist. A Google search for 'wiki' currently returns about 436,000,000 results; duplicating efforts is very unhelpful - it only means some helpless soul will end up confusing the two wikis at some point in the future.

Some good places to find out if a wiki already exists include:

Technical challenge and community challenge

Despite the first impression, the biggest challenge for a wiki is not technical but human. There is lots of tools and documentations for the wikis. The main issue is to start the wiki, verify that anything is working and see nobody coming or staying without knowing why. That's the reason why the book deals more with relational points than technical points.

Before starting

One key aspect to make a successful wiki is to create it for good reasons. Do you want to create it because one day you realize that this wiki does not exist, because you have needed this wiki or because you want to have your own wiki and you have found an idea to do it? In the last case, your wiki is likely not to grow, because the project is focused on you, not on the community. If your wiki has been created to highlight yourself, nobody will want to contribute.

The contributors should feel that they are highlighted by contributing. You should search people that are interested by your project before you create the wiki instance. If you do that, they will feel that this project is also their project. If you first create the wiki instance and then you search people, they will never feel that it is their project but yours.

Your concept should fit to the wiki mechanism. The pages of the wiki should be atomic, that is to say, one page does not need other pages to be comprehensive. Otherwise, your wiki will be hard to edit. That means that a reader needs to read several pages to get the benefit of one page and a contributor needs to be aware of the other pages to do a small edit. If it is an encyclopedic content like Wikipedia, there is no problem. The more atomic the content is, the quicker the wiki will grow.

The content should self-explain why it is done that way. For example, if you are the only website in the world to display a content in a given form, the first reader will remove the content.

Hosting - self or external

If you still want to run your own wiki, you will either need to run your own web server or have someone else manage a server for you.

  • "from scratch": you install whatever wiki engine you choose. You control everything. (Either on your own hardware, or on any suitable web host).
  • "hosted wiki": most technical decisions and support issues are handled by someone else, and you handle the social aspects of growing the wiki.

If you already have a web server, but your web host does not specifically say they host Wikis (for free or a fee) just see if they support the scripting language that the Wiki software you want to run requires. Many wikis require just PHP, Perl, or some other common server-side scripting language that most web hosts provide. Other wikis require a database (e.g. MySQL database) and/or have other requirements.


For more power and flexibility or for business applications, many people will want to serve their own wikis. This requires considerably more knowledge about how wikis work and especially about wiki software.

Business Environments

Especially in business environments, administrators may be interested in wiki security. Many people believe that nobody who is granted read access should be denied write access or wikis lose their power, but there are times when administrators will want to restrict which users are allowed to access a wiki.

Another consideration in business environments and other large organizations is whether or not the wiki software can interface with other logins. E.g. Twiki can get the username from Windows NT, allowing users username level access without a login. Such schemes allow the benefits of usernames without discouraging users from participating by making them log in.

Businesses may choose to outsource the hosting of the wiki environment. For intranet installations, companies such as SocialText offer a hardware-based "appliance" solution. For customization, design or production of wiki projects, companies such as Wiki Studios offer professional wiki services to business, non-profit organizations and branches of government.

Customizing software

One of the benefits of hosting a wiki oneself is the ability to recode the wiki software. For an example of this, see Sensei's Library. The administrators of Sensei's added Go markup functionality to their software for easy illustration of Go boards and pieces.

Choosing the wiki software

There are more than one hundred wiki engines available. Some good starting points are to read Comparison of wiki software, Top Ten Wiki engines, WikiMatrix comparison table. To decide what kinds of software you would want, list all the criteria that are important for you. Then sort the ones that are required and the ones that would be great to have. Start filtering all the wiki engines that don't feature your required criteria and sort the remaining wiki engines with the great criteria. The most important points could be:

  1. Which server can I use for it?
    -> On which server and hardware can it run?
  2. Am I ready to spend money on it and how much?
    -> Should it be free?
  3. Am I ready to use a tool entirely written in English only?
    -> Should it be i18n?
  4. Will the contributors be able to write in wikicode?
    -> Should it be WYSIWYG?
  5. Can I do all I want with only simple text?
    -> Should it feature extensions and advanced features?
  6. Will the contributors import content from other wikis?
    -> Should it have compatible format with other wiki or wiki engines?
  7. Is my project critical?
    -> Is it actively updated? Is there a large community of developers?
  8. Is my project very advanced?
    -> Can it be recoded? Open source?
  9. Should my project be attractive (commercial needs for example)?
    -> Is the display customizable?

Hosted Wikis

There are companies that host wikis for free or for a price. This means that you do not have to deal with complex programs like Ruby, PHP, MySQL, or Apache. The wiki host will do this for you.

Beware! Some hosts delete wikis without notice. Make sure you are saving your own backup copy of the data in your wiki. Some hosts make it easy to download everything you would need to run your wiki somewhere else, by using an open source wiki engine and providing backup dumps with full edit histories. Other hosts lock you in more, e.g., with proprietary wiki markup languages, proprietary wiki engines, or limited backups.

Free wiki hosting

You can also find a comparison of wiki farms on Wikipedia and a list of hosting services on

Includes a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and Wiki-mode editor. Users receive a sub-domain and personal wiki upon signup. Unlimited pages and users.English documentation is minimal and it is unclear how to backup pages. Now allows MediaWiki-like monobook. (Atwiki has temporarily stopped new registration as of October 2011.)
Free webhosting that supports most wikis. Manual installation of a wiki is required. No ads and users receive their own subdomain. Users need to be active at the forum to keep their wiki.
People who put their source code at GForge also get a free associated wiki. Includes a WYSIWYG editor.
User friendly WYSIWYG Editing, Custom Page Hierarchies, Comment and Reply Forums, Page Locking, Keyword Search, Skins, RSS, Profiles, Site Activity Report, Widget Support e.g., YouTube and Google Video.
Hosting based on Oddmuse. FTP and CGI access allows expert users to customize their configuration. Users receive their own sub-domain.
Everyone gets their wiki and can customize it however they wish. No staff user groups except in the main wiki, and plans start at $10/mo for unlimited resources and support. You cannot create a wiki automatically but this allows for the wiki to be customized on request.
Hosts wikis up to a certain size with no advertising. Based on the MotherWiki concept. Simple support for backup and migration to your own Oddmuse wiki.
Free wiki hosting supported by advertising on a subdomain of * Choice of Aurora, Vector, Monobook and Monaco skins. Only 5 wikis per user are allowed. Hosts wikis for individuals, companies, school, universities and communities. Wikis can be created through Special:CreateWiki. Offers three types of wikis: public wikis, private wikis and school/university wikis.
As of 19 Jun 2012, SourceForge no longer supports Hosted Apps, including MediaWiki. SF projects may migrate current MediaWikis, or install their own wiki using their Project Web.
Public or private access to wikis based on TiddlyWiki yet fully compatible with MonkeyPirateTW, MonkeyGTD and d3 plugins. Brilliant for notes, todos, follow-ups. Easy for download, edit off-line and keep the online version up-to-date, or even easier to edit on-line (password protected). Hosts free wikis.
True WYSIWYG Editing, Custom Page Hierarchies, Comment and Reply Forums with Comment Ratings, Access Control, Keyword Search, Tags, Tag Filtering, Skins, RSS, Page Locking, Profiles, Site Activity Report, Page and Comment Watching, Uploading YouTube Videos.
Community support and development through advertising-supported wiki hosting. Uses the MediaWiki engine with a choice of WYSIWYG or wikitext editing, easy image and video insertion, the Oasis skin (other skins can be set in one's user preferences but logged out users will always see Oasis), and a number of extensions. Wikis are owned by Wikia rather than the community or the founder, which means that the community can decide to leave but they cannot have the wiki deleted or advertise their new location, should they decide Wikia is not the best choice. All content is freely licensed under the Creative Commons license to make it compatible with the Wikimedia projects. See Start a new Wikia to create a wiki instantly. Offers free database backups, full CSS customization except on individual pages, spam blacklisting and vandal patrol, help from Community Team. Focuses on a young audience.
Offers free Wiki sites in the subdomain and 1 free custom domain mapping. Uses the modified Text_Wiki engine to produce valid XHTML. Growing number of extensions. Several available licenses (Creative Commons, GFDL and others), customizable themes, AJAX interface, no size/traffic limits, full-text search, RSS import and export (for page changes, forum discussions, favorite items, account notifications etc.) and many more features.
MediaWiki with WYSIWYG farm with unlimited pages and users, wiki spam protection user rights control. Interface in 150 languages. Fast setup. A free * domain is offered. Google text-ads added to the right sidebar.
Public (free), protected (paid for), and private (paid for) wikis. Includes WYSIWYG and plain wikitext editing and a personalized sub-domain. Supported by text ads; no limitations on number of pages, members, or space usage. Includes integrated discussion areas and RSS feeds for page changes and messages. Backups of current content available through the site in zip or tgz form. Backups of historical information available by request. Run by Tanigent LLC using proprietary wiki software.
Wiki Spot
Public wikis (free) intended for a community, be it a city, common interest, field of study, or project with several participants. (No private or commercial wikis, please.) Hosted by a non-profit organization supported by donations, you can host your wiki in an established wiki community that can help you out with your project. No advertising, user accounts work on all wikis, use bookmarks and track changes across multiple wikis. Customizable CSS by wiki and user CSS. Simple, intuitive syntax. No limits on pages/disk space. RSS feeds available on all pages. Easy to create a wiki and configure settings. Run on Sycamore, creative commons licensing. Wikispot will be shutting down its service on April 1st of 2015.
Free MediaWiki hosting for non profit and no budget projects. Semantic MediaWiki possible.
Free MediaWiki hosting allowing full back-end control with FTP and Cpanel access. Wiki farm service also available. See its features.
Hosting based on the XWiki engine. Features include quick group editing, version control of documents, attached files, searching and rights management). Pages can be exported to PDF. Full MySQL exports can be provided by the host admin and installed using the open source XWiki engine.
A very easy and fast way to set up your wiki. You won't get a subdomain for your wiki (for example, if the name of the wiki you create was Example, the url of it would be The only available skin for your new wiki would be Monobook. You don't need to be a registered user to add a wiki and you can create as many wikis you want.

Choosing a License

Before you start a wiki, it is essential to choose a suitable license. Once users start contributing to a wiki in which the license is not clearly specified, you may run into a licensing nightmare, having to track the authors of content without proper license.

The licenses proper to a wiki include:

  • FDL. GNU Free Documentation License, used by Mediawiki projects. Beware that this license is incompatible with GNU General Public License. Choosing a GNU GPL for a wiki is unfortunate, as it has been designed for software, not for texts in human language.
  • Creative Commons. One of the Creative Commons licenses
  • Combination of the two
  • PD. Public domain license, the least restrictive license.

According to some interpretations of the law, it may be illegal to ever change the copyright license of a wiki without getting explicit, written consent from everyone who has ever posted on the wiki, unless the copyright license itself has explicit provisions for changing the license.

The public domain license is the only license that lets you change the license later. If you or your users later decide they want some license other than public domain, you might want to check out the license comparisons in Further reading.

Further reading


External links:



Editor's note
Please add only verified terms.

This is a glossary of the book.


wiki engine 
The software that runs a particular wiki website, such as Mediawiki.