SharePoint Wikis: Both Liberating and Frustrating

Lately I’ve been converting my documentation over to a SharePoint wiki and have had days where I felt totally liberated and others where I wanted to go into my Control Panel and remove every Microsoft product I have installed on my computer.

Liberating

Here’s what I find liberating. Most wikis can easily degenerate into a chaotic disaster, with links nested on pages pointing to other links on other pages, with no clear sense of where you are or how deep the wiki goes. One writer at Doc Train told me her company’s wiki was an “unmitigated disaster.”

With SharePoint, you can get around this chaos by adding columns on wiki pages. The columns are similar to metadata fields for the page. You can add a drop-down box requiring the user to select a category for the wiki page, and the role, and any other ways you want to classify the wiki page.

Then you use SharePoint’s sorting and grouping functions to create various views for your wiki. These views use the columns/metadata fields to sort your pages by category, by role, or other methods. This is liberating because it allows you to impose order on what might otherwise become chaotic.

Frustrating

Unfortunately, the columns/metadata fields appear to each reader who views the wiki page. They aren’t hidden behind the scenes, only visible when you edit the page. I tried modifying the stylesheet to add “display:none” for what I presumed was the style for the column fields, but this ends up making the wiki page disappear when editing the content.

It’s also quite difficult to pinpoint the styles in a SharePoint wiki because many elements are nested in about 17,000 tables and have a class applied at the end. I’ve stopped trying to fight this monster. It has consumed me for the past two days without a solution.

Another problem is that while you can classify wiki pages into categories and then group the content by these categories, you can’t actually change how the categories are arranged. They’re sorted alphabetically — that’s it. So although I wanted to have my “Introduction” category at the top, I now have to resort to either numerical prefaces (“1. Introduction”) or change the title to something like “A Basic Introduction.”

I could expand on plenty of other frustrations here (such as no discussion page or comments field on wiki pages, no export ability, bloated and obtuse wiki code, no info on wikis in the help), but I’ll save those for another day. I am still convinced that, as Lawrence Liu states, despite SharePoint’s limitations with wikis, overall the SharePoint 2007 platform provides a mix of integrated collaborative tools that together are superior to one standalone best-of-breed product.

Liu writes:

As I stated quick emphatically during my “SharePoint Collaboration and Community Tools” session at the European SharePoint Conference last Tuesday, the wiki functionality in WSS 3.0 was not designed to compete directly with best-of-breed wiki products like SocialText, but rather, it’s the integration of a plethora of collaboration and community features that make WSS 3.0 and MOSS 2007 best of breed as a whole.

I’m not just stopping at the wiki. I plan to also add a blog, feature request page, bug submission feature, and other interactive tools to solicit information from users.

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By Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer working for The 41st Parameter in San Jose, California. I'm primarily interested in topics related to technical writing, such as visual communication (video tutorials, illustrations), findability (organization, information architecture), API documentation (code examples, programming), and web publishing (web platforms, interactivity) -- pretty much everything related to technical writing. If you're trying to keep up to date about the field of technical communication, subscribe to my blog either by RSS or by email. To learn more about me, see my About page. You can also contact me if you have questions.

11 thoughts on “SharePoint Wikis: Both Liberating and Frustrating

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  4. Heather

    My current frustration with Sharepoint Wiki is it’s interface. Through One Note and Word I have an excellent way to create beautiful articles with images, that I can easily post to a SharePoint Blog, yet I can’t use the same tools to create a SharePoint Wiki Article. I’m tempted just to metadata the blogs and forget the wiki.

    Heathers last blog post..GroupBoard Workspace: Bad

  5. geldexpert

    @Heather: it is true that some applications offer more tools to create an article. A wiki on the other hand, gives a lot of people the opportuniy to easily contribute to a discussion about a certain topic.
    So, while using a wiki, you win some features, and you loose some other (features).

  6. Kelly

    Even though it’s not the best editor, if SharePoint wiki editing interface allowed me to paste a picture into my page instead of having to previously uploaded it to my document library to obtain’s it’s URL, I would be pretty satisfied.

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  8. Gaurav Agarwal

    You said it’s possible to export a sharepoint wiki. But how? is there a property to turn on export option. Is there a document that explains how to have more features other than the out-of-the box given?

    Please help

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  10. Jon Tobey

    I think the problem is that wikis just suck. (Why wikitalk anyway, why aren’t wikis just in HTML?) Our wiki is an “unmitigated disaster,” but I decided that moving it to SharePoint wasn’t going to fix it. It’s just the same mess on SP, so why bother?
    This brought up the real issue: while SP is great at displaying existing documents, it’s not so great as an input medium for new content. I looked at several solutions, including using the blog feature with columns to tag the data, and the RTF content Web Part. I think that SP2010 with it’s metadata navigation might solve some of these issues, and make the move to 2010 worth it just for that. Once I figure it out, I’ll post some articles on it and put a link here.

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