Personal Wikis and Link Autosuggestion

I absolutely love wikis and have used them personally and professionally for years.

I was not surprised to learn recently that the US intelligence community uses them extensively 1. As does the UK’s GCHQ 2.

I think I started out with Wikidpad as my personal wiki before it was even open sourced. It was (and is) a phenomenal wiki. Windows native, but Python based so with some effort you can get it running on Linux and OS X too.

When I started using OS X both at work and personally, I moved my Wikidpad notes to nvAlt, another stupendous personal information manager that combined near instantaneous search with the ability to create a note right out of your search and super easy note linking with link autocompletion.

Confluence nvalt

A killer feature for me is the ability to get link suggestions/autocompletions as you type. Just Type [[ and start typing a name and if it exists you get a list of matching linked notes you can select and link to. Confluence, Wikipad, naval and SahrePoint Wiki all have this natively. You can get it in MediaWiki with plugins like LinkSuggest, but it only starts to suggest after the first three letters. This feature is missing from OneNote, although linking via [[ is supported.

Whilst I loved nvAlt for my personal wiki / notebook, I also wanted a public notebook or wiki.

I tended to find myself using one of two wikis for pubic wikis: MediaWiki or Confluence .

I had been using MediaWiki for several projects (e.g. the Belgrade Foreign Visitors Club wiki) and found it a phenomenally powerful platform, especially when you extend it with plugins like Semantic MediaWiki. I also greatly enjoyed Confluence. I used it for many years in a former company, where it was an indispensable tool for us. We used to for all our internal documentation, but also for external facing user documentation.

Confluence is hard to beat on features, especially the much loved link autocompletion feature.  It is a full on Enterprise wiki, but it comes at a price. Unlike MediaWiki, you need a dedicated VM / computer to run it. It is Java based and needs loads of memory to be performant. The license is dirt cheap for individuals and small teams ($10 for 10 users) but as soon as you exceed this you are paying big bucks for the software. You also need to be fairly technically proficient to operate a Confluence instance, but it is very well supported too.

These days I am mostly using OneNote for my notes and personal wiki. It is an absolutely superb piece of software that “just works” on every platform I uses (Windows, OSX, iOS, Windows Phone). I have filed a feature request (internally) with the OneNote team for them  to support link autocompletion. If you like the idea, please vote for it on  the OneNote team’s Uservoice.

I have been tempted to OneNote as a public wiki too. It is trivially easy to share a notebook with the public. The only problem is that the URLs are ugly and the notebook cannot be styled to look unique to you.

If I can find a way to easily shuttle my OneNotes to Confluence, I may have a winner. I can do all my composing in OneNote, then just publish to Confluence 3.

I am already considering doing this for blogging now that OneNote for Windows has a blogging feature now.

If you are looking for some resources to get started with your own wiki, here you go….

See also:

Transclusion – the inclusion of the content of a document into another document by reference. In Confluence, for example, you can mark up some text in one page and call that text into another page with a placeholder variable. This is super useful for avoiding duplication of content.

  1. “Structured analytic techniques for intelligence analysis by by Richards J. Heuer, Jr., and Randolph H. Pherson (2011)
  2. One of Edward Snowden’s leaks was a copy of the “Internal Wikipedia” used by GCHQ
  3. Plugin writers, I beseech you!

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