Q&A with EditMe: A wiki for non-geeks

Finally, a wiki CMS solution that you can safely give to your clients to use. But sshhhh... don't call it a wiki...

Finally, a wiki CMS solution that you can safely give to your clients to use. But ssshhhh...don't call it a wiki...

Wikis are a fantastic way for businesses to collaborate ideas and publish information on an intranet or company website. The problem is they lack support from anyone who isn't in the tech team or a geek. Wiki syntax can seem too hard for many, navigating a wiki isn't exactly intuitive, and they've generally sucked at being an extensible platform to customise and integrate into workflows for businesses.

Another part of the problem is that companies are too entrenched in pushing around Word and other Office documents via email. Knowledge transfer and creativity sinks as soon as emails travel south in employees email boxes. This is a cultural issue that won't be addressed in this blog post, but the image below paints a good picture of the wastage that occurs all too frequently.

Credit: Wikinomics

Put simply, wikis have been just too nerdy for the average punter for it to catch on in most businesses.

Enter EditMe, a wiki CMS solution that you could safely give to non-geeks. While easy for end-users, the hosted solution has a powerful back-end that developers can use to customise installs via an API and allowing Server-side JavaScript.

After giving EditMe a run and was impressed by the results I recently caught up with the owner of EditMe, Matt Wiseley, to talk about his creation.

Builder AU: What made you start working on EditMe? What were you doing previously?

Matt Wiseley: EditMe is actually the fourth Web content management system I have built. The first two were hobby development projects that I used to build and manage sites for friends and family. The third was for the interactive marketing and consulting firm I worked at as Director of Technology before starting EditMe. That was focused on business users updating their company website.

After using an open source wiki as an intranet at my consulting job, I noticed there weren't any really user-friendly hosted wikis, so I decided to build one. EditMe was the first hosted wiki service to use a WYSIWYG editor, and it's simple yet powerful access rights system set the standard for competitors that came after.

What makes EditMe different to MediaWiki and other wiki software?

As a programmer and all around technical kind of person, I view MediaWiki as a technical person's wiki. The markup and complexity of it are beyond what most non-Web savvy users want to deal with. MediaWiki is obviously extremely good at really big and complex wiki implemenations and serves the needs of hard-core wiki users - the same can be said of many of the open source wiki implementations.

EditMe is quite a bit simpler to use, and as a result has a reduced set of features. I have focussed heavily on making EditMe usable for "business" users - think of the accountant at a small business, for example. This is likely a result of the kinds of customers I dealt with as a consultant over the years. They just want something that works. I have tried to eliminate (or hide) all non-essential functionality in an effort to present a clean and consistent interface. The other big difference is that EditMe excels as a standard content management platform. The "wikiness" of an EditMe site can be easily disabled, turning it into a great Web CMS.

EditMe isn't just a hosted Wiki/CMS solution. Under the hood lies a developer platform that allows Web developers to build and customise features. Tell us briefly what it's all about and what sort of interesting hacks have you seen so far?

While I have focused on hiding and/or eliminating all non-essential functionality, individual customers will always need something more, but each will have different needs. Over the past year, EditMe has transformed into a full-on development platform. The entire look and feel of an EditMe site can be changed using CSS and an XML/JavaScript-based layout engine. Pages within the site can also be server-side JavaScripts that act much like a PHP or ASP script. There is an API that provides read/write access to the site's data store and a simple key/value data store for keeping application-specific data.

EditMe developers working on customer projects have built applications within EditMe sites in a fraction of the time it would have taken to build from scratch. The core content and user management features needed by almost all Web applications are already there and can be wrangled into just about any set of requirements. And unlike most CMS platforms, you write the code right into the site - you don't have to fuss with files on the server. I recently wrote a blog post listing some of the types of projects we've done. The development platform is fully documented on our wiki site.

Who are some of your current customers?

Educators use it to build classroom sites, consultants use it for project sites, small businesses use it for intranets, extranets and company sites, and individuals use it for personal wikis and hobby sites.

Rather than enterprise-wide use at large companies, EditMe is often employed by smaller workgroups who just want to get something up and running quickly and without a lot of political fuss. Customers have included Ebay, Microsoft, the US military, the Australian government, The Discovery Channel, UPS, the American Institude of Physics, and several large universities around the world.

What features are you currently looking at for the next release?

We're actually putting the finishing touches on a release that may be out by the time this is published. It's a total re-working of the editing screen that includes an upgraded and more stable editor, a syntax-highlighting code editor, auto-saving of drafts while editing and integrated attachment management.

Several different screens used to manage various aspects of a given page have been combined into a tabbed interface that makes it all available in one place without reloading the page. I've gotten to know and love jQuery in the process. For developers, this new interface can be customised by reordering the tabs, overriding and/or customising any one of the tabs, or adding new tabs to support application-specific page functionality.

After a bit of a release hiatus spent ramping up the custom development services, we're trying to get back into a monthly release groove.

As a hosted solution many developers fear losing control. What sort of export funtionality have you built into the platform for users to pick up and take their sites elsewhere if they want?

EditMe is a hosted platform, so allowing people to get their data out is important. There are a number of options given. We can provide a zipped file containing the site's MySQL database and attached files, customers can use a tool like HTTrack to export their site to a local copy, or they can install a Site Export module that provides both XML and browseable single-page HTML versions of the site that can be easily saved offline.

Of course, if you're a developer, you can use the API to generate whatever format you like. The Site Export module is a good starting point and the code can be edited and easily reused.