Recently I answered a question on a Stack Exchange site where someone was looking for a minimalistic blogging platform. Here's my original posting.
In that answer I commented that I really like the idea of using wikis as blogging software. I mentioned as an example Chris Siebenmann's sysadmin blog, WanderingThoughts.
Chris saw the stack exchange referrals in his server logs and responded with his thoughts. You have to love the echo chamber we call the internet.
Chris disagreed with my assertion that wikis make a good blogging platform. His analysis of the mechanical shortcomings of trying to use wikis as blogs is valid. However, I still think that wikis are a great tool for blogging, mainly because of the way that the internet works has changed over the years.
Originally blogs were a way to categorize a stream of personal thoughts, with an enforced linear flow. This provided a convenient way to follow a particular person's work, especially a few years later when RSS aggregators came along. You could check bloglines and see what your favorite author had to say, or you could just visit their blog for all the articles, in reverse chronological order.
Wikis evolved separately, as a response to the difficulty of creating links and content in the early web. Wikis emphasized interconnectedness over order, similar to the idea of a mindmap.
The power that that both blogs and wikis share is the power of self-publishing. If you had something you wanted to publish you could create a blog post or a wiki page without asking for permission for someone else. I'll come back to the importance of that later.
I've been running a wiki for my personal website www.hollenback.net since 2001. I never seriously considered using blog for a few reasons:
There weren't a lot of good self-hosted blog platforms back when I started.
- For example, Wordpress started in 2003.
- I wanted something more free-form than a blog.
- I hate thinking in a straight line.
Thus, I chose to set up a wiki, and I've stuck with it a ridiculously long time. Given that slavish devotion (or lazy inertia) you should probably take anything I say about blogs and wikis with a grain of salt.
Then Along Came Social
A key feature of blogs is that they organize your posts in a linear fashion. This works great for many types of storytelling. See for example a favorite blog of mine, Hyperbole and a Half. Any time you want to develop a linear story, a blog works great. I want to emphasize I mean story in the general sense, not just fictional or autobiographical works.
Wikis are all over the place. There's no real organization, which is both empowering and infuriating. If you stumble upon a wiki page that interests you, there's often not a clear indicator of where to go from there. It's like you've been dropped on a spiderweb and you don't know where the edge is.
My key argument is that in many cases, this difference no longer matters due to the increased power of google and the rise of social networks. There are now other tools that I can use to publish a narrative direction for my wiki posts if I choose. One such tool I use heavily is twitter. Every time I write up a new post like this one, I mention it on twitter. This creates a linear narrative for people who follow me on that particular platform (Assuming of course I remember to post about my articles). This same idea applies on Facebook, Linkedin, or dozens of other social networks.
I also must acknowledge that my postings are largely independent. If I write up a technical topic on a wiki page, I don't really care if you read it in order after my previous posts. If I do care (for example, I write a two-part article) I will add a link on the second page back to a previous post.
Google amplifies this trend. I know that if I do post something on my wiki about a particular topic, google will find it pretty much automatically. People will then find that post without needing any guidance in the form of a linear flow. See for example the google query for `Wristmac', which leads directly to my wiki page on the subject.
Structure Just Doesn't Matter Much
So again, in a strictly literal analysis I completely agree with Chris that wikis don't work well as blogs. The two tools are completely different. I don't advocate that anyone should try to recreate something like Chris's DWiki in their own blogging software. What I am saying is that it doesn't matter because there's not a compelling need to organize your thoughts in a linear fashion (unless you are writing a narrative like I mentioned earlier).
Many other structural features of blogs are easily replicated on wikis. Chris mentions that wikis don't have comment systems, and that creating a comment system in a wiki is ugly. Completely true. Again, I don't really care, because I can drop a modern comment system like IntenseDebate or Disqus onto my wiki with a quick cut-n-paste. That's exactly what I've done with my wiki, see for example BigCityBaby.
United We Stand
Ultimately it doesn't matter a heck of a lot if you use a wiki or a blog to post your thoughts on the internet. Either one works just fine. I happen to like the mechanics of wikis; many other people like the mechanics of a blog. I agree with Chris that trying to manhandle a wiki into working like a blog is a foolish idea. Thankfully, all the advancements in indexing and external tools on today's internet have rendered this decision largely irrelevant. Pick a platform and start writing and you will do just fine.
Update: Chris Siebenmann wrote an excellent rebuttal to this post.