By using this website you agree to our
Close message
Content brought to you by Archbee,
a documentation tool made for tech companies.
Back to blog
Back to blog

A Private Wiki: Everything You Need To Know

by Dragos Bulugean



Document image



Wikipedia revolutionized the free flow of information.

Granted, it’s not always the greatest source.

But the fact that we have an online, open-source, massive encyclopedia of the world helped all people get educated.

That’s what a qualitative wiki can do.

When it comes to your business, a wiki can help with the free flow of information between important stakeholders. On top, it’s a great asset for onboarding new team members, it improves all of your processes and it declutters management.

That’s more or less what a private wiki is.

But let’s delve into it to find out more.

What is a Private wiki?

A private wiki is just like Wikipedia, but for your project. By definition, it’s a centralized hub that allows you to organize information.

Document image

Moreover, it’s got a few defining characteristics.

First of all, it’s well-structured. When people read a wiki, it’s not hard to identify the subsection related to what they’re searching for.

Second, it’s concise but exhaustive. Yup, it's hard to reach that balance, but a good wiki covers all important aspects, while never over-complicating matters.

Most importantly, it has a way to categorize information into subsets, usually called taxonomies.

If you’re thinking about project documentation, you got it about right.

The difference is in scope: project documentation is, in a sense, part of a private wiki. But private wikis can be about anything, including projects, ideas, stories, fictional universes and anything you’d need to manage a lot of knowledge about.

On top, a private wiki is usually password protected and only accessible to privileged members of your organization, or partners that need to check up on your knowledge hub.

The term isn’t out there for no reason.

It’s got a few clear benefits:

  • It makes information accessible. You can easily navigate between all of your knowledge sets, and get a better grip on how to use that information.
  • It makes communication easier. Say you’re working with a freelancer that needs to be brought up to speed to your processes. A private wiki detailing everything you do and how you do it will help here.
  • It saves time. You don’t need to have lengthy conversations explaining your processes. You can just refer partners to the respective wiki page.
  • It helps you improve your ideas. Having a wiki means laying out the most important aspects of your business, project or novel idea. That incentivizes critical thinking and it’s easier to spot gaps in your reasoning when you have everything laid out in front of you.
  • It protects trade secrets. Sharing sensitive information about your best practices and disruptive strategies can only be done with a private wiki.

Yes, wikis are great.

But that doesn’t mean everyone should write one.

Moreover, if you write a wiki just for the sake of having one, it can be a pointless pursuit. It won’t help you if it’s rushed.

So let’s see what types of people should have a wiki.

Who Could Benefit From A Private Wiki

A general rule of thumb is only creating a wiki if your idea, project or business has a lot of knowledge involved in its recurring activities.

So if you’re just a freelancer writing a bit of code for clients while maintaining a full-time job, it might not help you all that much.

Similarly, if you’re running a coffee shop that’s loved for the ambiance, not the specialty dishes, a wiki won’t help you.

But there are cases when a private wiki can greatly improve your processes.

Even unintuitive ones.

Let’s take an NGO dedicated to bringing technology closer to the rural area.

At first glance, wikis and documentation aren’t the first things they seem to need.

But NGOs employ complex processes, just like a regular business.

They have procedures in place for contacting partners, collaborating with team members, recruiting volunteers, implementing projects and most importantly: fundraising.

On top, if the NGO has an educational aspect, there’s the whole knowledge on what they’re teaching.

So a private wiki can help centralize all that information, and safeguard it from elements that could disrupt the activities of said NGO.

On top, it makes information readily available for contacting any type of sponsor. If you’ve ever filed a request for funds, you’ll know they ask for big word counts.

If NGOs could use a private wiki…

Imagine how much small businesses can benefit from it.

Even if you don’t have a massive team.

Even if you’re a one-man show.

You have processes in place and valuable information to convey to your partners.

So a wiki can help with:

  • Communicating with clients
  • Streamlining your processes
  • Onboarding contractors

And many other activities in which passing a lot of information (or using a lot of knowledge) are important.

A private wiki is also great if you’ve got special processes or “trade secrets” that you want your partners to be privy too. Because it’s a secure hub of knowledge, you can put your unfair advantages to great use.

That depends on your philosophy, of course.

But even companies that offer open-source solutions need to stay afloat somehow. Wordpress lets you use their CMS for free, but they do have processes to attract users, retain paying ones and even upsell them to paid services.

If you’re thinking about whether or not you need a private wiki, ask yourself these questions:

“Do I often have to rewrite a lot of things in my emails?”

“Is collaboration cumbersome because of my complex processes?”

“Do I have to re-explain a lot of things in my meetings with partners?”

“Do I get lost in all of the products and services I can provide?”

And most importantly:

“Do I want my strategies and knowledge protected?”

If you found yourself mumbling yes, it may be time to get a private wiki.

How To Create a Private Wiki

If you decided a wiki can help your projects, don’t just start writing like crazy.

Document image

As we’ve said, rushing into this is self-defeating.

Private wikis need to be:

  • Informative. Don’t let bias seep in, and always aim to inform objectively.
  • Exhaustive. Don’t over-complicate matters, but do make sure you’re clarifying everything.
  • Clear. Don’t use passive voice, don’t be vague and always define every new term.
  • Valuable. Don’t state the obvious. A wiki is only an asset if you can be insightful in your writing.
  • Helpful. Wikis shouldn’t be a brag about your processes. You’ve got marketing for that. Wikis should be about helping other people make the best out of your knowledge.
  • Easy to navigate. If you’re struggling to find a process or link through your wiki, something’s gone wrong.
  • Secure. If it’s not protected, at least by a small login page, it’s not a private wiki anymore.

And that means you need to spend some time structuring your wiki and thinking about what it will contain.

Not to mention, having a private wiki means taking care of its hosting, linking pages together and updating it as much as needed.

Don’t take this lightly.

You need to make sure your wiki meets all the criteria mentioned earlier, so it will involve some work.

But if you can see the benefits of a wiki, the task will be worthwhile.

So let’s break it down.

Hosting a wiki

You need a place to store your wiki.

Document image

That’s no wonder, considering the amount of information packed into wikis.

The English Wikipedia alone has over 3.5 billion words. Of course, your private wiki will not get so big, but it still might amass books worth of content.

You can try things like Fandom and Wikidot, which don’t only host your wiki, but also have a special interface for editing it.

The problem with these tools is that they’re limited.

You can’t use them to collaborate with a lot of partners, the interface is not so user-friendly and there’s a learning curve - mostly about the lingo - when you start using either tool. 

Not to mention, you couldn’t really create a private wiki with them, because you can’t protect your content from outside viewers.

That’s why you should rather use a tool like Archbee. You get tools for hosting and writing your wiki, just like you would with Fandom. On top, you’ve got special tools for customizing the appearance, structure, and navigation of your wiki or documentation.

Plus, you can easily collaborate with partners because Archbee makes your documentation shareable.

Fandom and Wikidot are lighter in features and harder to use, but they’re more streamlined once you get the hang of it. If you don’t need complex customization, or if you’re not working on a commercial project, you can make do with their features.

If you want more control over your wiki, if you need your wiki to support your commercial purposes and if you often work with partners on your ideas, you will be much better off with Archbee.

Document image

Alternatively, you can just buy space on a server and self-host your wiki.

But that requires a lot of technical knowledge, and it’s much more time consuming, even if it’s cheaper. Chances are, you’re going to end up purchasing a tool to help anyway.

Lastly, you need to consider security. If you want your private wiki to only be accessible by your organization, you need a tool that protects your knowledge.

How To Write A Wiki

How to write a wiki depends on what choice you made with hosting. If you choose to self-host, the first step is to settle on a programming language and start coding your wiki’s interface and structure.

Document image

If you’ve got a good knowledge of CSS, you can make it work.

But it’s exhausting, even if you do pay for some pre-made resources.

And that’s only the beginning.

Up next, you’ll need to get accustomed to wiki markup, which is a formatting language for wiki content. It’s based on HTML, so you can see how having a good knowledge of web development will help with creating a wiki.

Up next, you’ll need to find a way to secure your server.

Only then can you start actually writing your knowledge, structuring it and making it accessible to partners.

If you want to avoid all of that, you can just use Archbee.

But having a tool doesn’t mean it will all be a walk in the park.

You first need to settle on a structure. What’s important here is the content hierarchy. If you have 5 distinct processes you need to be outlined, they should all be grouped under a larger page about your processes in general.

You also need to be able to tag and categorize information. So if it’s development processes, they should be marked as such, if it’s outreach processes they should be tagged differently.

You also need an overarching table of contents, to improve navigation of your private wiki. For that, you can follow a simple rule of always breaking ideas into bite-sized chunks and always progressing from general to specific.

Lastly, you need a way to browse this data if it gets too stuffy. So think about also optimizing your wiki to be searchable from a browsing bar.

Once you get the structure covered, you need to pick up the virtual pen.

Writing a wiki is tough because you need just the right balance of technical language, a concise approach, and insightful content.

But you can follow some ground rules. First, always aim for clarity in what you write. If you’re talking about inter-departmental collaboration, make sure you explain who’s responsible for what.

Second, don’t over complicate matters.

Your wiki is a formal document.

But it’s not useful for machines. It needs to be readable by people, and it needs to actually help them do their job better. That’s why you should always try to simplify your language.

That doesn’t mean dumb it down…

And it definitely doesn’t mean being vague.

But a simple rule to follow is this - If you can say it in fewer words, always do it.

There are some other tips.

For example, you should avoid passive voice. It just leads to confusion, because it’s never clear who’s acting upon what.

Another thing you can do is try to read the wiki as if you were a partner or a new employee being onboarded. Are your ideas conveyed good enough to achieve the purpose of a private wiki?

Private wikis are similar to software documentation, so you can read our piece on How To Improve Software Documentation to find out more.

To Wrap It Up

Don’t go out of your way to create a private wiki if you don’t really need one.

It’s just self-defeating.

However, if you have a lot of knowledge to centralize.

If you need a way to better communicate with partners or investors.

If you need a better onboarding process for collaborators and employees.

And especially if you want to protect your knowledge and make the most out of trade secrets.

You should consider creating a private wiki.

What are your plans?

Do you think you need a private wiki to up your game?

Let us know down below!

Read more information about team work,
documentation and knowledge management.

And use everything in your work with distributed and remote teams,
to be more effective and organized.

Get your weekly news from us:

Subscribe to blog
Dragos Bulugean
Dragos Bulugean
Dragos is the founder of Archbee.
Hit him up on Twitter, LinkedIn or mail