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We have a web-based software product that has a growing user-base of around 200+ people.

I won't go into details on our current workflow, but it involves word documents and converting to HTML and I am convinced I can come up with a better platform for hosting our documentation on.

Key things I am looking for are:

  • Needs to be easily searchable
  • Allows for real time editing via a browser.
  • Ideally, perhaps version control. Our users could be on different versions so should be duplicate documents for each version.

I have been playing with MediaWiki, Wordpress and Confluence, but would like:

  • some advice on good platforms to host a documentation on
  • considerations I should take into account when evaluating these platforms.

EDIT - From Simons question in the comments, ill post a link to our existing web-help.
It is aimed at our end users - this is split into administrators, general users and developers.

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Your question would greatly benefit from stating what type of documentation you are talking about. Is it Javadoc-style? An architecture document? User guides? Who is it geared towards? The answers can vary widely. –  blubb Sep 14 '11 at 11:36

5 Answers 5

I suggest Microsoft SharePoint. It's a great portal for sharing documents in an organization with high capabilities including search (inside files), creating and managing lists, creating personal sites, versioning, etc. You can think of it as a DMS (document management system).

However, I don't know if it has any plugin for in-browser document edition, and to tell you the truth, I think that's impossible. Because lot's of different documents are on the web which can't really be edited via browser. Photoshop designs or AutoCAD drawings are of these types.

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Our company is migrating to MS-SP. However, our userbase is external. We are the vendor, they are our clients. Would MS-SP still be a viable bet? We could open up parts of it externally perhaps. –  Simon Sep 12 '11 at 10:42
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disagree, sharepoint seems to be one of those things that tries to do everything and ends up doing nothing well. the sooner my company migrates away from it the better imho –  jk. Sep 12 '11 at 11:45
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I would definitely have to agree with you, jk. SharePoint is awful - we're on a hosted version which is ridiculously slow and overcomplicated. –  Stephen Orr Sep 12 '11 at 11:50
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SP can be a very powerful tool, if implemented and used correctly. Therein lies the problem - implementing and using it correctly is a non-trivial problem, which is why there's a whole industry around SP implementations. –  John N Sep 12 '11 at 13:59
    
@jk, one of the things SP actually does well is simple document management. I don't know if I would implement it just for this task but it's a no brainer if you already have Sharepoint available. –  AndyMcKenna Sep 15 '11 at 13:31

I've implemented a documentation system using MediaWiki before, and found it worked quite well for what I needed. Pros and cons below.

Pros:

  • Free - I've no idea what your budget is, but for me that was a key requirement
  • Allows in browser editing and full version control
  • Relatively straightforward to set up, provided you're a reasonably rounded techie
  • Lots of other people use it, so many of your potential problems have already been solved
  • Ability to interconnect your documentation with ease

Cons:

  • I found I needed to install a bunch of extensions to give me "basic" functionality:
    • "Google-style" search - MediaWiki's built-in search isn't all that great
    • WYSIWYG editor - essential if you expect your users to be adding to or amending documentation

As for considerations on criteria to use to evaluate, well, that's really going to depend on your needs, but some that I would use:

  • Cost
  • Ease of setup / maintenance
  • Ease of end-user use
  • Capabilities / functonality
  • Scalability
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+1 as this is near top of our list at mo. Free is a key aspect, but we might have access to Confluence. –  Simon Sep 12 '11 at 11:19

In that case I guess GitHub would be a good choice.

  1. central repo
  2. online editing
  3. versioning
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Please ellaborate. –  Simon Sep 14 '11 at 9:33

We started using Evernote for this sort of thing. Premium accounts let one share notebooks with varying permissions and include versioning. Editable easily via browser for sure. Greatbsearch is baked in. Has added advantage of being able to easily host video and having numerous mobile clients.

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For a free, managed solution you could take a look at WikiSpaces, it's worked pretty well for a few of my projects.

Wikispaces is a CMS-type application which lets you create 'Wikipedia' style wikis. It's free and very functional and lends itself well to technical knowledge base style wiki sites.

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