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Ask HN: Which Wiki or internal documentation tools do you use?
102 points by sdedovic 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments
I am curious what internal documentation tools people are using. My current use case is an engineering handbook and internal documentation that isn't related to any specific codebase.

Some basic requirements are: - searchable - code snippets - hyperlinking

I know of a few tools and I've even worked at companies that use git repos with markdown. I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts.


It's not bad. It's not great either. Which is pretty much the best way to describe all Atlassian products. It's unbearable on slow or spotty internet connections. It's riddled with bugs (just the other day my spacebar literally stopped working in their edit view). The formatting gets in your way more than markdown, but at least not as much as something like OneNote.

But, it's powerful. Like any Atlassian product, you can script it to do basically whatever you want. You can organize your company workspaces however you'd like. You can set up tables which can automatically pull summary lines of any other page labeled with a specific label, which is great for automatically building indexes or tables of content.

Overall, I haven't found anything better, and I write a lot of technical documentation for our company.

For comparison's sake:

- Github/Gitlab wikis are pretty bad. There's almost no advantage to using them over just storing markdown in the repository.

- Which, we did for a while, and it works fine, but in its simplicity it misses some of the key features that I do like about Confluence (like those automated index pages and page comments).

- We also used Dropbox Paper for a while; I really like it, but its primarily useful for, let's call them "transactional" documentation (write, get feedback, never look at again); It's not very good at being a Wiki, storing long-term long-form information. And given that Confluence can handle both pretty well, there's not a great argument for adopting a new service from an entirely different company we don't otherwise use.

- We have G-Suite and thus Drive/Docs. The inability to easily write technical documentation with inline/block code makes it a non-starter. No thanks. If Drive added a markdown editor like Dropbox Paper I'd probably push to switch; the search is pretty great, its a platform we already have, and you get a full, amazing document editor for those documents where it makes sense.

- I've never used Quip in a real work setting.

I broadly agree with your assessment of confluence (maybe with the difference that I'd draw the "bad" line really close to it).

However, I've had a different experience to this one:

> You can organize your company workspaces however you'd like.

...unless you want to, say, include two subsubsubpages with the same title in the same space. You want a space per project? You want to put documentation for multiple major versions into Confluence? Atlassian tells you "Nope".

Which is my main gripe with Atlassian about now. There's a pretty old ticket on the titles thing, with loads of comments asking to change this. It was simply ignored.

With Jira, there was the same thing: The release management part has some limitations, someone opened a ticket, hundreds of customers agreed, Atlassian closed it. And allthough their final comment starts with "we listen to and value your feedback", it states that no, this won't be solved. Ever.

Edit: Oh, and don't get me started on their search.

If you want something similar to Dropbox Paper, but better optimized towards long-term documentation, you should give Nuclino (https://www.nuclino.com) a try. In terms of organization capabilities it is similar to Confluence. But I'm the CTO so I'm obviously biased.

Beautiful looking product. Any plans for a self-hosted version? Cloud based storage of a lot of information I deal with is a no go.

Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately we have no plans for a self-hosted version. We understand that this is a no go for certain companies and types of information.

Basically all enterprises. We really need a viable alternative to Atlassian :/

Any reason that you can share? This looks great, so much better than confluence, but it’s hard to store all of this on someone else’s servers. I’d love to have a self hosted version, of you ever decide to.

This looks perfect for what I'm looking for. But I need to serve it to MY customers along our software. Is there any way do that?

Feel free to contact me directly. moura @ the domain in my profile

Just a head-ups, I think your signup form is broken. I was trying to create an account to try it out and nothing happens if I click 'continue'.

Thanks for the information! We did not notice any anomality and are receiving signups, but are looking into what might have caused the issue. In case it's a persistent issue for you, it would be awesome if you could contact us via email so we can further investigate the issue.

The worst bug (or bad design if you wish) I've seen in confluence is the following - permissions on pages are inherited in a tree-like manner, parent to child. A reindex wasn't done and at some point child pages with sensitive information became viewable to every user because the permissions were not re-applied.

I would absolutely never rely on the permissions in Confluence to store anything sensitive in it ever again.

Yeah, we have a corporate policy of never storing anything critically sensitive in an Atlassian product. Though, to be fair, we have the same policy for Slack and most of our tools; that stuff never leaves Amazon.

I just rolled out Confluence a couple of weeks ago after really struggling to find a better option. I looked at Quip but it felt more informal than I was comfortable in particularly the lack of ability to setup teams and permissions that way.

> I just rolled out Confluence a couple of weeks ago after really struggling to find a better option.

When you take into consideration price AND maturity AND feature set it's honestly hard to beat. I tried lots of open source Wikis and all of them lack significant amounts of polish and/or features. Confluence at least resembles a mature solution that mostly covers all the bases. And if you're a small (very small) business or just doing a personal/family Wiki, $10 per year for all that can't be beat.

My experience of Quip is very similiar to how you described Dropbox Paper (which I haven't used): write, get feedback with in-line comments, collaborate, and forget the whole thing. But it's nice, slim, and fast.

Notion (https://notion.so) All in one workspace, combines, trello, airtable, evernote, and docs. Great embed support and awesome for small teams and personal use. It's a modern day commonplace book.

I love Notion as a tool to use personally but it does not scale well. I was part of a working group that introduced Notion at my company and it worked great for a few months. Now that we have hundreds of pages it's _extremely hard_ to find the content that you're looking for. The search functionality is completely broken at scale to the point it recommends pages where the keyword you're looking for is in a paragraph over a page whose title is that keyword.

We just this week moved our sprints from Airtable to Notion. Seems like it will do everything we need--finally, we can have our sprints and our RFCs and other documentation in one place!

I cannot recommend notion enough!

I loved their UI, but the incredibly horrible export to pdf or print drove me off it. I really needed pdf exports to release versioned documents.

The only reason I gave up on Notion sometime last year was that it was mind-numbingly slow. Great product otherwise.

It's gotten faster and is getting faster over time. It was much, much worse a year ago which makes me believe that the team is paying attention to speed.

Compared to the main competitor mentioned here - Confluence - it is blazing fast.

I wouldn't say mind-numbingly slow, but it does struggle sometimes. The Android app is a bit poor as well in my opinion - gets the job done, but I've seen better ones by competitors.

Despite those issues, I have fully switched over to Notion. Instead of trying to force some very specific workflow onto you, it just offers a great toolkit that you can use to manage your own work whichever way you like it.

I would prefer a native app over a web app, but I guess that's just the world that we live in today.

My entire wiki lives on GitHub (https://github.com/nikitavoloboev/knowledge).

I then use GitBook to publish it on the web and have fancy features like search and contents table on the side.


Been using this approach for over a year now and I love how seamless the workflow of updating files in Sublime Text, pushing it to GitHub and seeing it live is. At this point my entire knowledge base lives online and is referencible and I love it.

The way I approach updating the wiki is in the wiki too:


It's a pretty good wiki! I'm reading some of your material now :)

I'll mention clubhouse.io every chance I get.

It's billed as a Project Management software (and it's great at that) but it can be great for documentation because it:

- provides hierarchical nesting (Milestones / Epics / Stories)

- each object can have a relationship to another (related, blocks, duplicates)

- each object offers a markdown text area, lists, github PR links/integration, comments, and can be moved between various stages (standard scrum stages or your own custom ones)

- each object can be assigned multiple owners, requesters, and followers

- each object can be tagged

- search by title, tag, owner, state, etc.

- each object can have files uploaded and attached

This allows me to track why the work was done, how the work was done, and what work was done, while providing a nice README as a comment.

Everything can be edited, or others in the team can leave their own comments.

It's odd for sure, but I love it.


The downside is that to get it running with a good set of extensions that optimizes it for enterprise use takes a bit of an effort.

The upside is that once you do, it becomes an incredibly powerful tool that most users adopt without complaint. It hits all the OPs requests for searchable, code snippets (with syntax highlighting), and hyperlinking. When you add the ability to store and reuse structured data (Cargo or Semantic MediaWiki) it really becomes powerful.

Others I've tried:

- SharePoint (this is so bad it pains me to mention it)

- Confluence (not bad, but lacks structured data and seems to be focused on serving smaller teams vs. an entire company)

- OneNote (great for personal use, not as great for teams, especially not great at tracking multi-user changes)

- EverNote (great for personal use, not as great for teams, especially not great at tracking multi-user changes)

- Salesforce Knowledge (Didn't get too deep, but seemed better for help desk answer queue than internal documentation)

> Some basic requirements are: - searchable - code snippets - hyperlinking

I think another requirement to add is diagramming. I think wiki-style diagramming would be a big help for programmers to better communicate ideas.

I've used external tools like draw.io but the overhead for editing, downloading, and uploading I feel gets in the way. Sadly, we are on confluence but don't use the draw.io plugin [1]. Built-in support for dot, uml, or even ascii diagrams [2] would be big help.

[1] https://about.draw.io/integrations/confluence-integration-2/

[2] e.g. https://github.com/ivanceras/svgbob

Mermaid is a “Markdown for diagrams” that seems to use a more semantic markup instead of ASCII art: https://github.com/knsv/mermaid

Would probably work nice as a plugin for a wiki.

I've been using Mermaid with MediaWiki and it has a lot of promise. Since Mermaid lets me generate diagrams from text and MediaWiki lets me store and modify structured data, I can have MediaWiki pass Mermaid data to generate graphs/diagrams that stay up-to-date as the wiki changes.

I would like to see Mermaid be able to group sibling nodes[0] though, once I can do that, I can autocreate really nice organizational charts :)

[0] https://github.com/knsv/mermaid/issues/637

I like Dia enough, but lately InkScape is what’s up. Both use file formats that could be generated from source as part of the build, as well.

The PlantUML plugin for confluence is free and works great for us.

Confluence has nailed this product for engineering companies. So far I haven't seen anything that beats it.

Generated doc tools like Javadoc/Yard are usually terrible and only good for very specific documentation use cases. If that's all a codebase has, it's a middle finger to developers.

Nuclino (https://www.nuclino.com/)

It's a minimalist wiki with markdown support and real-time collaboration features. A lot faster and more lightweight than most of the old school wikis e.g. Confluence, MediaWiki, SharePoint (ugh).

Also has a kanban board view for sprint planning.

Thanks for mentioning us (I'm the CTO)! Let me know if you have more feedback or questions.

How can I contact you?

We use confluence. It integrates with Jira and SAML so we have all of our users in there and it's really convenient to mention a ticket number or a team member and have it automatically import the details.

The main point that confluence does really poorly (for me) is the lack of an external editor and the absolutely shameful support for Markdown.

If I could edit the page with git like interface and an external editor (like you can do on Github), it would be absolutely amazing and would make it a killer product for us.

Moving to another solution without deep integration to confluence/Jira is not possible since those are being used by product as well.

Phriction which is a part of phabricator is an excellent tool, it supports all of that and the ability to 'watch'.

'Watching' a document is a very important feature which is required in documentation tools. API specs change all the time and developers depending on an evolving API need to check the document on a frequent basis which can be a timesink.

Confluence is also a brilliant tool which supports watching and all the other features listed above, though it can be a bit pricey.

I installed MediaWiki for a personal project, and I love it. I've used a lot of other tools. Somehow the fact that the Wiki folks have heavily used the tool brings out all of the features you'd ever want, even if the implementation might be a bit clunky at times.

[BookStack](https://www.bookstackapp.com) - Opensource, built with Laravel. Been using it for a few months and it’s been fantastic so far. Supports LDAP integration, markdown and a lot more!

Stack Overflow for Teams works great from my experience. Having a wiki using Confluence is good for questions related to travel and processes but SO is the best for engineers due to its integration with Slack and ease of use (fast search, good formatting, tags).

Mkdocs - https://www.mkdocs.org

And to make it pretty we use mkdocs material - https://squidfunk.github.io/mkdocs-material/

There's a lot of great extensions that offer more functionality and features too - https://squidfunk.github.io/mkdocs-material/extensions/admon...

There's also extensions not listed in here that you can Google if looking for something specific


We have tickets, git, a wiki, and an agile board there. The integration let us do commits like:

    Added feature X from ticket #33, updated doc at [wikipage]
The ticket and wikipage reference will be clickable in the interface.

Boostnote (https://boostnote.io) with notes stored in the relevant repos.

Its not perfect (Boostnote really only supports local files) but it does mean our shared body of knowledge is versioned to what is in our repos. If someone makes large changes they can work on documentation while they are developing the change knowing that their docs are only released when their change is merged.

If Boostnote was aware of this workflow or allowed editing directly to remote repos it would be pretty much perfect.

I'd be curious if anyone can summarize the tradeoffs between Confluence + MediaWiki at some point. From what I've seen it seems to come down to:

(1) MediaWiki is definitely more responsive (Confluence can be quite slow) and, importantly, considerably more expressive -- provide you can learn Markdown, which basically anyone can.

(2) But you're essentially stuck with email-based logins which can be a dealbreaker to some organizations (MW does support OAuth in theory, but only in theory it seems -- the setup seems to be basically not supported).

I find that the admin side of Mediawiki is downright painful. Installing plugins requires mucking around in a config file on the server (it’s just another PHP app), and any errors in that file lead to a blank white page, rather than a useful error message.

I also found scaling MW harder than Confluence, as unintuitive as that sounds. Same goes for troubleshooting speed problems.

Good to know - thanks

I'll give it a shot, but I am the entire IT/DevOps/pe department for my company. It boils down to one thing: hosted so I don't have to do shite. Along with the fact that we use bitbucket, so peeps are already logged on, this makes me terribly happy. As for the best wiki I ever used, was the FB internal one, I think it was based on Mediawiki, but I was only an user, not the maintainer. It was integrated with pretty much everything else FB uses internally.

Nuclino (https://nuclino.com).

We just start to using it for the same use case you mention. And so far the best solution out there.

Agreed, we started using it too.

I'm a fan of WikiJS. Though I havent personally gone through setting it up, the last two web projects I worked on used it. I found the UI intuitive and easy to use. I loved being able to updates either in a code editor or in the browser UI.

https://wiki.js.org/ https://github.com/Requarks/wiki

We also use WikiJS, it is great. The fact that all the articles are stored and checked into Git in the background is great for keeping track of who edits what, undoing accidental changes, and keeping the wiki content agnostic to the platform.

That being said, there is room for improvement. Image handling is not great, and a lot of the components feel simplistic and could be fleshed out (permissions, indexing/search). Dead simple to set up though, especially with Docker-compose.

The desktop version of OneNote.

We've tried to use MediaWiki and other fancy solutions (inc. O365's SharePoint/online OneNote) and desktop OneNote is the only one that stuck. We have .one files for each major topic with sections and pages within them. It is kind of a "low tech" solution, and maybe that is why it works. It gets out of the way, easy to backup, no downtime, etc.

Although Microsoft keeps threatening to discontinue the desktop version of OneNote.

We use OneNote at work. I don't really like it as a Wiki tool. Its a superfast solution to get the work done, but the search sucks. Its difficult to get it organized if there is a lot of documentation. Its amazing to use as a personal notebook but not wiki.

I noticed here that noone seems to have mentioned using a static site generator for this.

We are currently evaluating tools for this with much of the same requirements.

My current idea for this is to use Hugo with https://themes.gohugo.io/hugo-theme-learn/ as the theme. It has search, code snippets and such. Does anyone have experience with doing it this way?

I've used [Wyam](https://wyam.io/) for some dotnet stuff and it works pretty well. Docs are written in markdown and it generates a static site with them. It can also generate api docs pages (with a search interface) from C# source files or compiled libs which was pretty cool IMHO.

nvAlt 2, a fork of the original Notational Velocity, is a good option for personal use that supports MultiMarkdown: http://brettterpstra.com/projects/nvalt/

You can synchronize with Simplenote — https://simplenote.com/ — which has a mobile version so your notes are viewable on your phone.

You can also use double brackets for wiki functionality to automatically create a link to another page of the same name. For example, [[this]] would create a link to a page called ’this’.

Another option that is good for many people working together is Gollum, a wiki system built on top of Git. It is the basis for GitHub’s wiki pages, if I remember correctly: https://github.com/gollum/gollum


Using XWiki the following documentation architecture is attainable:


We needed something simple and easy for non-dev/engineers to use. We’ve been using new google sites for about 6 months and have been pretty happy with it. We’re already gsuite users so it works nicely with that.

For non-technical team it is self hosted WordPress, goggle docs and google websites. For dev team google docs for project specs and documentations written as .md files on a separate doc repo.

For my own projects, I use this wiki; it's amazing:

BOOKSTACK - https://www.bookstackapp.com/

At work:


Preferred tool for work:

Google Drive / Text Writer and Spreadsheets

For personal stuff I use org-mode of emacs. At the work, we use Quip.

I love TikiWiki for very elaborate setups.

These days, I use a Git<->Markdown based hosting. I also wrote a small Flask script to serve contents from the repo. This makes it Heroku-able.

We have a few docs generated by Docsify for technical guidelines and handbooks.

Github markdown files for short project specific docs.

And Confluence for everything else including a few technical guidelines.

Quip. It's okay. Not blown away with it.

We're toying with Notion at the moment, but we'll see if we can get critical mass behind it.

We built Papyrs (https://papyrs.com) for this! (disclosure: co-founder)

Dokuwiki, easy to setup and works great.

Confluence works really well. It's easy to search through, edit, and create diagrams.


Google Docs


We are tech company, everyone can learn to use Markdown and Git.

Had base-tier Confluence at one company. Super nice.


Sphinx doc



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