Wiki for Writing Books?
September 14, 2007 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Is there wiki software that is specifically designed for writing books? By "book" I mean a long piece of writing designed to be read from start to finish, possibly broken up into chapters, and possibly with a TOC at the start and index at the end.

Every wiki tool I've seen is designed to allow authors to create websites i.e. non-linear and often relatively unstructured collections of pages. I want a tool that is specifically designed to allow multiple authors to work on a single linear text, possibly divided into sections and chapters. Of course, it should also support cross-references and other non-linear tools.

WikiBooks seems to accomplish this through a set of self-imposed style guidelines. I guess that works, but I'd rather have a tool that actually supported writing structured documents. The closest I've found is DokuWiki, which at least makes it natural to create a book, even if it doesn't enforce the structure. It would also be nice if this was an open source tool and if it supported standards (e.g. DocBook).

Does anything like this exist?

If it doesn't exist, I might write it. Think anyone else would want it?
posted by alms to Technology (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience (my Master's project was using wikis as online collaboration tools), wikis are best suited for non-linear writing and collaboration, so you might be focused on the wrong kind of tool. Part of the brilliance of wikis is the fun tangents and cross-referencing you can do, but the big headache is that they don't usually have inherent navigational structure (which is kind of what you're asking for here).

Here's a great article reviewing and comparing collaborative writing tools, many of which are free.
posted by Kimberly at 10:01 AM on September 14, 2007

What Kimberly said. Wikis grow a bit like coral reefs (or at least the one in use at my company has). Which is to say, all over the place as governed (!) by user need. You might also look at Textpattern, which is a content-management system/blog/wiki platform that can be used any which way you like.
posted by jquinby at 10:06 AM on September 14, 2007

Response by poster: Let me clarify a little bit: we don't want a collaborative word processor. We need more structure than that provides. We're talking several hundred pages of technical documentation. We'll want to manage chapters and sections, a large number of linked cross-references and at least one table of contents and one index.

We will want the document to be browsable and searchable online with nice web layout (reasonable page sizes, good navigation, etc) but we'll also want to produce a printed version that reads well as a book.

The initial writing will be done by a small number of people, but ongoing contributions (edits, fixes, additions) will be made by the larger user community.

I would think that this would be a common need for many OSS project, but maybe not, or maybe it just hasn't been written yet. An obvious approach would be a wiki-like tool that imposes DocBook structure. I'm just surprised that it doesn't seem to exist.

Please, tell me why I'm wrong, either about it being useful or about it not existing.
posted by alms at 10:37 AM on September 14, 2007

I'm not an expert on the subject, but I do a lot of similar things and I've never seen anything quite like it.

I think it would be a great tool to have. I also work on a lot of technical documentation, which is worked on by many people at once, and are somewhere in the grey area between "we need a collaborative word processor" and "we need a free-form Wiki-CMS".

My only thought is that rather than going at the problem from the Wiki side (start with a wiki and then decide what structure it needs to have added to it), perhaps it would be instructive to start off from the side of a collaborative word processor, and think about what additional freedom you need that it doesn't provide. I say that because I think a collaborative word-processor with inter-document linking is a bit closer to the tool you're looking for than a free-form Wiki engine, at least based on how my workplace's process works.

Anything to let me put a bullet in the masses of change-tracked Word documents that we currently use. (shiver)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:47 AM on September 14, 2007

Sounds useful. I have in the past had a project (co-editing a book of essays, requiring, with my co-editor, who was at a different location (a) shared commentary on the essays and (b) a collaborative intro) which might have worked well with what you are describing.
posted by londongeezer at 2:09 PM on September 14, 2007

Pandora probably comes closes to what you're asking, and actually uses a fair bit of book-based terminology in its organization(see the FAQ).

Seems like your best bet.
posted by Su at 2:46 PM on September 14, 2007

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