Wikis OR Portals? No! Wikis AND Portals

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Portals and Wikis Are Similar

At a first glance, the casual observer could conclude that wikis and portals are very similar. They are both web-based. They are both used for the creation and sharing of information. Heck, they are both popular business tools. But beyond initial similarities, wikis and portals can be used in drastically different ways and just like a carpenter or mechanic will say – the tool makes the difference between doing an adequate job versus a great job.

Portals Are Great!

Portals are great for acting as a central information hub. Most portals are built with the concept of a hierarchy. At the top level of the hierarchy will be the main portal landing page. The main landing page will be used for companywide communication and information. You may find announcements, a corporate calendar or perhaps your daily lunch menu available on the main portal.

Below the main portal will be various team or project sites. These subsites will be comprised of various information pertinent to the team or project that uses them.

Portals give flexibility in the type and amount of information you can keep on them. Portals typically have different types of content libraries that support unique sets of information. For example, some libraries are meant to keep documents such as Word or Excel spreadsheets. Other libraries may consist of a list of frequently used web URLs while another library may house a list of defects in your product. These libraries are the key to organizing and displaying your data.

With the organization around libraries, portals tend to be a bit more ridged with what you can do with the data you store. If a document library owner wants you to fill out a form with the document title, author and notes about the contents before you upload it, you will have to fill that out.

The idea of metadata is also a term you will frequently hear when talking about portals. Although the information you upload is data itself, there is often times other data that describes the original data included. This is called metadata. In the document library example above, the metadata such as document title, author and description are things that help classify the data itself. Everything loaded into a portal has some set of metadata with it. This makes it easy to organize data and create special views of your data based on the metadata. For example, you could create a view in your document library of all documents authored by a specific person.

When it comes to using a portal, organization and tracking are the key words. If you want to organize or track a set of data, use a portal.

Wikis Are Great!

What about those creative people who like to just get in there and create things instead of managing metadata? This is where wikis come in. Instead of having to create a document, upload it and fill in metadata, just browse to the wiki and create a page. You’re off and creating information right then and there.

What wikis lack in formality, they make up in spontaneity. Users are more likely to update documentation and information kept on a wiki when the rules are relaxed to allow larger populations of people the ability to edit. It’s also a lot easier to quickly get in and edit information. It doesn’t seem like much to go to a portal, find your document and edit it, but when workflows for approvals are on and with check out requirements, it takes just enough extra work for people to skip it and let documents sit stagnant.


I like to use portals when things need to be organized in a specific way and the data needs to be formalized. For example, completed work instructions or procedures should be stored on a portal with change tracking enabled. This way I know where the formal procedure is and I have the ability to go back to previous versions to see which changes have been made. Perhaps I have also enabled approvals on the library so I can see who approved the procedure.

Wikis are great for creative expression and getting things done quickly. If I’m writing end user documentation that may change frequently, I will use a wiki. Instead of updating metadata and going back for approvals, I just load my page and make the edits I want. Bada bing. Wikis are excellent for allowing teams to create content quickly. It’s a bit harder to organize, but that’s part of the charm with wikis.

Do you use both wikis and portals at your company? What kind of tips do you have for storing and organizing information? Leave some comments below!