By Dan Moren
November 30, 2019 9:45 AM PT
We Like: Gollum wiki software
There’s a groove I get into when I start searching for the perfect tool for a task, a certain single-mindedness—and I’d wager I’m not alone in that. Recently I was looking for a tool to help me keep track of canonical information from my series of novels, the Galactic Cold War. I’d already discovered that I’d accidentally used both the singular and plural to refer to the same organization across multiple books, and as I was kicking myself for not being more diligent about consistency, I decided it was high time to set up a place to store such information.
So I got into the tool zone: searching the web for software and services that might meet my needs, installing or signing up for them to see how they felt, and ultimately landing on a solution that, while perhaps not perfect, checked the majority of boxes that I’d laid out. In this particular case, that software was a wiki project called Gollum.
Gollum had several aspects that meshed with what I was looking for. First, it’s web-based, so I can access it anywhere, from any device with a web browser. Secondly, it’s something I can install on my Linode server, meaning that I’m in complete control of all the data: I’m not subject to anybody else having access to it, nor do I have to worry about what happens if that service is compromised. (At the end of the day, anything that goes wrong there is probably my fault anyway.) Third, Gollum is a flat-file wiki, meaning that it doesn’t store information in a database, but rather in actual files residing on the server—and, more to the point, those files are written in Markdown, meaning that if I do need to eventually move them to another system, they’re just text files that are easily portable. Lastly, because it’s a wiki, it’s simple to create links between those pages, which was one of the primary features I was looking for in the first place.
There were some missing features, however. For one thing, Gollum doesn’t natively have support for multiple accounts or authentication. This wasn’t a complete deal breaker: at present, I don’t expect anybody but myself to be actively contributing to this wiki. But I did want it password-protected so that others couldn’t stumble across it and either edit it maliciously or be spoiled by learning things about my books that are not yet public knowledge. Though Gollum does have a plugin architecture to add features like authentication, it’s somewhat more complex than I wanted to get into, so I ended up doing a workaround by using the webserver’s built-in authentication. Bulletproof it’s not, but hopefully it’s sufficient to keep away prying eyes.
I’ve spent time with other web-based content management systems before, and I’ve even maintained a MediaWiki installation for several years, which I am desperately trying to kill at present. My experience with those systems was a reminder that there’s a balance between power and simplicity, and sometimes there’s far more value put on the former than the latter. MediaWiki and other pieces of software can certainly do a lot more, but it also means a lot more stuff that I don’t need and will frankly never touch. In the end, sometimes the best tool for the job is the one that does most of what you need to do and otherwise stays out of your way.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. The latest novel in his Galactic Cold War series of sci-fi space adventures, The Nova Incident, is available now.]