Find this Podcast “Wikis vs Word vs OneNote?” on the ThreeWill Soundcloud, Stitcher, and iTunes.


Danny:Hello, and welcome to the ThreeWill podcast. This is Danny Ryan, your host. I’m got Tommy here with me, my co-host, Tommy Ryan, here. How you doing, Tom?


Tommy:How you doing?


Danny:Doing good, doing good. Let me see your socks.


Tommy:Not as impressive, but you know. They’re multicolored. They’re blue on the ankle.


Danny:Okay. I won’t be stealing those, though. You’re safe with wearing those socks. Today we’re going to cover a subject, a very controversial subject, which makes me want to sound like the Wascally Wabbit when I say it, which is wikis versus Word versus OneNote. I think I got that right, and I just want to talk about, in general, capturing information inside of Microsoft 365.


I know this is something that, when we looked through our Yammer conversations, this was something you brought up. It looked like in 2014 we started some internal discussions about this. Maybe just to get us kicked off here, let’s start at a high level. What’s a SharePoint wiki?


Tommy:A SharePoint wiki is a way to create Web content through an editor that makes you feel like you’re in a word processor. Instead of having to go in and create HTML to create a static Web page, you would end up opening up an editor that’s online that allows you to do bold and italics and bullets and headers. Wikis go further than that, than just pure formatted text. It allows you to add Web parts and references to lists, and so there’s a little bit more enhanced capability beyond just creating static content.


Danny:Gotcha, gotcha. I think everybody’s familiar with what a Word document is, but now that we’ve moved to the world of Word Online, what is that? What does that mean to somebody?


Tommy:Well, Word Online, for those that have used Google Docs, it is very similar to Google Docs in the way you interact with it. It’s a Web-based editor. You’ve got all the formatting capabilities through the browser. You don’t have to have the full-blown desktop client to edit and view Word documents.


Danny:Okay, great.


Tommy:There’s a lot of similarity when you start looking at it. There becomes some overlap with looking at Word Online versus a wiki. There’s some overlapping capability of I can edit content, text, in a browser to be displayed in a browser, through Word Online.


Danny:The last one, OneNote. What’s OneNote?


Tommy:OneNote is a notetaking tool that a lot of people are probably not that familiar with. It’s not one of the mainstream Microsoft Office products in the suite. It’s one that allows you to take a set of notes and put that in a notebook and structure that with tabs and some hierarchy there. If you have a bunch of information that you want to have as a collection in kind of a notebook, you’ve got OneNote. OneNote has also gone online, and there’s an online version of OneNote that allows you to view and also edit OneNote content on that.


Danny:It sounds like we now have three different ways of sort of editing content, editing core content, with Microsoft 365. My head just exploded. We’re picking bits off the floor right now. Maybe just to get us started with sort of the debate about the three of them, a little bit of the history of sort of how we used OneNote in the past, how we use wikis, how we use Word, sort of, that’s led us up to the point that we’re at right now.


Can you give me a little bit of history, and maybe just talk about internally how we’re using it maybe, and then maybe start talking about some of the questions I have up from clients about how to use these different products?


Tommy:Sure, and I think these are the top three in Microsoft 365. I mean, you can start saying …


Danny:I do not need more.


Tommy:… Yammer notes, and you can continue on saying, “Where do I put knowledge?” Why do we use wikis in the first place? Years back, when we first created our first extranet for our clients, and even before that when we had our intranet in SharePoint, we needed to capture notes and we needed to share that in a Web format. I kind of started off with the extranet because that’s a good example that you can concretely get your hands around.


We have sprint reviews, and the sprint reviews, we like to review accomplishments and plans and kind of details, statistics, around that particular sprint, and we like to do that in a windowed document. It’s a place that’s online, that people can navigate to on the extranet. They don’t have to …


Danny:You said you’re doing this in a OneNote document, or in a wiki?


Tommy:This would be in a wiki.


Danny:Okay, okay. I heard OneNote.


Tommy:Yeah, I could have said it. It’s very possible.


Danny:Yeah, you let me confuse the people.


Tommy:All right.


Danny:In a wiki document, then?


Tommy:Yeah, in a wiki document, and the extranet, we would have a set of notes that we’d bring into a sprint review. Those notes, instead of putting them in a Word document and putting them in a document library, where someone would have to open up those notes and have Word … most people do have Word, but they have to launch that in Word … it’s just a lot of steps and it’s just kind of kludgy to have to go to a Web page, download something, you open it up into a browser or open it up into the actual Office document.


Wikis allowed you to naturally navigate around, and it just is viewed, those notes are viewed, as a page, as a Web page. We really got into that because it allowed us to share notes. It’s in a central place that’s viewable through the browser for our clients, for the team, and so we started using wikis for that. Wikis did well for that type of knowledge-sharing and kind of collaboration.


Danny:Wikis are really good for sort of lightweight capturing and easy viewing of content, sounds like, if you’re going for that?


Tommy:Yeah. Wikis are great for lightweight editing of Web content that you don’t have to be an HTML developer to update that content, because it’s simple. If you know how to use Word and edit documents in Word, you’re going to know how to use a wiki. That has been a big pro of using wikis. Kind of a con that has made us curious to see are there better ways than a wiki had been the formatting within wikis. I don’t know why, but maybe there’s kind of a legacy of how they approached wikis in terms of developing that capability. Wikis can get whacked out. Wikis can get really weird at times.


When you look at editing a wiki, you see a lot of people talking about, you know, it’s taking over the control of the format. “I can’t get this bullet to line up.” You sit there and you try to remove the formatting, it doesn’t go away, it’s still there, and you end up taking it out of the wiki, putting it into something to scrub all the hidden characters that are somehow whacking out your wiki, and so it ends up being frustrating and it ends up being not as quick as you would like it to be. You end up spending a lot of time fighting the formatting in a wiki, and that really has not changed that much over time. It’s very surprising, and so that has made us raise our heads to look at are there better ways of doing that.


Danny:Especially for us, because early on we were using Confluence and we built the SharePoint connector for Confluence, and we got the experience of working with sort of an enterprise wiki editor. For us to go from that to this experience was a little bit of a letdown. You hope it would improve over the years, and there’s been some things that have improved, but overall still the experience is a bit lacking.


Let’s move on next to Word. How does Word fit into this, and maybe talk about how we’ve used it internally and then let’s go through some of the pros and cons of Word.


Tommy:Okay. Word has been one of those things that you would document things in Word if you knew you had to send it to a customer. It had to go outside of your organization, and they’re not going to have access to your extranet, let’s say. You would document, say, an architectural type document, a design type document, in Word. That way you can email it and someone can see it and comment, and kind of work with that and give you updates to that. You would have that email back and forth of that Word document.


Danny:The content’s transportable? You can move it around to different places?


Tommy:It is, and you don’t have to worry about them having SharePoint, per se. They need to have Word, which that’s a pretty safe thing, most people have Word, so that is how you would typically use Word. Word ended up having the capability over time, with Office Web apps, now essentially there’s a new term for it. I can’t remember the acronym, but at the end of the day it’s Word Online, it’s Excel Online, it’s PowerPoint Online. You don’t have to pass around the document anymore, and the user doesn’t have to launch the desktop application to be able to view the content.


It allows us to not email that document around, and point people to a location that allows them to see it in the browser and not have to launch an application. That kind of piqued our interest to say, “Well, that’s what primarily we’re using wikis for, is to be able to point our customers to information that allows them to look at it quickly.” Now with not having to launch Word, you can look at it quickly, get the information you need, and then navigate on to the next thing you need to see on the website.


Danny:Now it’s easy to use, sort of like what the wiki pages were, but then it’s also transportable and then you also know with Word you have the online version of Word, which is still more robust, formattingwise and all that stuff. Then if you need to drop into the Word local client, you can do that if you need to.


Tommy:That’s right.


Danny:Then I guess for us, won’t we start using it with maybe new projects and new places? I wasn’t always a big wiki user before, but I’ve really tried to take maybe some of the content that I would send in emails before or some of the things that I’m trying to capture and put it into a Word document. What are some of the cons of using Word? Does anything pop out?


Tommy:Well, you know, when you’re using Word, when you compare it to wiki, some of the cons that surface is wikis allow you to put Web parts in it. If you have some of those specialized needs that you want to mash up together, some active content, some dynamic content, you’re not going to be able to do that well within the Word context of viewing the Word page online or the Word document online, but wikis have that capability, so that’s a drawback.


Probably the other major drawback is the ability to navigate between content. With wiki, really when someone learns how to do the wiki, the only new concept really that is mainstream within a wiki is to be able to link that wiki to another wiki. There is a markup of putting double brackets around a set of words, and that turns into another page and then you can author more content. It allows you to kind of separate and hone in on this page is for this type of content and this page is for this other subject, and that is not a concept within Word.


Now, you can have hyperlinks, and you could go with a hyperlink to another Word document and that would give you that navigation back and forth, but you can’t do that very quickly within the context of Word, where you get a dropdown of a list of the different Word pages or Word documents within the document library. Within wikis, you have that. If you start the double bracket, all of a sudden you see a list of wikis, other wikis, and as you type ahead, it starts filtering that down to where is that other content. Or if it’s not there, if it’s new, it will create a special kind of link that will create that page for you.


Danny:It’s a better way, an easier way, of linking up the different areas?


Tommy:It’s easier. You can still link between Word documents. It wasn’t designed with that in mind. It was designed to be a Word document, kind of standalone, and this interlinking of pages underlying Word documents, that’s not something that’s built in. We’ve actually thought about creating a little add-in to do that. That’s one of the projects that we’re thinking about and thinking about, and it’ll be out there for many years.


Danny:We’ll build it for free and we won’t spend any money marketing it. Love these pet projects.


Let’s move on now to OneNote, and maybe see how that contrasts and compares with wikis and with Word. At a high level, sort of, does this address some of the issues that you’re seeing with wikis and Word with linking and viewing and editing? Tell me how OneNote sort of fits into all of this. We’ve used OneNote in the past.


Tommy:We have. We’ve used it fairly extensively, right, before wikis. Before wikis, we were using OneNote, and then we ended up transferring that from OneNote over into wikis. Were we drinking at the time? We probably created a tool to do that, I would imagine.


Danny:Yeah, I think so.


Tommy:Another tool to transform wikis back into OneNote and reorganize the closet again.


Danny:Some of it, we moved some things to Evernote.


Tommy:Into Evernote. That’s what kind of … that was more personal-related.


Danny:Yeah, some of that content was moved from OneNote into wikis, and some of it was left as OneNote. We didn’t have to move it. We kind of left it as an archive, let’s say, and active knowledge was moved forward as a wiki. If you’re looking at OneNote, why even consider OneNote? Why does that come in the mix of, well, I have wikis and Word Online, why should I even care about OneNote?


Tommy:Well, when you talk to folks as Microsoft, a lot of times you hear OneNote is the next wiki platform. I don’t see a lot of that publicly pushed. I don’t see a lot of formal documentation of encouragement about that, but when I talk to folks at work at Microsoft, that’s kind of the underlying, “Oh, that’s the next wiki.” With OneNote, it was another Office tool that there’s an online component, so you can view and edit OneNote documents.


When you look at OneNote, we talked about Word being able to link between different pages. OneNote has a nice way to link between different pages or different notes, and so you got that capability. OneNote comes as a file, and that file has that collection of notebooks and notes within it, so it can be partitioned and provisioned, let’s say, with a new project. It’s that one area that we know that can grow and be organized around keeping a bunch of pages of content.


You think of Word, you might have a big table of contents that would link you into sections of that Word document. OneNote knows how to organize around a set of notes, and there’s some kind of physical ways of doing that with kind of tabs and different notebooks. It has, I think, a more stable editing capability, so very similar to wikis. You can do a lot of things with wikis. You have a desktop client with it. You have the ability to sync it. You might make some decisions around, “I want to sync this notebook, this notebook and this notebook,” and then I can work on this content offline and it syncs back up.


Danny:Nice. There’s this concept of offline capabilities, which you don’t have in wiki?


Tommy:You don’t have in a wiki, and you really don’t have with Word, but you do have with Word. I mean, you can take a document library and use OneDrives. You can point OneDrives to that SharePoint location and sync that. There’s challenges with OneDrive. OneDrive for business hasn’t been the best as a sync engine. I think there’s work towards that, it’s getting better and better, but OneNote has its own sync capability, so you don’t have to rely on OneDrive for that syncing.


That’s a little bit extra special sauce that OneNote has. It’s a more robust syncing capability, and having people work on notes together. We didn’t talk about this with Word, but Word has joint collaboration, where I can be in the same document at the same time and see what the other person is editing. You can see that also with OneNote, and it’s been there in OneNote for a long time. Before even wikis, you had some of that joint collaboration. You could actually put it up on the Web. I won’t go down that path, but it had its online capability a while back.


When you’re looking at OneNote, great sync capability, I can partition things into different notebooks and so I can pull down what I want. I can edit it offline. It’s got really great formatting capabilities. Not everybody has OneNote, so if I want portability, if I want to send someone a note in this notebook, I’ll extract it out as a PDF, let’s say, and send it off. If they have Word, I can send them the document. They can edit it, I can put it back in, and I can take that document and put it back into SharePoint and then edit it through the online editor.


Danny:Microsoft has had an emphasis recently on developing this whole concept around Microsoft 365 groups. The group itself, when you provision a group, it creates a place for your documents, for a OneNote notebook. It looks like they’re trying to go more in this direction where you’re storing information about that group … which could be Word documents, which could be OneNote … in this sort of central place that that group has access to, so sort of like a … it’s almost like a security context. These folks are working together on something together. I’m just wondering how that’s … there’s not a wiki component to that at all.


Tommy:No, there isn’t. If you look at where is Microsoft going as it relates to sharing notes, online notes and wikis, kind of online notes, online knowledge, to edit within the browsers, wikis don’t show up, and there’s not really a way to use a wiki within an Microsoft 365 because you get SharePoint, but what you’re getting is a document library for your kind of OneDrive type of interface.


You get that OneNote library and you get conversations, which is kind of the lightweight discussion thread that you might have in the SharePoint site, but you have a specialized kind of discussion group that’s tightly coupled with your email but gives you some lightweight ways to have conversations. If you were to look at where’s Microsoft going as it relates to shared notes, that would be either in a wiki or in Word or in OneNote, you might say that OneNote is where they’re going with it.


Danny:Let’s try to put a button on this, and I’ll try to summarize what I think we’ve said here, if you can sort of maybe give some of the finer details on what I cover. What it sounds like, in the past, wikis have been good for just sort of capturing and getting out notes and notetaking, and making it easy to distribute within the group and people can see it through a Web page, and it had its purpose but it seems like we’re starting to go away from that.


With Word, I’m looking at Word and OneNote and it seems like Word is good for those things that maybe, if we’re talking about the group context for information that might need to be shared outside the group. In our cases, it might be information that would be shared either with a client or with people who are not on our project team or things like that. Those are good cases for using Word documents.


OneNote seems to be the place where you can share information internally to that group. You’re not really distributing it to other people, but you need to have some way of capturing notes. Really we should be encouraging people, for notetaking purposes, to use OneNote. If we are using groups … and that’s a big “if” … but if they are using groups, to capture that information within that OneNote notebook so everybody has access to it. It’s an easy editor, easy hyperlinking between things.


It seems like that’s sort of where we’re at right now, and that is somewhat congruent with what you’re saying about Microsoft’s direction, which is OneNote is the next-generation wiki for Microsoft, for Microsoft 365.


Tommy:Right. Right. I agree with what you’re saying there. I think if you were to point out just one thing as its strength for each of these choices, I would say a wiki is for its dynamic capability, so I can put things in there that can change, like Web parts within the wiki. With Word, it’s its portability. I can take that online content that I can even edit in the browser, and take that specific file and share it with someone else. Then OneNote is simplicity.


I think OneNote has all the capabilities of what you need for an online note and knowledge that needs to grow and has structure to it, and the simplicity is it just comes with the group. You’re not having to think about, “Oh, do I put a section within my document library that’s going to be for notes and collaboration, wiki-type content, and a set of Word documents inside of my document library?” You don’t need to think about that when you’re looking at Microsoft 365 groups. It just creates that OneNote library for you, and you’re not going to have the wiki.


The things that I see with wikis, why I’m not betting on wikis, is you look at the Yammer integration. You’ve got that with Word and you have that to an extent with OneNote. When you’re looking at just what’s coming out of the box from Microsoft and what they’re suggesting as this is the starting point, you’re not seeing wikis show up there.


I also just saw … I shared with the group the other day … blogs. Blogs were really just another form of a wiki. They have changed the blog interface to simplify that, and it doesn’t look like a wiki anymore. I think a lot of the things that we were excited about wikis, it’s showing up in different parts of the platform, and we’re moving in that direction and suggesting to our customers better places than wikis.


Danny:I can’t answer for our listeners, but for me, that has helped clarify things quite a bit. I often have to do this. You have to sort of sit back a little bit and look at sort of where we’ve been and where we are right now, and this conversation has been very helpful to me, so thanks. Thanks for taking the time.


Tommy:You’re welcome. Yeah, it probably sounds a little bit messy, because it is pretty messy. There’s a lot to talk about. We have an internal wiki where we talk about the pros and cons, and we could spend two hours just going through that. We’re just trying to hit the highlights of that.


At the end of the day, it’s be careful if you’re using wikis. If you’re going to use groups, which I think is a new concept that we’re not necessarily pushing that hard, but it’s where we think things are going. If you’re more, you want to be ahead of the curve and have simplicity, OneNote seems to be the way to go, and then consider Word. Word is not a bad replacement for what you would typically do in a wiki.


Danny:Now, on this conversation about OneNote, of course I want to talk with you about OneNote versus Evernote. Let’s have that battle. Maybe we’ll talk about that next week.


Tommy:That could be a good …


Danny:An interesting conversation. Again, it doesn’t have to be this is the definitive guide of OneNote versus Evernote, but more a conversation about the two. I think, you know, like our conversation today, there’s going to be some pros and cons to each. Maybe just standing back a little bit and looking at that, maybe that’ll help us as well.




Danny:Awesome. Thanks, Tommy, for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it.


Tommy:Sure, no problem.


Danny:Thanks, everybody, for listening. Definitely if this has got you fired up, especially if you disagree with us on something, leave a comment. We like to see comments. We like to know that somebody out there is listening. Seriously, we really appreciate you taking the time to listen to this today, and thank you so much and have a wonderful day. Take care. Bye-bye.





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