Top open source knowledge base solutions
by Catherine Heath

Top open source knowledge base solutions

Open source knowledge base software gets a lot of interest for its potential to be free. Developers are also interested in software that they can freely integrate into other systems without paying for expensive licenses, or being restricted by the license terms.

Purpose of a knowledge base

A knowledge base can be used for a variety of purposes, but most commonly to help your customers self-serve. This might be an end-user knowledge base for your product, a knowledge base for internal staff, or a knowledge base for developers.

Whatever the purpose, studies have shown that 91% of customers would use an online knowledge base if it was available. So the challenge is then to find a decent knowledge base solution that is also open source.

Why use open source

Open source software is popular among developers. But first we need to define exactly what open source means.

Open source as a term has a variety of meanings – most commonly free as in “beer” and free as in “speech”. Software could be one or the other, or both. Also known as FOSS (Free and Open Source Software), software libre or free software, debates rage over the exact meaning of the term.

In this case, we're talking about open source software that is free to modify and distribute, and may or may not be free to use. This means it can be integrated into your company’s software stack without maintaining a subscription or paying software vendors to install an integration for you.  

If you require extreme flexibility and control over the code, open source could be for you.

Top open source knowledge base solutions

OpenKM

OpenKM is one of the most well-known open source knowledge base solutions out there.

It’s more of an internal knowledge base as it’s designed to help corporate companies manage their knowledge.

Their community version is available to be freely used and publicly distributed under GNU General Public Licence version 2. It has good forum support, but not all of the features of the enterprise version are available as open source. Their software is available free of charge.

Documize

Documize is an ‘Intelligent Document Environment’ that blends document authoring and wiki software with project management best practices.

It was built by developers in EmberJS and Go. They wanted to improve the documentation process in software engineering, as well as how documents are shared.

Anyone can fork their open source core codebase and submit a pull request for a new data integration. They then ship the update to every Documize user automatically with the next product release. In fact, they encourage developers to explore their code base.

Their code is always open source and their pricing starts from free plans for the first ten users.

eXo

eXo is knowledge management software for the enterprise built with JavaScript. The team calls its offering a ‘digital collaboration platform’, but one of their products is a knowledge base for large teams. It’s open source and aimed at being an internal knowledge base – note that it’s not actually ‘free’.

They use a similar model to OpenKM in that their ‘Community Edition’ is open source but does not receive official tech support. Your developers will need to maintain this product in-house. It’s licensed under the open-source LGPL license.

In contrast, the eXo Platform Enterprise Edition is supported and maintained, built on top of the Community Edition with the same code. This is a standard model for open source knowledge bases.

myBase

myBase is a unique free-form database software built in Qt that allows entry of unstructured text, webpages, images, documents and emails of any length or format.

While it can be classified as a knowledge base, it’s more suitable for organising personal information such as a research project. It’s not suitable for cross-team collaboration but it could be used to host a product knowledge base.

It’s completely free and open source.

phpMyFAQ

phpMyFAQ is a mobile-friendly, feature-rich, scalable open source FAQ software – written in PHP, obviously. It’s completely free and open source under the Mozilla Public License Version 2.0. Developers are encouraged to contribute patches or features to the codebase.

It’s extensively documented. It has all the features you would expect to come with a knowledge base, including a Content Management System, user permissions, a search engine, back-end analytics and comments.

PHPKB

PHPKB is a knowledge management software also written in PHP with a MySQL database.

It’s a complete knowledge management solution for your business that can be used internally or as a customer knowledge base. There is the option to have it hosted as a SaaS solution or install it locally.

The source code is publicly available and fully commented to encourage you to to modify it to your needs. However, you still have to pay for your license which starts at $285 for the most basic plan.

Drawbacks of open source

Open source software has many benefits but sometimes it’s not the right solution for your company. 

With open source you usually rely on the project being kept active by volunteers (unless it’s backed by a large company) and if the codebase is no longer maintained then you may end up with a solution that stops working.

Open source software probably doesn’t have a User Experience that matches the quality of paid SaaS solutions and may be more appropriate for developers than regular users.

You have to allocate the internal resources to install, maintain and develop your open source knowledge base. This may not be the best use of developer time when there are some fantastic paid SaaS solutions out there.

When you might use a paid SaaS solution

If you don’t require an open source solution, a hosted SaaS kb solution could be the ideal.

KnowledgeOwl knowledge base software was built specially for our customers who want a knowledge base that is easy to use, right out of the box.

It doesn’t require any development work, and can be customized to suit your company’s own branding and design guidelines.

The User Interface is designed for the average person to use and doesn’t require any development skills or specialist technical knowledge. The content publishing process is streamlined and easy.

Pricing plans start from $79 per month for a single user and one knowledge base.

Final remarks

Whether or not you choose open source depends on your situation and the type of company you are.

Developers are often interested in open source solutions because they own the code and can modify it to suit their own particular system.

While there are many benefits to open source solutions, one big drawback is that you will be responsible for installation and maintenance. You have to pay for hosting and all the other necessities that come with in-house development. It also may not be “free as in beer”, and come with an enterprise price tag.

Solutions like KnowledgeOwl can offer a great compromise since you can fully customize your knowledge base and only pay for what you use. It’s accessible for companies of all sizes.

Take our knowledge base software for a free spin today!

Catherine Heath

Catherine is a freelance writer based in Manchester. She writes blogs, social media, copy, and designs owl-based images. 

You can find out more about Catherine on her personal websites Away With Words and Catherine Heath Studios.

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