Wikis are rapidly becoming popular. They are also morphing, slowly. If you look at JotSpot, it is not much like the original Wiki from Ward. They are serving a larger community and becoming repositories of useful information. Wikipedia definitely did a great job of increasing awareness of wikis. Now there are WikiQuotes, WikiBooks, WikiMedia and many wiki like products both open source and commercial.
Companies like eBay, Whole Foods use wikis. Most of the Open source documentation is available as wikis. So what makes wikis so attractive? What is Wikiness, if there is such a thing.
From a philosophical point of view, wikiness is the ability to provide community generated, edited content. Some members of the community put in more than others, but a lot of people contribute. If you find something wrong in the content of a wiki, you can fix it. If you know a topic only vaguely, leave a dangling link and someone will create the content. It is all informal collaboration. It is all asynchronous. You contribute what you can, from your knowledge. If you feel strongly correct the original text. If not, just leave a comment, that may start a discussion, which may result in revised text. Wikis are scalable since almost anyone with an Internet connection can view and edit content. In a way, it is the interactive, inter-creative web Tim Berners Lee visualized.
So what can we learn from Wikis? How can we take this wikiness and infuse it in other applications? How can we leverage Wikiness?
Here are a few thoughts:
1. We can borrow a few concepts from wikis – wikiwords (or some conceptual equivalents), backlinks, collarborative editing, built-in search, history of changes and put them in applications.
2. We can make our applications as easy to use as Wikis. WikiCalc is already moving in that direction for spreadsheets and Google Spreadsheet does a bit of that.
3. We can use Wiki as a platform for building content. They are already the preferred tools for low end content management systems.
4. We can make them a container of components – Twiki and JotSpot already do this. But we need a better, more universal component model, something that is not proprietory to one system. This will allow us to put different types of media on a wiki page.
5. We can add a feature to the browser that makes it a virtual wiki. You can browse any page, add comments and corrections to it and the browser can create a shadow page in your system or on your server. So when you retrieve the original page, the modified/enhanced page appears magically. This new page gets a new URL which you can share with others.
Wikis are too good to be left alone as independent applications. We need to take some of their attributes and fuse them into other products as well.