Evolving Wikis

When I Googled Wiki, I got more than 412 million hits. While Wikis have been around for more than 10 years, their visibility has increased only in the last few years – mostly thanks to Wikipedia.

So where do wikis go from their initial role as collaborative tools? Let us look at both some current and many possible future developments.

1. Wiki Scripts
Integration of scripting into wiki lets you build wiki applications. Twiki is a great example of this. Open source products like Moin-moin and commercial products like JotSpot do this too. Client-side scripting with Javascript and server side scripting may both be supported.

2. Wiki Plug-in Modules
Plug-in modules allow new functionality to be added to the wiki through a simple component architecture. Moin-moin, Jotspot and others have a scheme for writing plug-in modules that let you extend/customize these wikis

3. Wiki Skins
Changing the skin of a wiki allows you to change the look and feel of a wiki. The initial set of wikis were bland affairs. Now there is a lot more color and style being added through custom skins. Just look at something like Wetpaint to get an idea about the trends in this direction.

4. Wiki Templates
The initial wiki had only one type of page. A title and a bunch of text with links. Nowadays most of the wikis have templates you can choose when creating a new wiki page. Here is the description about templates from Moin-moin FAQ:

if you want certain types of pages to have a similar format (similar headings, organization, etc.), you just define a page that ends in Template, and when creating pages of this type, select that template and edit it. The wiki fills in the starting content for you. Templates are editable wiki pages like any other.
To create a Template page, just create a new page called <something>Template

5. Semantic Wikis
This is the one, I am most excited about. Semantic wikis associate model based metadata with wiki pages. This increases the ability for applications to gather knowledge from wikis. Here is what Wikipedia says about the purpose of Semantic Wikis.

As Wikis often serve as CMS or knowledge management tools, Semantic Wikis try to enhance them and allow users to make their internal knowledge more explicit and more formal, so that e. g. it can be searched in better ways than just with keywords.

Some systems are aimed at Personal knowledge management, some more at knowledge management for communities. The amount of formalisation varies: existing systems range from primarily content oriented (like Semantic MediaWiki) over content oriented with strong formal background (like IkeWiki) to systems where the formal knowledge is the primary interest (like Platypus Wiki). Also, Semantic Wiki systems differ in the level of ontology support they offer. While most systems store their data as RDF, some even support various levels of ontology reasoning.

6. Attaching Documents to Wiki Pages
Several wikis allow you to attach documents to a wiki page. Some of them include adaptors that understand different document formats, index documents and allow search. This allows a small business to use wikis as low end content management systems. You can also use this capability to use Wiki as a Personal Knowledge Management tool. I had written earlier about using Wikis as backup for my Outlook email client.

7. Wiki Application Programming Interfaces
Application programming interfaces (aka APIs) allow wikis to integrate easily with other applications. This allows other applications to send data to the wikis and get data from wikis. This will also allow wiki information embedded into other, non-wiki applications.

Here is a Wiki Matrix that cover features of various wiki products. This cool resource, allows you to pick a few wikis and dynamically contruct and view a matrix of supported features.

So where do we go from here? I see a lot of exciting possibilities. Some of them may already be there:

  • Wikis as Application Platforms (saw a couple of presentations on this at MashupCamp2 with IBM leading a very ambitious effort).
  • Wikis and Microformats – Embedding microformats in wikis will increase the capability for wikis to become a canvas for building semantic webs.
  • Semantic Wikis are an exciting development. They are at a nascent stage and you will probably see more activity in this space.
  • Wikis and mashups – Imagine a mashup that takes data from a wiki and mashes it with other webservices like maps. A virtual tour guide may let you use a map as the UI, and explore historic events/places combing information from Wikipedia and Google Maps.
  • Wikis as Mashups – Wiki as a mashup canvas. This is an exciting idea with a lot of potential. There is similarity with another similar concept – Wiki as an Application Platform.
  • WebServices interface to wikis can explode the possibilities of using wiki in ways that we have not thought about. This allows wiki integration into both mashups and enterprise applications.
  • Enterprise wikis – This subject deserves a full blog of its own. I can see heavy use in HR, HelpDesk, Organizational Knowledge bases as a start. But enterprise wikis can be used whereever informal collaboration is required – product development, product rollout, marketing campaigns etc. Better than the current method of using emails and less formal than using portals.
  • Wikis and XML – The next generation of word processors all support XML as the native format. We can imagine this being the case with wikis too. The benefits of using XML as the underlying data format for wikis are too numerous to elaborate here. A few I can think of include structured content, seamless integration with the next generation document editors (aka wordprocessors), vertical wikis (wikis based on vertical XML vocabularies)
  • Wikis and RSS – RSS may act as both input and output format for wikis. Every wiki topic is a potential RSS feed. You may be able to send information into the wiki through an RSS feed too
  • Wiki and Search – Most of the wikis currently have a great search capability, but like Google, they are just based on keywords.  The possibilities for search integration are endless. You can search for data as well as meta data. Some of the ideas like page ranking take a very different meaning when applied to wikis.

I probably just scratched the surface of possibilities. I have not even touched upon multi-media wikis, wikis as game platforms, wiki-movies, wiki-previews and editing in multi-media documents and many others. I will expand on some of these ideas in future posts.

2 thoughts on “Evolving Wikis

  1. Hello, dorai,

    I like your article on wikis. I regard wikis as social software. After mere html editors, graphical web designers and content management systems, wikis are the fourth generation of web publishing.

    Wikipedia (you name it) is indeed an interesting project as it reveals the power of cooperation when there is no constraints of monetary profits but all the freedom knowledge needs to grow and spread. Universities have been working the same way…

    Wikis in general and Wikipedia in special promote a spirit of open interchange of knowledge that is only recently getting accepted in software (although it has been there from the very beginning): The spirit of open source and free software. Mozilla is maybe one of the most popular exsamples for free software. Personally I regard this model of sharing knowledge the only valid approach to face the future. Transparancy and sustainability are an apt way to keep the knowledge of today for the next generation.

    This is not saying that software developers (or scientists) shouldn’t get paid. But they should rather be valued for the services and progresses they achieve than for a product. The current model makes developers lock away the treasure of their knowledge from the public until the whole lot gets outdated and worthless.

  2. Hi Neueste,
    Thanks. Is that the proper way to address you? Please correct me if it is not right.

    I agree. I think it takes certain maturity to recognize that knowledge grows when shared. Doug Engelbart often talks about Dynamic Knowledge Repository and how sharing the current knowledge is the only way to handle problems whose complexity is increasing faster than humanity’s ability to solve them.

    — Dorai

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