Thoughts on Structured/Unstructured and Shared Information Management using Wiki and other emerging technologies
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Counter rants for wiki rants!

JimmoWorld: rant: Why I Hate Wiki/Twiki/SnipSnap/etc..:

  1. They are overused, often for no better reason than "because we can". As a side effect, wiki nazis are starting to crawl out of the woodwork and harangue people who don't use wiki for their own pages.
  2. I'm used to hand-authoring html and css. I hate the lack of fine control over my layout and structure.
  3. Ugly to look at, often horrible to navigate. I've seen some truly incomprehensible sites with hideous layouts where it's hard to find the information you're looking for, if it even exists at all (not that this is unique to wiki-like resources)
  4. Yet another grungy, nasty syntax to learn. Yeah I could learn it but I'm bored and fed up with learning new ways to do things slower and uglier than before.
  5. Come on, be honest. How many wiki pages have you seen where little or no collaboration actually takes place anyway? Yeah. Loads.
  6. Contradiction in terms though it may be, snipsnap both sucks and blows.
As I am writing this, I had to open the source of the page, navigate through lot of CSS, javascript etc. and then copy the relevant "block" that is blockquoted above. All because my browser-based editor doesn't allow me HTML cut-paste.

But then, this is exactly where wiki would have helped. Within a wiki system such as twiki, I would have just viewed the source, which is usually very very clean. I would have cut-paste plain text, and basically don't have to bother about the HTML markup. The "real" wiki markup tends to be some 5-10 concepts (lists, paragraphs, tables, head ...), so you shouldn't even say it really takes time. (Especially when the help is just below.) It is, in some sense, like learning email/news etiquettes!

Then the next point is ugliness. Since everyone has to use common denomitor, the wiki topics tend to be very bland. But many wiki systems allow templates, skins and inline CSS styles, which can be easily used to give a deadly look and feel. (Unfortunate thing is that there are no good tools, so usually one person in team takes responsibility for right templates, good colors etc.) And web-based publishing is itself a skill.

Then comes the navigation. Wiki topics tend to be graphically connected (as opposed to hierarchy), and so it might indeed be a bad experience. But it is also possible to provide special gateway topics, category topics etc., and you can still navigate easily. (Having a "Related topics" entry helps here.) At the end of the day, it is just a matter of good practice that everyone has to adopt.

At the end of the day, we should realize that managing information on web is as important skill as email, and is already a required skill in many teams which depend on collaboration. The existing skills such as managing information in a file folder or email are individual-oriented, and can't be useful in collaborative environments. And you can't always dedicate an expert to manage web-based published information.... Blogs have helped in "opening" of information, and wikis will help in organizing that information.

One issue is a good notification infrastructure: How can I track 15 odd topics that I would be interested in? RSS interfaces to wiki systems are solving that problem.

So I would say wiki systems are a necessity, and if anything, let us hope that good tools will evolve to make the experience smooth.

About this blog
All realms of collaboration:
  • Wiki. Weblogs
  • New Integration Platforms for combined structured and unstructured information: Wiki, Portals, Email Clients,
  • Collaborative Document editing, Collaborative knowledge building
  • Email Interfaces to collaborative shares
  • Information organization, management, Publishing: In context of organizations, individuals, Opensource projects etc.
About me:
Name:Vinod Kulkarni

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