Thoughts on Structured/Unstructured and Shared Information Management using Wiki and other emerging technologies
Monday, May 09, 2005
Wiki systems as application initiation front-end

Summary: Wiki systems can evolve to become "working area" for people; a kind of better desktop that integrates information from multiple applications. One step in this direction is to create simplified application front-ends - catered to specific task requirements most commonly required by users. (This would be a middle path between GUI driven/desktop approach and command line approach.)
A request in local unix newsgroup triggers this discussion. How can I see a sorted list of most recent 10 files in all of my home? Apart from usual 'see man pages' and even 'God helps those who read man pages' thingies, there was a largish issue that I am highlighting here. And how we could possibly tackle it by using wiki systems as our desktops.

As computing has progressed to more and more deeper levels of society, we should re-look at how quickly we can get the tasks done, especially when we are new to it. I am actually sad that after all these years, computers are still inaccessible to most (in true sense), and one has to fight to make it do what we want it to do.

The unix culture assumed that you learn once (at some decent time investments) and you will be very productive on the platform for rest of life. A simple concept of "terminal" and text-manipulation commands are sufficient. It also assumed that the users are intelligent enough to combine the tools and get the desired outputs themselves.

Windows GUI approach for applications, on the other hand, assumes no investments of time. Usually you can quickly figure out how to get something done. But then if you are better at computers, then you will certainly feel the limitedness of GUI. (This will obviously be contested by windows fans, but such is life: one can't experience everything, and make really comparative remarks anyway!) So a person requiring lot of flexibility gets stuck. There are other programmer-oriented interfaces such as VB, but then that's not exactly same in spirit as that of unix command line philosophy. A power user isn't necessarily a programmer. (We need to watch how new windows shell 'msh' will evolve: Udell has explored this here.)

So what is a middle ground, that allows intelligent users to create some most commonly required solutions and publish them in a way that other people can find and use easily? Essentially what you would do here is to reduce hundreds of combinations of use of combination of tools, to few - solution centric - uses which are known to be statistically the most required solutions.

What should be the approach?
More I think about it, it seems to me that wiki is indeed a good information integration platform that multiple applications can share. It will facilititate use of XML within the integration, and yet providing simple markup interface to that data if user decides to hand-edit the data in wiki microformats.

Perhaps it makes sense for google to provide such an integration if they will also provide applications to go with (now that our emails - that constitute most of the information - are also in gmail)....

... Anyway, we never know how these things evolve! But this would be an interesting watch, since it is an open area for innovation.


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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