Tony Bowden's Radio Weblog:
Updated: 03/05/2002; 15:16:56.


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04 April 2002

Wikis and OPML revisited

I think the main differences between Wikis and Outliners is deeper than the technology problems. It's to do with mindset and culture.

Wikis are great for expressing unstructured thoughts, and for discovering hidden connections. The first time you make a WikiLink in something you're typing and unexpectedly discovering that that page already exists is an enlightening moment into the Way Of The Wiki.

Outlines on the other hand require you to structure everything up front. An outline is great for reading, but not so easy to write.

Perhaps software developers find it easier to think in structured ways? Good developers break things down into lots of little subproblems, each of which in turn is a series of other subproblems, etc. Some people can do this naturally. Others write in wider scope, and refactor into smaller chunks later.

Most people don't write in a structured manner at all.

A true knowledge sharing system needs to cater for both approaches. There should be the ability to jot down random thoughts (a personal weblog). To narrate your work (a personal outline). To record the structure of a project (a collaborated outline). To have a project calendar (a collaborated weblog). And to connect all these in interesting ways (a wiki).

Having a wiki output OPML won't work, as it requires creating structure that isn't there. Having a wiki input OPML, on the other hand, might produce much more useful results.

Banking on Technology

Motley Fool UK have quite an amusing/worrying story of phone banking security.

Wikis and OPML

Dave Winer said yesterday: "BTW, to anyone using a Wiki, I'd highly recommend adding code that understands and generates OPML."

The timing on this was interesting. I'd spent most of the weekend, and the early part of this week, playing with outliners, particularly with the pipelining approach that Jon Udell has been talking about.

Our company has been using a Wiki for quite some time as its main form of knowledge sharing, and we've recently been playing at the intersection of weblogs and wikis, where you could make wiki-style links in a weblog, and it would link to the relevant wiki page. (Still need to come up with some way of linking back in the other direction though, short of including the full URL...)

And then I watched with great fascination the outliner stuff come together over the last few weeks (particularly what Jon's been doing with the pipelined XSLT/OPML stuff), I'm one of the few people I know who actually uses the outliner in Microsoft Word (actually, I'm one of the few people I know who even uses styles in Word, but that's a whole 'nother rant!), so I got very quickly how useful this sort of facility could be.

So now I want to play with the intersections between wikis and outliners.

So yesterday, I took the day out of the office driving around Ireland with one of my colleagues trying to toss around various ideas as to how everything could piece together.

Unfortunately, even though we all think that there's something to be done here, we can't quite see how it all fits.

And then, this morning, I arrive in work, to find Dave's little aside, seemingly tossed out just to provoke a response!

I want to bite, but I can't quite work out how yet! Whilst on the surface Wikis and Outliners seem related, they're subtly different. A wiki seems to have a much more fluid and circular structure than an outliner, leading to problems in trying to automatically represent an entire wiki as an outline.

Wikis also grow big fast (especially when it's part of your company culture to answer every question with "Have you looked on the wiki?", and respond to every piece of news with "Have you put it on the wiki?".) I've never played with an outliner for anything as wide as a wiki, and I don't know how well it scales to that. And individual pages tend to be much longer than an average outliner entry.

Perhaps certain sections of a wiki could be automagically translated to (quite bad?) OPML, but it seems to me, at the moment, that it would really need to be a manual job, slicing pages up and constantly narrowing the focus.

But, if anyone has any better ideas, or has been playing with alternative approaches, I'd love to hear them!

After watching from afar for quite some time, Dave Winer has persuaded me to start one of these up, by asking, in response to an email, that I post my comments somewhere he can point to and get a discussion going.

As I'd already downloaded a copy of Radio a while back, but just never gotten around to installing it, I decided this would be the easiest way. So, here I am.

Now all I have to do is find the outliner...

Hmmm. So, my first post, and I already find something unexpected. Apparently it think that the // at the start of the line is a URL, and turns it into a link to nowhere.

Apart from that, this was quite impressively easy to set-up.

// goes out to cruise and to meet his connection

© Copyright 2002 Tony Bowden.

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