Bram Pitoyo, Portland Creative/Tech Event Review

Portland Web Innovators – Ward Cunningham Revisualizes The Wiki: An Event Review

Portland Web Innovators – Ward Cunningham Revisualizes The Wiki

When: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 at 6:00 – 8:00 pm, with a little dinner at The Side Door afterwards discussing, among many things, the merits and pitfalls of newspaper journalists relying on reader’s tips on Twitter as a starting point to conduct full-blown reportings—which proved to be somewhat apocryphal, since Business Week decided to try a concept like this the morning after.

Where: AboutUs, which yet again proved my general inability to navigate to any event in Portland (I circled the block several times before being noticed by one of the staffs standing outside, who then motioned my to “go up to the fifth floor and then go all the way to the left.”

What It’s About: Critical discussion on the present and future of the Wiki as a medium to dissipate information across cultural and language barrier. I’m going to let the event notes that I took continue this.


(Please note that bolded words indicate overarching topics that the forum discussed, with thoughts and subtopics below them.)

“We’re going from the user to the technology, because if we go the other way, we’ll never reach the user.”
–Ward Cunningham

Revise entrenched processes
New Users

We want to make a space where the aggregated knowledge (even those of strangers) can increase infinitely, even when a particular user is not there.

Would your mom be comfortable attending this meeting?

Wikis have never been a process list to start out with.

When I started the Wiki, I:

  1. First made several pages that are just designed to demonstrate the Wiki contributing process.
  2. Then encourage new users to start out by editing their own profile page.

This is done so new users can learn not just by seeing but also going along. This is analogous to the fact that a video game has to teach you how to play the game while you’re playing the game.

As a new user, how the contributing process is structured will shape what he or she brings to the Wiki.

Can Wiki have a “factual” and “revisions” modes? This way:

  1. If a user want to get straight to the facts, the system would direct you to a more factual version of the page.
  2. Whereas If he or she wants to see all changes and go a little deeper on this part, it would direct him or her to a revision-friendly version of the page.

There’s a big barrier of entry for new users. Late comers can come and just say “what the heck is going on here”?
For example: figuring out a Wiki formatting syntax, which might not be a familiar to everyone (for example: me!) but those with programming background. And some people might not be able to get past that (like, ever.) What will happen is that, after he or she publishes with the wrong syntaxes, every other users suddenly hate him/her for ‘ruining’ their properly-syntaxed works.

Can we have something that gives experienced users a ‘nudge’ to welcome new users and continually remind them that Wiki is continually going to grow and they must learn to accommodate these users?

The ideal is to have Wikis wherein you can see not only the result on the page, but also how it’s being made. Being able to watch it being created, or to replay its creation, or to watch the dynamics between the contributors—that’s about the dynamics itself rather than the text—so new users can learn by watching, and they’re watching stuff that they really need to know to get up to speed.

How to properly use Wiki in a meeting situation: instead of taking meeting notes and publishing it straight up to a Wiki, why not take 2 or 3 main topics you got from that meeting, and then create a Wiki page for each? Pages need to create vocabularies that are going to be extended to other pages.

Facilitating “liveness”
Content delivery problem. I can subscribe to recent changes in Wikis through RSS, but I can’t search within that RSS feed certain parts or subjects within those changes that apply to my interest.

Can better description of changes on the user’s part encourage better changes in general? Currently, the system restricts how the natural, human language describe these changes and instead display them in a very restricted, unnatural way.

The ability to do things, and then reflect on what you did, is both very human and important to a Wiki’s success.

The problem with Wiki is that it’s all about the content and information (no matter how dynamic they may be.) Twitter and Facebook, on the other hand, are about people.

So, can we make Wiki better by integrating more human element? For example: can we get contributors acknowledged for their contributions and be more visible?

Why not have different Wiki pages depending on the kind of people that user likes to see? For example, I might only see A’s contribution on a page because I consider him to be accurate. You, on the other hand, might choose to only see B’s contribution page because you consider that user to be accurate and that A is not.

Expanding the Wiki Model
Today, a Wiki assumes that you are going to write a certain way, much like a blog would assume that you are going to write a certain way. The problem is, both models are new, but they bracketed the respective spaces that they occupy instead of freeing it from constraints.

On the writing front, there is a yet undiscovered but better manner and convention to write Wikis than the current way of doing things.

On the presentation front, the Wiki can really benefit by taking a more conversational approach of viewing threads that blogs currently have.

You want to do things without forethought, but at the same time want to reflect on that after you’re done (reorder, edit, etc.)

There needs to be a perspective shift among new users who is just starting to use Wiki. Wiki is a work in progress forever, not something that you write in Microsoft Word, save and send to your friend via email. In fact, you’re not done even though you’re done, because the . It is a cultural thing, because user is used to finish a document, save it, and then be done with it, not remaining a work in progress forever.

For now, I’m just glad that the word “Wiki” itself is now generalized. People would say “Wiki this” and “Wiki that.”

Visualize Metadata
Wiki is a tool that doesn’t tell us how to structure. Problem is, we are so used to having a structure created for us.

Wiki seem to be dealing with a static truth (working toward a goal) but there are also non-static truth out there (that doesn’t necessarily have a goal.) Can there different kinds of Wikis for both situation?

I want a table where I can see who wrote on this page, and what else did they write.

I want a Time Machine for Wiki. Where you can click on a block of text, then use your mouse’s scroll wheel to display the previous versions of that text.

Most social networks says “build your network first, then use it to your advantage.” Wikipedia says that “build something, the network is the whole wide world.” This is a concept that many people struggle to comprehend with—the fact that the whole wide world, not just people you know or trust can freely change things.

Can we repurpose the Wiki so that you can contribute with whatever style you choose to contribute, and the system would intelligently transcribe it to conform to the ‘Wikipedia language’ and meld it into the existing article? This is comparable to a Machinima. Machinima is a film that’s generated by computer game engines. A user don’t need to worry about mastering the game engine to make a movie. They just need to make a character, put it on the field, position the camera, program the character and camera movements, then let the machine do all the work of translating these hard informations into a movie.

Can we have a Wiki auto-translate and maintain singularity of content between many languages? For example, if make a change to an article in French, the Wiki would automatically translate it to German, Chinese, Bahasa, and every other language, and then sync it to the appropriate pages—and vice versa. This will be very hard to achieve—maintaining language’s subtlety, context and all—but the big idea is this: if we can facilitate the free-flowing movement of ideas between cultures, there can and will be world peace.


Technicality: ☝ ☝
Translation: Though attendees often spoke with programmer’s language at times, the subject of Wiki that was discussed was more abstract and conceptual rather than concrete and technical.

Interestingness: ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝
Translation: Think of it like this. You’re in the year 1992, and somebody decided to put a group of awfully smart thinkers in the room to think about a method to best to navigate, visualize and make sense of the then-wild frontier of the hypertext, err, I mean gopher.

While the discussion was highly conceptual and sometimes indiscernible to my non-technical mind, Ward and everyone was talking about something big. I can feel it coming. And I’m glad that it’s happening right here in Portland.

What I Learned From The Event In Six Words:
Humanity and technology, closer than ever.