Friday, September 28, 2007

What would it take to make wikis mainstream?

If wikis are as I would guess the future of digital knowledge management why is that the adoption has been so slow? Plus, what is the tool or click that's missing to make them mainstream?

We have to be very careful when we look at wikis adoption as Bradley Horowitz suggested some time ago there are three different groups of users: creators, synthesizers and consumers. Basically what it means is that when we look at wikis adoption we might have a tendency to look at the creators/synthesizers and that would not be correct. You could estimate that every 1 creator you'll find 10 synthesizers and 100 consumers.

One thing wikis certainly usually lack is a nice and clear design. Maybe the killer wiki application will just give a new look to the same'old thing. Maybe most of the enphasis of those developing wiki software so far was centered around the creators and sinthesizers and it's overlooking the majority of the population that is actually going to make wikis mainstream.

I was looking a little bit of the history of blogs, it looks like there could be lessons to be learned from blogs evolution.

One tool that could read any wiki seems to be one of the things wikis are lacking. We do not have such a thing as a wiki reader where I could concentrate my wiki reading needs. This could be because of a lack of a proper wiki rss publishing standard, maybe it just didn't occur to people or maybe it's just a bad idea, I'm just thinking loud without having really researched much.

Even if such a tool were to be developed, there is what I think is the main issue with wikis and it is that information seems to be lost inside. It would be really nice to have different paths that would give me a wiki tour according to some pre-established need that I could have. So, for instance if I'm looking for a quick introduction I'd follow JoePath Doe's suggestion and I'd had an easy sequential way of looking at things, and once I choose this path I could read the wiki as a traditional book page by page without being overloaded by the vast wiki complexity, although of course everything is hyper-linked and I could decide to get out of this path at any time and just browse back on the sea. So there would be a need for a tool that could create the illusion to a user that he's actually reading a book (even graphically-wise), although the richness of the wiki can emerge at any point. Also, collaboration tools for people to share their favorite paths into a wiki would be important and this would keep synthesizers's hands busy giving them a nice place in the community even if they're not really creating content. This could work in cases such as a book written as a wiki where the only content editor is really the author(s) but they could still create a community on top and could use the same wiki reader and the same collaboration features.

Annotation and collaboration is indeed another thing that is kind of obscure for some of the wiki uses where it'd be interesting for the wiki to break in (such as the book industry itself). Here it looks like the wiki that was originally only focused on building content has the collaboration tools aside and almost hidden but when we think of a community sharing and adding just their notes and trying to see their friend's reaction to what was said in a particular part of the page it really needs to stand up graphically a whole lot more (with the ability to be hidden as well according to user's personalization/customization/settings).

Summarizing, I can imagine a universal wiki reader similar to an rss reader but much more specific to the subject, that can optionally flatten the wiki's world to hide some of the complexity to the user, highlights the collaborative and social features maybe being context-sensitive to the user's social network of preference, and focuses as much in the consumer of the wiki as in the synthesizers and the creators.

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