Infrequently Noted

Alex Russell on browsers, standards, and the process of progress.


The development team that I'm a part of at work uses wikis pretty extensively since we have people that need access at all times of day to information in a central place. The concept works very well for what we do, but the implementation leaves a proverbial ton to be desired.

One of the more interesting panels I attended at SXSW was about wikis and their use in distributed organizations. I kept hearing from the panelists and the audience was that the wiki markup language is awful. Not just kind of bad, not just somewhat obtuse, but nearly unusable for people that just want to get something done. To tell the truth, I'm a geek and even I feel the same way. A good first step (ISTM) would be to allow Textile-style markup in wikis

I have a couple of theories about usable technology (one of them being that any single system that requires a full time admin will be replaced by more usable technology SRTL), and wikis defy my theory that new markup syntaxes should show significant benefit and reduce effort or they aren't worth writing. Does the user derive reusable benefit by learning the Wiki markup language? Does it leverage their existing mental model of how they want the text to appear at the end of the process? Does it make use of existing markup syntaxes they already know? (hint: the answers, in order, are "no", "no", and "no").

The other thing I kept hearing in the talk (and keep hearing around work) is that there are very few sane ways to keep tabs on the structure and activity of a wiki. Many wikis seem to support a "most active" or "most recently updated" list, but very few give any ability to understand the relationship between pages, understand the importance of a page, or change these properties. Given that wikis give a great bi-directional linking language, this seems like a pretty obvious next step as well: navigation via self-organization of content.

A DHTML front end with rich-text editing capability and a sane XML-driven back-end for a Wiki also seem like no-brainers. Content transfer to and from wikis seemed to be another hot-button item that the panelists seemed to just accept because nothing did it right (yet). Oh, and an OODBMS system to make versioning, system modification, and self organization from pages really simple.

Who wants to help write it?


Note to self: -khtml-box-flex plus XUL <box> box elements plus CSS expressions in IE equals a cross-browser XUL box implementation via netWindows.

missing the barbecue

Back from Texas. Yesterday was more of the same exciting and engaging stuff. The plane ride back was full of thoughts about onion-style privacy networks that use standard socket interfaces and the implications of not understanding trust in building social networks.

I'm sure more will percolate out of my brain in the next couple of days before I forget all the interesting people I met and the neat conversations I had.


So yesterday was good. Jeff Veen from Adaptive Path gave an excellent presentation on user interaction design and the process he uses to address the expectation gulf. Other interesting panels included Howard Rheingold's fairly realistic talk on the future of swarms and smart networks. He described an information space with several properties that I have been noodling on for some time now. His point was that the current network is starting to see some real command-and-control structures being built in and that it's up to us (the geeks) to expand the information space beyond central control structures at a rate that makes control structures irrelevant. OTOH, this all depends on the viability of an open platform, which is now in doubt.

After a lunch of barbecue (mmm! barbecue!) I had lunch and a good discussion with Adam Keys. Also wound up meeting Wes Felter and had a good time hanging out with Simon Willison and company.

Anyway, yesterday was great. I'm already not wanting to leave today.


So I'm having lunch on 6th street at a place named "Jazz" which plays nothing but the blues. Not that I mind it. I've got a shiner (draught!) on the table and an open AP in close proximity. It's really hard to beat this.

Last night I got a chance to see my old roomate from school who is working at AMD these days. After stuffing ourselves on amazing barbecue (SF might have food, but it doesn't have this), we spent some of the evening on 6th street, a couple of blocks up from the hotel I'm staying at for the conference. Like a lot of things here, it hasn't changed much from when I lived here, and that's generally a good thing.

I also got a chance to stop Sam Ruby in the hall of the hotel and pitch my idea of signing Atom posts. He seemed generally receptive, even giving that I'm something of a nobody. He raised several good points in relation to it (what about metadata?, lots of interesting attacks there). I'm going to have to work up a set of proposals before I do what he suggested and post to the Atom syntax list. I'm sure I'll have more on that later.

I think my blackened shrimp is almost here, and I've got a shiner that needs tending. More later.

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