Coevolving Innovations

… in Business Organizations and Information Technologies

Today, I’ve been playing around with beta candidate for Quickr, which is a follow-on to the Lotus Quickplace product … but what a leap ahead in product functionality!

Quickr components 1 to 6

Quickr components 7 to 8

I’ve been mainly interested in Quickr because, in the new announcements on the Lotus family, it’s the product with the wiki. (Lotus Connections has multi-user blogs, but not a wiki. Further, Quickr also has feeds — that should more correctly be called aggregators).

I get the feeling that the architects working on Quickr are a different group from those working on Connections, because the list of “components” feels more like options commonly in use on the web, rather than those used by large-scale enterprises. Maybe this comes from the quick-and-dirty style that Quickplace seems to exude … or maybe the designers just chose to take a different tack.

Although wikis would seem to be new to the vocabulary of non-techies (maybe circa 2005-2006, with the rise of Wikipedia), the original wikiwiki by Ward Cunningham on C2 goes back to August 1996. I had once tried to customize Mediawiki (which is the engine underneath Wikipedia), have a lot of experience with PmWiki, and am now a major fan of Dokuwiki. Along with the original design of wiki technology came wiki syntax (also known as wiki markup, which varies engine by engine), so that instead of writing the arcane HTML syntax1, e.g. to create a unordered list …

[ul]
[li]requires using codes that are unambiguous to browsers[/li]
[li]but that normal humans should never have to read[/li]
[/ul]

… a simpler alternative is wiki markup, e.g. creating a bulleted list with an asterisk in column one …

* with a syntax where checking for closure isn't required.

The wiki engine translates the wiki markup into XHTML. This may seem simpler for the novice, but it gets frustrating that …

(a) wiki markup isn’t standard across different wiki engines — so much so that an initiative for a wiki creole has evolved;

(b) when you want to do something more complicated like having a table where a cell spans multiple rows or multiple columns, the syntax doesn’t look nearly as simple; and

(c) after you get tired of writing wiki markup, it’s almost impossible to get a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) interface on top of the wiki engine that you’ve chosen.

I’ve been using Drupal, an open source content management system, on many of the newer web sites that I’ve been creating. Choosing the package was partially motivated by the fact that a series of IBM Developerworks articles were written about the package. Drupal still has the user writing XHTML, but has the added option of choosing to plug in one of two WYSIWYG modules: TinyMCE or FCKEditor. For small jobs, I can hand-code XHTML. When the amount of text gets really large, though, it’s better to use the WYSIWYG editor so that I can focus more on content than on formatting.

After having spent a year trying to write a book with two collaborator using Dokuwiki, we’ve switched to the book module in Drupal. Like a wiki, Drupal retains the history of edits preceding the current version, and can expose the version-to-version changes with a diff module. In addition, the book module allows pages to be promoted to being a parent, or demoted to be a child, automatically inserting navigation links from the page, forward, backwards, or to the parent.

So, with WYSIWYG plug-ins available as open source software, is there a reason to still be writing wiki markup? I think the case for wiki markup is getting weaker by the day. The majority of people who have never seen wiki markup won’t miss it. Blogs are more popular than wikis, and blogs are mostly written as XHTML through a WYSIWYG editor or an offline program. Since Quickr offers both blog and wiki features within a single product, it makes sense to go with WYSIWYG and take the markup out of wiki.

Blogging killed wiki markup.


1 Of course, in standard XHTML, it’s angle brackets with “less than” and “greater than” signs rather than left square bracket and right square bracket … but I can’t seem to get the WYSIWYG editor in WordPress to show the real thing. You win some, you lose some!

April 2nd, 2007

Posted In: technologies