Google Wave looks amazing

Here's the full video from the Google Wave presentation at the Google I/O developer conference... It looks really, really promising. Making this baby Open-Source could change the face of the web. It looks a bit like the social, collaborative OS of the future...


I can't wait for IE to support HTML 5 now since until it does we'll have a harsh time making such awesome technology go mainstream.

Who do you have in mind when designing software?

While looking for something not directly related to software development, I stumbled over Joel Spolsky's blog this evening. I've already read most of the articles on his blog an like them a lot.

He wrote 3 especially good articles about "designing for people who have better things to do with their lives":
  1. http://joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000062.html
  2. http://joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000063.html
  3. http://joelonsoftware.com/uibook/chapters/fog0000000064.html

If you never had the opportunity to read them even though you're involved in software development and/or design, now is the time !!

BONUS ARTICLE: why you should have testers http://joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000067.html

Building a Bookmarking Application

I've been spending a couple spare hours last week working on building a Bookmarking application proof-of-concept on top of XWiki. XWiki is a second generation wiki (http://platform.xwiki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Main/SecondGenerationWiki) and I fully took advantage of this to build my application.

I got the idea from a customer meeting a couple months ago, when a customer from a large company told us he was using our software to share links with his coworkers. Sharing a link was as simple as creating a new wiki page and it worked very well. However, he was concerned about what would happen once the link count would grow: how would his users be able to find relevant links about a specific topic?

After reading about jerome's (@jvelo) brand new livetable component (http://platform.xwiki.org/xwiki/bin/view/DevGuide/LiveTable) I thought it would be great to use it in order to display a list of bookmarked items.

I used delicious.com as an inspiration source: each bookmark is kept bare, with a title, an url, notes and tags. Additionally, underlying wiki features remain available: users can comment on and attach files to any given bookmark. Access rights could also be used if needed.

Here's a quick overview of the application:

  1. View a individual bookmark
  2. Add bookmarks and browse them
  3. Edit a bookmark

I'd be glad to get feedback from the community as to whether this application is worth the additional effort to turn it into a full-fledged XWiki application. Anyone interested in using it for real?

My bookmarking application isn't yet available for download (though I plan to make it available for testing on incubator.myxwiki.org pretty soon) since I discovered a couple bugs in the livetable macro while building it (the macro is really really new) and they need to be fixed before the application can be distributed and installed easily. I also plan on writing a tutorial showing how easy it is to build upon and extend XWiki through applications. Stay tuned ;-)

Dirk Riehle on the commercial Open Source business model

Dirk Riehle, one of the organizers of WIKISYM ( http://www.wikisym.org/ ) and a researcher for SAP has a great paper on how companies create, distribute and make money out of Open-Source software. It describes XWiki's model fairly exactly, apart from the fact that since we chose to use only the LGPL license for our product we won't be pushing for a double-licensing model anytime soon.

You can find out the full paper at: http://dirkriehle.com/publications/2009/the-commercial-open-source-business-model/ . It's well worth a read !!

A Semantic Wiki?

It looks like "Semantic Web" is well on its way to become Web 3.0 most serious contender. But what is it all about?

To make a long story short, semantic web is a revolution currently going through its early stages. An example will make it easier to grasp: imagine you're looking into Wikipedia, willing to search only for XVIIth century French Poets. If nobody took the time to write a list of them, you're in for a long and strenuous time searching through heavy loadsof abstruse web pages.

This is where semantics get in. Imagine that, every time one adds a Poet name, he could "label" it with such informations as his birth and death dates, his nationality and the fact that he is a Poet. Or, to put it another way: that on the Poet's Wikipedia page the Poet's birth date was labelled as such and his death date, nationality and status as well. Now you could launch a search saying "I want to search Poets, and their nationality attribute has to be French, and either their birth or death year date must start by 17"

Instead of strict categories, you now have a loose yet effective way to enrich information all around the place in your wiki. Combine this with the power of people freely allowed to add the bits of information they know about, and you end up with a naturally organized body of knowledge - yet nobody had to decide how to organize it beforehand.

This is what Semantic Web is all about, and I must admit it sounds pretty exciting to me.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Wikis and Strategic Mindmapping

What if your company's top management started throwing its ideas on how your company stands compared with its competitors, how well it performs with its clients and what are its potential strategic choices on a mindmap? I started playing with the idea after giving a try to MindMeister, a collaborative, online, shared mindmapping tool. What could it look like?

Collaborative Mindmapping

The idea of a mindmap is somehow as old as human brains themselves. Mindmaps offer a great way to throw ideas around, keep track and organize them in a flexible yet powerful way. Mindmapping software has been around for some time now, with good Open-Source solutions available amongst others. These softwares have traditionally been thought to be used by one single user who could then share his thoughts with other. The possibility of real-time collaborative mindmapping brings in a whole new area of potential in the way people collaborate together.

The Wiki Connection

Take this example: imagine your top management board sharing ideas about how your company is run, what are the main issues facing it, which strategic path it should adopt and so on. Now imagine the resulting mindmap being turned into a wiki, with one page for every node on the map. Last stage, open this wiki to all of your company's employees and see what could happen.

The Effects Of Collaborative Intelligence

I already argued that there is a strong chance that the people who have the best insights about your competitors and your field of activity are the people working on the front-line, those who are in touch on a daily basis with your suppliers and customers. Retrieving their ideas thanks to a wiki built along the lines of your company top strategic thinking and making an analysis of them could prove an invaluable communication and information gathering for the people who run your business.

Wikis and Mindmaps share a lot of properties. Using them in coordination could create amazing collaboration tools. What if?

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC

Why, though I am promoting Wikis, am I writing on a blog ?

Good Question.

And as such, it deserves an in-depth explanation. To address the problem properly, some structural analysis is de rigueur.

What is a Blog ?

Basically, a blog is a web page that one person, its Admin (it might be you), creates using one of the numerous providers available on the web. After a basic setup the process is quite straightforward : you easily publish your writings and get feedback in the form of comments from other users (who can be anybody or a selected bunch of guests). The main advantages of this form of publishing are that the original contribution stays visible while the comments are ranked by date, hence making the identification of contributors and their writings easy. It fits perfectly the needs of an editor or specialist who wants to express his / her opinion on a given topic and see what other's reactions will be. You know who is thinking what at a glance.

The matter, as anyone who wandered along the path of teens (or politicians) blogs will be aware of, is that the contributions are quite ... unstructured. Two discussions may cross another on a given page, the contributions may not be all viewable on the same page, many comments are roughly related to the topic (if not irrelevant) ... To summarize, when it comes to organizing information, a blog matches very closely the perfect definition of a mess.

What Wikis bring to You

Facing a situation where you want to tap into the knowledge of a group of people, you just realized that your idea of creating a blog was ... compromised, to say the least. What are your alternatives ? You could send a global mail and hope that the respondents will answer in a coordinated manner and that their answers will complement each other. You could.

Or you may try to use a wiki. The basic difference between a wiki and a blog is that anyone you chose can edit the pages of your wiki. This means that if you show it to the right persons (and there can be plenty of them, for one would always be surprised by the unexpected resources of knowledge of even a basic crowd) and give them some time, they will come up with their point of view and aggregate it in a coherent manner to those of others. This happens in real time : one can always see what has been written prior to his / her addition, correct what he / she thinks is inexact, organize the page in order to keep it clear and readable and left it for others to participate. Some kind of an automatic correction phenomenon takes place here : as long as the writers are relatively reliable and not merely undesired spammers the very best of available information get extracted and viewable. And the process goes on. Sounds like magic ? Check any Wikipedia article and you will see information most of the time sound, structured and accessible. And the people who wrote it do not even know each other.

Uses and Misuses of Wikis

Although what has just been said about wikis gives a pretty good image of them, there is clearly situations where their use is all but recommended. The LA Times learnt it some time ago, when the paper tried to run an editorial freely editable by anyone on their website. Soon, the page was full of obscenities and even strong admin work did not manage to prevent that. It looks like wikis are weaker than expected, doesn't it ?

The correct answer to such a remark is that you do not use a duster to dry yourself, but a towel. What the journal asked was an opinion, and those can be quite fuzzy -- and disparate to say the least. Add a dose of malevolence and the result all but fails to meet expectations. There is tasks at which wikis are better than others. For example, they are more efficient when it comes to facts than to personal views. Still, their flexibility remains. Look at it this way : with people showing even a slight inclination towards ethical behaviour, it would have worked. You would have ended with a piece of material showing different opinions in a consistent way. The point is, if anyone in your company tries to destroy the work others did on a wiki, they will (almost, for every version of the page is saved for ulterior comparisons) manage to do so. But they will not think about it in the first place, for you would know that they did it. And everyone else would.

Validation by the community

This is the last feature I would like to put an emphasis on. Wiki pages are place virtually everyone can read and contribute to (if allowed). In a group such as a company, everyone has a reputation to build and protect. Writing and contributing to a corporate wiki becomes part of that, for the quality of what you write will be appreciated by everybody. So, in the context of a company, you get all the advantages : reservoir of common knowledge (the fact that Peter who knew everything about the procedure X goes on retirement matters less since he wrote extensively about it), opportunity to assess the competencies of your staff...

What should you remember ?

Fundamentally, wikis and blogs are tools that complement each other, even though you could see blogs as a mere variation on wikis. Their combined possibilities are impressive (e.g., you can work on intern with a wiki and communicate externally with your blog, which is what WikiBC is currently doing). As long as you do not use one for the other, you are sure a winner.

Want more ? Stay tuned.

© Guillaume Lerouge for WikiBC