Wiki Ways

Jon Udell writes about Jotspot in his InfoWorld column:

Its mission is to transform the Wiki — a species of collaboratively written Web site — into a platform for software development. Although relational storage will be an option for JotSpot, the version demonstrated to me uses an open source Java persistence engine known as Prevayler. To understand why, you have to appreciate the dynamic nature of Wiki technology. In a Wiki, you conjure up a new Web page by simply typing a phrase — using mixed capitalization and no spaces. As collections of pages accumulate, people reorganize them. Programmers who use Wikis call this activity “refactoring.” Other folks call it “gardening.”

The users of a Wiki think of the process as organic growth. Enterprise IT planners tend to regard it as unstructured chaos. They’re both correct. JotSpot’s aim is to harmonize these opposing views by empowering users to create islands of structure in their seas of unstructured data. The company’s founders, Joe Kraus and Graham Spencer (two members of the original Architext/Excite team), showed me how this works. You write simple Wiki markup to define a form and to display data gathered through that form. When you need to add a new field later, just tack it on. Under the covers, it’s all a collection of objects that render as pages and attributes that render as fields.

Of course, there’s no free lunch. You pay a price for this kind of flexibility. Systems based on alternative object-oriented styles of data management tend to lack standard query languages, programming interfaces, management tools, and well-defined techniques of schema evolution. These are real problems. But the solutions that address them don’t adapt well to the niches where small teams live and work.

Jon adds: “I’m convinced that creating and managing microcontent will be an important part of the journey. That’s why I’ve instrumented my blog so that you can, for example, find all the Ward Cunningham quotes, and why I find JotSpot’s microcontent strategy so interesting. There are still some missing puzzle pieces. In particular, we need content editors and databases that enable people to live comfortably in the zone where documents meet data. Perhaps mainstream awareness of Wiki technology will help drive that convergence.”

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.