Monday, July 18, 2005
Come on down.
I'm in love with blogs. They let me share my thoughts and stories with the world. They also enable me to store tips, reminders, photos, and essays in a database where I or others can easily recall them. Even more important is what I receive from other bloggers: unfiltered, informal, clued-in opinions... and bullshit. Yes, the bullshit's there, too. Part of the game is separating fantasy from reality. We do that with newspapers and television, too, but their fantasies are not always so transparent. I also get a charge from being a Johnny Appleseed of blogging; I've converted lots of previously ordinary people into blogging zealots.
Blogs are not without their problems.
- The default mode of blogging puts new information on top, which pushes old information off the bottom of the main page. Everything gets dumped into the limbo of archives. I have yet to see blogging software that creates a meaningful archive. How hard could it be to put together a page or two dedicated to descriptive entries for past posts that are keepers? Add a simple rating system to pull the cream to the top of the stack. I sometimes pull entries into a KnowledgeBase, but it's a kludge; it's not natural.
- The other difficulty, and this is major, is that blogs are inherently one-way. I write; you read. You write; I read. Comments were supposed to deal with this, but comments are usually buried. Now that malicious vandal-bots cruise the web in search of comment spaces to drop obscenities and scams, many bloggers have turned off comments.
Enter the wiki.
I'm an early adopter. I'm into collaboration. You'd think I'd love wikis. You'd be wrong. I've tried and given up on wikis more times than I can count. Ward Cunningham invented the wiki ten years ago as a way for programmers to discuss software patterns. Here's the original wiki. Most wikis still look like this. You're encouraged to Edit Pages but have to teach your fingers obscure codes to do so. Here's the explanation of boldface:
- Use doubled single-quotes for emphasis (usually italics)
- Use tripled single-quotes for strong emphasis (usually bold)
- Use five single-quotes, or triples within doubles, for some other kind of emphasis (Bold Italic), but be careful about the bugs in the Wiki emphasis logic... (for example, text within doubled single-quotes followed immediately by text within tripled single-quotes is processed incorrectly)doubletriple Q:has this bug been fixed? No, but the overlapped tags produced are accepted by some browsers.
- Emphasis can be used multiple times within a line, but cannot span across line boundaries
- Is there a simple way to do strike-throughs? perhaps ---three hyphens before and after--- ala ' ' ' for bold?
Wikis come with other odd baggage. Navigation can be confusing. I sometimes encounter pages of FAQs or whatever, and can't find my way back to my page.
Wiki enthusiasts rave about wiki's weirdest feature: anyone can change any page. It's not just corrections on Wikipedia. Post your resume on a wiki, and someone may change "Intern at White House" to "Inmate at Sing Sing." Give people power to do damage and they usually turn out good. Still, the ephemeral nature of wiki-postings can be jarring.
Wikis solve both of the problems I had with blogs. Everybody can join in. And nothing disappears until someone chooses to delete it.
Jot is a user friendly wiki. It comes with WYSIWYG editors instead of oddball codes. It's got more features than I'll ever figure out.
I'm writing a book on informal learning. Most learning of any stripe involves people, so I'm drawn to improve my ideas by mixing them with yours. Please visit Internet Time WIki. Give me your thoughts on the book. And tell this wiki-novice what's good and bad about what I've got so far.