Thursday, March 22, 2007

There's a new crop of business wikis. And some interesting discussion.

But what's wrong with this picture?

SystemOne, an enterprise-knowledge-management system masquerading as an ordinary business wiki. What's cool about this product is that it automatically creates, at the bottom of each page, a list of relevant other wiki pages, feeds, and Web search results. The autocreation of the links removes some of the need to manually create links to connect wiki pages together. This is a key feature if the wiki is to be used by a lot of people who aren't hypertext-savvy.

Answer : Everything is wrong here.

Firstly, what's the point of automatically making hyperlinks for people who aren't web-savvy? Or rather, why are you trying to get people who don't understand hypertext to use wiki? (In fact, in 2007, why are you even employing people who aren't hypertext savvy? But that's another story.) At the very least you should ask how exactly they are going to use wiki if they can't understand what hypertext is, or have some intuition about how to use it?

Remember, this is wiki we're talking about : all the hard graft of making links (like the trivially fiddly writing of "anglebracket a href", and the genuinely tricky part about finding the right URL to point to) has been eliminated by the simple WikiWord or [[double square bracket]] conventions. What's left is the only other difficult question : deciding what links to make.

SystemOne "solves" that part for you. But remember, the links are part of the valuable decision-making and information that goes into your wiki. Wiki links are not meant to mean that "this page is vaguely similar to that web-page". If I want to know what pages are vaguely similar I can use Google. Wiki links mean "I, the author, want the reader to notice this kind of similarity between this page or this paragraph or this word, and that page because I think it's significant." Which is far more precise and subtle piece of information.

A wiki which automatically creates links is as useless as a word-processor which claims to write your letters for you.

The purpose of creating documents is not to kill trees or fill up as much disk space as possible. The purpose of creating documents is to capture the value added by human intelligence. Attempting to automate away that, in order to help consume more wood-pulp or fill the screen with more blue-underlines is counterproductive. Bad links devalue the good links. The reader of a page is overwhelmed and confused.