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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

WikiSym 2008

I'm currently attending WikiSym 2008 in Porto, Portugal. WikiSym is a small conference with a mix of participants: wiki enthusiasts, developers, researchers, consultants, cynics and evengalists. It also has a very open freeform structure, helped along by the fantastic Portuguese sunshine (a weather event not seen in the UK since April 2007), and the welcoming city of Porto, which looks like an intricate sculpture that could fall down at any moment.

There are a number of trends here, many of them thought-provoking, including application wikis, spatial wikis, and social wikis. In some ways these remind me of the hypertext community in pre-web days, where people had a lot of fun with innovative systems (strange hypertexts as Mark Bernstein calls them) - the WikiSym community is repeating a lot of that work, but this time with real users, and without the impending sense of doom that was hanging over all other hypertext systems after 1994.

Two systems that look particularly promising are XWiki (a full blown wiki system for managing structured content) and ShyWiki (a research prototype for doing spatial hypertext in a wiki). In fact I feel quite inspired myself to write a strange wiki - keep an eye on this space.

One trend that worries me a bit is the glut of papers on Wikipedia and how it evolves and is used. In many ways this is all good stuff, and some of the results are interesting, but part of me is getting a bit bored with graphs of contributions and analyses of version histories that pretty much tell you what you would expect. And when somebody else does stand up with an analysis of a different system you can't help but secretly scoff at their quaint scope (only ten thousand users - how sad!).

Its been fun, quite a lot of fun actually, but I think its time to come up for air. I've only been here 3 days and already everything looks like a nail, and I want to hit it with my favorite wiki.

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