Wiki Obsession Afflicts Web Developer, Film at 11

There’s nothing like the smell of a brand new notebook, blank and waiting for the first thing to be written in it. It is no secret that I have a fondness for stationery. There is a similar feeling that comes when you try a new application for the first time. I have discovered a new application called XWiki that fills that bill perfectly. It is a bundle of software that makes creating and maintaining a web site as easy as shopping on Amazon.

It takes its inspiration from Ward Cunningham’s revolutionary Wikiwiki software. I’d link to his original Wikiwikiweb site but it seems to be down at present. That is probably due to the fact that Ward has moved on to a new evolution of his software that he calls Smallest Federated Wiki (SFW).

Back to XWiki, it is a magnificently flexible framework upon which can be built just about any sort of web site that you can imagine. And the great thing about it is that you edit the web site, on the web, using typical everyday web forms. You don’t have to mess with html or css or any of those arcane web developer technologies in order to build a beautiful full featured web site. If you want to tweak the underlying pieces, you can but you don’t have to.

I discovered this gem when I was looking for a solution to a problem that my manager at work had posed to me. Our department has a web site on the company intranet. It showcases our capabilities to other parts of the company. Lately it has become rather severely out of date. Every time this happens, someone is tasked with bringing it up to date. This usually entails a bunch of work collecting the updated information and then wrestling it into submission. The latter task often entails finding someone experienced in web development.

By migrating the site to a wiki based Content Management System (CMS), I can make the site so easy to update that anyone that can use a word processor (or the web) can update it. This should encourage the various content owners, as the people contributing information to the web site are called, to update their own content incrementally as it changes. As a result, the site doesn’t become stale and everyone is happy.

I installed the software on my home computer and I am extremely pleased. I am going to start the ball rolling to get it approved at work next week.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Show Bible

Writers of all sorts of fiction, from novels to screenplays and even television series, share a single concern; maintaining consistency throughout a given milleau. This is often accomplished by what is called the Show Bible in the television industry. This is the document where all the relevant details from each episode are kept so that they can be looked up when they become important in future episodes. The movie industry has a department devoted to this function. It’s called continuity in that domain. And novelist, especially authors of multivolume series, often have many notebooks filled with lore of the world that they have created.

I have had a programming project on the back burner for some time that amounts to an computerized Show Bible. I may still finish it eventually. I have some ideas for features that I haven’t found in any other product yet. But in the mean time, I think I’ve found a tool that will solve about 80% of the problem. It is the single page web application called TiddlyWiki that I wrote about here a while ago. Here is a brief list of it’s virtues:

  • It is small enough to fit on a thumb drive.
  • It works with any modern web browser.
  • It is easy to create hyperlinks between various entries in the document.
  • It is easily searchable.
  • It is easy to extend.
  • It is easy to format.
  • It is easy to add photographs, drawings, video clips, and all kinds of other multimedia to it. In fact, it can display anything that any other web page can.

I have decided that I like the world that Against the Cold of Deepest Space is set in. I intend to develop a Show Bible for it so that I can write multiple stories and perhaps even novels in that world. I am going to use TiddlyWiki to compile that document.

I am, however, going to go ahead and write the short story that I started in the blog post that I labeled (Part 1).

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Wiki Madness

Almost everybody knows what a wiki is thanks to Huntsvillian Jimmy Wales and the site that he founded, Wikipedia. What is not so widely known is the story behind the invention of the wiki.

Ward Cunningham invented the wiki in 1994. It was an experimental site designed to see whether a community of people could collaborate to build a collection of hyperlinked pages in an organic fashion. It was wildly successful beyond any expectations that he had. Here’s how it works.

There is a button on every page that allows the contents of that page to be edited. There is some convention for encoding links to other pages, often the use of what is referred to as camel case where the first letter of each word is capitalized. For example, AnotherWikiPage might be a link to a page titled AnotherWikiPage. If the page doesn’t exist already, it will have some visual indication of that fact, often a question mark that is a hyperlink that will create a new page of that name when clicked. It is actually much simpler in practice than it sounds when you explain it.

Ward’s original Wiki was created primarily for the discussion of design patterns in programming. The idea of the wiki caught on quickly and soon there were many other people implementing there own spins on it.

One of the most interesting spin offs is a project called TiddlyWiki that implements a personal wiki. It is written in Javascript and runs in a web page. Each “page” is called a tiddler and they are displayed on a single “river” of tiddlers that unfolds on the web page as you click on links or search for content.

You can create as many of these TiddlyWikis as you’d like kind of like notebooks. Each one lives in its own file on your computer. You can share a TiddlyWiki with someone else by including the file as an attachment to an email or you can put it on a memory stick and carry it with you between computers.

What kinds of things can you use it for? I use it to for a work journal. At the beginning of the day I create a new journal entry tiddler. I keep a running narrative of what I’m doing on my project in it. If I need to look up what I did or when I did it, I just search my wiki for my notes.

The applications for it are as numerous as your imagination can come up with. You could use it to take notes for a class. You could use it to collect recipes and search for them based on their ingredients. You could create tiddlers instead of writing everything down on sticky notes. You can’t search sticky notes automatically with a computer.

It is a wonderful tool. I don’t know what I’d do without it. It’s as revolutionary as the spreadsheet or word processor.  You should definitely try it. Check out the getting started videos on the web site.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

What Do You Get When You Cross a Blog with a Wiki?

I recently read about a meeting between two of my computer heroes, Dave Winer and Ward Cunningham, inventors of the blog and the wiki, respectively. It was interesting to hear how Dave characterized the difference between the two media. He described the blog as a more linear, time-line oriented narrative and the wiki as a collection of smaller, concordance like entries. He posed the question “What would a marriage of the two approaches look like?”

I have been giving it some thought. For one thing, an important feature of the blog is that it represents the voice of a single author. The wiki, historically, has been a collaborative work. Ward’s latest experiment, the Simple Federated Wiki or SFW, attempts to draw more distinct lines between content created by different authors. If someone wants to edit someone else’s post, they copy it into their own domain and assert authorship for their changes while referring to the original source.

I think there is also a lot to be said for the idea of treating a post as an outline with footnotes and asides collapsed in the default rendering of a post but with controls for exposing them at the command of the reader. Dave has also experimented with hyperlinking one outline into another such that multiple outlines can be viewed as a single document.

All of these are good ideas but they need a good unifying metaphor for the structure of such documents. Perhaps a hypercube where each facet of the document comprises a face of the hypercube and the reader unfolds the cube to read it. Or perhaps it is better represented by some sort of fractal presentation. I’m not sure how to represent it visually.

In any case, there is a lot to be gained from experiments with combining these two fertile approaches to personal expression. I will be thinking about it and playing with it. I have started building a couple of personal wikis, one using the Instiki package, and the other using the SFW software. These, in conjunction with my experiences with this blog will serve as the starting point for my experiments in hybrid blog/wiki software.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

More on Wikis

I’ve been taking notes on AgileWiki, a wiki implemented in Java by a team lead by Bill la Forge based on Rolonics theory which was developed by Norman Kashdan. The funny part about it is I was using instiki to take these notes. I have to admit, instiki is one of the best and easiest wikis to install and use for person use. I don’t know how to install it on my webhosting site yet and I don’t know how it scales but I’m going to use it for personal notes on my local system.


I discovered a new free public wiki site today. It is called It has a lot of neat features. My test wiki is called occasional. Three guesses what the inspiration for that was. I liked a lot of the features of but there was one thing missing. I could find no way to download my content to back it up. I emailed the support folks to see if I missed something. I’ll let you know what they say.

I’ve got this idea that a wiki would be a good way to develop the back story for a television series. I’m playing with instiki on my local system. I’ll figure out how to get it hooked up to apache and try and move it up to wildroseandbriar soon. Anyway, there doesn’t seem to be any one wiki that is the clear winner in terms of simplicity and features yet.