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Peter Thoeny
Peter's Wiki Corner


Recent posts:
Voice-Enabled Wikis
BAIA Panel: Blongs and Marketing, 2007-02-08
BAIA Talk: Wiki Collaboration and Wiki Applications for Business, 2007-01-23
TWiki 4.1.0 Production Release Available
Google Acquires JotSpot
Panel on Wiki Technology and Future, with Leading Wiki Vendors
Roles People Play in a Wiki
Wired News Wiki Story Experiment
Wiki Spam on Public Wikis
WikiSym and Wiki-research Mailing List
Wiki Applications and The Long Tail
What is a Structured Wiki?
The Wiki Champion
Value of Tagging Wiki Content
Jump Starting Peter's Corner


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Peter Thoeny's Wiki Corner

Voice-Enabled Wikis

Why would you want to voice-enable your wiki? In what form? Lets look at a use case first: The construction industry.

Construction companies can use wikis to track commerical and residential construction projects and to build up a knowledge base of best practices. In a structured wiki, such as TWiki, project tracking and knowledge sharing can be done with simple forms based wiki applications. The challenge is connectivity. People at the construction site do not have internet access, but eveyone has a cell phone. Wouldn't it be nice to be able record a voice message to an appropriate wiki page? For example, to leave a voicemail for project 1745? Or, to call the wiki and to find out who the internal expert is on pneumatic Daytona Elevators? Or, to call the wiki, find out the recent changes, and have selected content spoken to you by a pleasant synthetic voice?

We did such an integration together with LignUp, Inc., a company that provides web services around voice technology. With their technology, web developers can quickly mashup voice and rich media into web applications.

Here is how the "record voicemail" feature works: Constructions workers are registered in TWiki; their homepages list the cell phone number and a voice pin number. There are two options to record a voicemail: Call a number, or click on a "record voicemail" button.

If you are away from a computer, you call a specific number, are greeted by a welcome message asking to enter a pin number. Once identified, the voice asks for a project ID. After a beep you record the message and press the # key.

If you are connected, you simply click on a record voicemail button. A window is popping up, informing you that your phone will ring. You answer the cell phone, and are greeted with: "Hello Peter Thoeny, please record your message for project 1021 after the beep, followed by the pound sign." After pressing the # sign, you hear: "Thank you. Your message will be posted to project 1021."

In both cases, your voicemail is posted to the appropriate TWiki topic as a file attachment in .wav format. In the wiki, you simply click on the message to hear it.

With text-to-speech technology it is also possible to send voice messages out of the wiki. You fill out a web form that has a field for the phone number, and a text area to type or paste a short message. This will call the number, and a computer generated voice is reading the message to the person.

There are many other use cases for voice enabled wikis, here are just a few ideas:

  • Call the wiki to find out recent changes.
  • Remote control a wiki: Navigate to topic, add content, move topic.
  • Using a cell phone, record a message and post it as a blog.
  • In a photo gallery, let people annotate photos.
  • Send reminders for action items with outbound voicemail.

The possibilities are endless, only bound by imagination.

I will demo the current TWiki voice integration tomorrow at the O'Reilly Emerging Telephony Conference in San Francisco, as part of the workshop on Utility Computing and the LignUp Voice Application Platform.

pencil 2007-02-26 | Permalink

BAIA Panel: Blongs and Marketing, 2007-02-08

Today I will participate in a panel on blogs and marketing at BAIA, the Business Association Italy America, From their event page:

Blogging is now one of the most popular ways to communicate over the Internet. With over 100 millions people blogging every day, and many more blog readers, no company can afford to be left out of the conversation. Several companies are already taking advantage of blogs, establishing a new type of communication with their users and finding new ways to promote their products and services. While a blog can be a great opportunity for a business, it requires different skills and should be approached with different expectations and the right mindset. This event will offer the opportunity to listen from a panel of international experts, all bloggers, and to learn from their experience.

The organizer is asking to sign up for the event.

  • When: Thu, 2008-02-08 - 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
  • Where: Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, 101 California Street, 5th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94111 (see map)

pencil 2007-02-08 | Permalink

BAIA Talk: Wiki Collaboration and Wiki Applications for Business, 2007-01-23

Next Tuesday I will be giving a talk on wikis and TWiki at BAIA, the Business Association Italy America,

I would be delighted to see you next Tuesday in Palo Alto! This is a good opportunity to learn more how structured wikis can help improve the productivity of the employees with situational applications. The organizer is asking to sign up for the event.

  • When: Tue, 2007-01-23 - 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
  • Where: DLA PIPER, 2000 University Avenue room 102/103, East Palo Alto, California 94303 (see map)

pencil 2007-01-19 | Permalink

TWiki 4.1.0 Production Release Available

I am pleased to announce that the brand new TWiki Release 4.1.0 is available for download from Code named Edinburgh, it adds easier installation and upgrade, a web based plugin installer, many enhancements in usability, search and other areas, and new features that make TWiki a stronger wiki application platform. TWiki is now localized to Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish and Swedish.

Many people have been involved in this release; in all, we tracked 250 features and bugs. Special thanks to release manager TWiki:Main.KennethLavrsen, who made sure that the we have a high quality release. has a thriving plugins community; there are over 350 extensions available for download from Add-ons, plugins, skins and code contributions. Developers can now build AJAX based wiki applications, supported by the TWiki 4.1 core engine and the YahooUserInterfaceContrib and TWikiAjaxContrib extensions.

pencil 2007-01-17 | Permalink

Google Acquires JotSpot

Update 2006-11-01: See public statement of the TWiki community in regards to the acquisition.

Update 2006-11-03: Michael Daum, one of the most active TWiki contributors put together a bit of css to style his TWiki site JotSpottish. Brilliant!

Google and JotSpot announced today that JotSpot is joining the Google team. This is a good move for CEO Joe Kraus and CTO Graham Spencer, congrats to both of you and your team!

I believe this is good news for the open source TWiki project because:

  1. It further boosts the awarness of wikis in the general public; and with this will bring more recognition to TWikis running at the workplace.
  2. With JotSpot moving to hosted only solution and staying away from software packages and appliances, other enterprise level wikis will get more traffic, such as TWiki, Socialtext and Confluence. I have not seen many large companies that entrust their mission critical wiki data to be hosted by a third party.

Ross Mayfield, CEO of Socialtext offers the following to JotSpot customers:

Socialtext, the first wiki company, announced today a free hosted wiki program for JotSpot customers following that company's acquisition by Google. Socialtext will migrate JotSpot wiki content and provide one year of Socialtext Professional hosted wiki service to any JotSpot customer who signs up by the end of November 2006.

On behalf of the open source community I make this offer to JotSpot customers: You are invited to download a free copy of TWiki, install it behind firewall, and get started with an enterprise class wiki used by the majority of fortune 500 companies. TWiki gets downloaded over 10,000 times a month, and is the most widely used wiki behind corporate firewall.

Some trivia: Joe Kraus and Graham Spencer used TWiki as an intranet at Exite@Home, one of the first web search sites started in 1994. They went on and founded JotSpot in 2004, and took the idea of wikis as an application platform that TWiki pioneered already in 2001. Yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

pencil 2006-10-31 | Permalink

Panel on Wiki Technology and Future, with Leading Wiki Vendors

Today Wed, 2006-10-25, I will be moderating a panel on Wiki Technology & Trend: Past, Now and Future, organized by the Web SIG. Panelists are from leading wiki vendors:

  • Ben Elowitz, CEO at
  • Jon Silvers, Director of Online Marketing at Atlassian Software Systems
  • Dr. Jonas M Luster, Community Manager at Socialtext
  • Scott Johnston, Vice President of Products at JotSpot

Date & Place:

I expect this to be an informative event. Each panelist gets 5 minutes to introduce their wiki. After that we have a panel discussion, mainly focusing on current state of wikis and its future. It will also be a fun event, the panelists are asked to show up as the Matrix agents, and a Martial Arts team will do a performance.

Presentations of the panelists:

Update 2006-10-26: This was a fun event, check out some images on Flickr. Web strategist Jeremiah Owyang was blogging the event live, and Franco Folini of BAIA (Business association Italy America) has a blog post on the panel.

pencil 2006-10-25 | Permalink

Roles People Play in a Wiki

To understand how plain wikis and structured wikis are used, it is helpful to point out the different roles people play. Starting at the source, one can identify these roles:

  1. Wiki vendors
  2. Extension builders
  3. Wiki administrators
  4. Wiki champions
  5. Contributors - aka writers
  6. Consumers - aka readers

Vendors provide open source or closed source software; they also provide support for wiki admistrators.

Extension builders are programmers who enhance the functionality of wikis by creating plugins, add-ons and skins. Extensions may be provided by the wiki vendor, by a third party (such as system integrators and consultants), or may be built by an engineering team in-house. Extensions create value for the whole project. For example, Confluence has 150 extensions, TWiki has over 300 extensions (plugins, skins, add-ons, contribs). Extensions scale a wiki into vertical markets that one would never anticipate. Extensions are canned applications; wiki administrators can install them for its user base.

A Wiki administrator installs, configures and manages a wiki. Teams typically deploy their own wiki in a grassroot manner. One person in the team plays the wiki administrator role. Once the grassroot wikis get at the radar screen of CTOs and CIOs they tend to get consolidated into a cental wiki, typically managed by the IT department. The administrator is concerned about software updates, backups and system availability, but does not manage the content.

A wiki champion is a person who both understands the process of the work for a given project or business (the domain), and how to use a wiki (best practices in collaboration). The wiki champion is primarily concerned about the content; structure the content to make it easy for the users to navigate and find relevant content. In a structured wiki, this champion also creates lightweight wiki applications. TWiki and Jotspot are structured wikis; both have a database within the wiki where users can create wiki application simply by using wiki markup, e.g. no programming skills are required to create customized trackers, inventory lists and vertical applications of all sorts. Structured wikis are in the long tail of implementing business processes. The wiki champions help automate business processes.

Contributors - or writers - use the wiki as a whiteboard. They also use applications, which can be canned applications or in the case of a structured wiki, tailored wiki applications. A whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper can be intimidating; an application reduces the choices, e.g. it makes it easier to participate. Both, whiteboard use and application use of a wiki is valuable. It is important to start as a whiteboard, and to add structure only as needed (iteratively, in bazaar-style.)

Consumers - or readers - are primarily concerned about finding content they need for their daily work. Bulletin boards and wikis at the workplace have a typical write/read ratio of between 1/10 and 1/20. On public sites, the ratio can be much larger. For example, has a ratio of 1/150.

Naturally a person is taking more than one role in a wiki:

  • In open source wikis such as TWiki and MediaWiki, vendor and extension builder can be one and the same.
  • In a grassroot wiki, one and the same person plays the role of administrator and wiki champion.
  • A wiki champion is also a contributor and a consumer.
  • Contributors are typically also consumers.
  • Consumers might just be readers. People not familiar with wikis use web pages as reference material; even though there is an edit button, it can be intimidating to click that button. The wiki champion plays an important role in converting the readers into writers. A writable web comes with a paradigm shift, people need to get used to the idea that it is OK to edit content written by other people.

pencil 2006-09-11 | Permalink

Wired News Wiki Story Experiment

Here is an interesting news story on wikis, written by wiki experts. Wired News reporter Ryan Singel created a first version of a story on wikis, and put it up on a wiki page for anyone in the world to edit. It was an experiment; some people predicted it to fail. In summer 2005, The Los Angeles Times tried out a "wikitorial," a collaboratively written editorial. They had to pull down the wiki soon after it went live because it was being flooded with "inappropriate material."

Ryan's initial version of the wiki article was concise and had a story. After Wired News announced it with an Edit This Wired News Story article on 29 Aug 2006, edits started to jump. In fact, that day was the day with the largest number of contributors. Some vendors came in to pitch their product. With this, the article changed from a story that had a nice flow to a "primer", as Ryan described it. Some people tried to bring the article back into shape. One person even split it into two, moving vendor pitches into a separate wiki page named "Enumeration".

Wikipedia has well defined guidelines and processes for content contribution. This wiki story wiki had almost none. In a wiki community, the community takes care of policing itself; whereas in pre-wiki days access control is used instead. Wikipedia initially did not have many policies and guidelines, the community discovered and shaped them over time. Jimmy Wales set only a few guidelines, such as contributing with a neutral point of view. The wiki story wiki did not have the time to discover and shape a policy. Nevertheless, it was striking that there was a consensus to bring back a story into the article. The contributors communicated with each other in a discssions page. There have been some back and forth edits, but overall the article got much better over time.

In his post mortem, The Wiki That Edited Me, Ryan mentions:

Certainly the final story is more accurate and more representative of how wikis are used.

Is it a better story than the one that would have emerged after a Wired News editor worked with it?

I think not.

The edits over the week lack some of the narrative flow that a Wired News piece usually contains. The transitions seem a bit choppy, there are too many mentions of companies, and too much dry explication of how wikis work.

It feels more like a primer than a story to me.

Ross Mayfiled, CEO of SocialText, blogs that "the Wired Wiki experiment can be called a success." He was actively involved in moderating the wiki story wiki, possibly because Wired News was hands off after posting the article.

The daily statistics on the number of saves and the number of editors reveal an interesting pattern:

08-24 2
08-25 21
08-26 0
08-27 0
08-28 17
08-29 81
08-30 33
08-31 9
09-01 19
09-02 22
09-03 8
09-04 13
09-05 33
09-06 90

08-24 2
08-25 2
08-26 0
08-27 0
08-28 3
08-29 27
08-30 12
08-31 7
09-01 9
09-02 8
09-03 5
09-04 6
09-05 9
09-06 11

Number of saves per day

Number of editors per day

As expected, there are two spikes: The first one on 29 Aug when Wired News announced the wiki article experiment, and the second one on the last day, at deadline.

Wired News published the story with only some minor edits on 07 Sep 2006 morning, Veni, Vidi, Wiki.

pencil 2006-09-07 | Permalink

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