Wheels Within Wheels

I’ve been talking to quite a few people about the whole intersection of wikis, blogs and outliners over the last few days.

Bill Seitz, who writes his Blog within a wiki talks about viewing wiki pages as OPML.

Ken MacLeod has created a Blog macro for MoinMoin.

Aaron of Montreal has created OTLML for Outliner Markup to help address some of the perceived shortcomings in OPML.

Chris and Earl over at Vanilla have also been doing some interesting work on WikiLogs.

But, I have to say, a lot of this disturbs me somewhat.

In particular, I’m not convinced by the idea of blogging within a wiki.

I think a wiki works best in DocumentMode, where the information is truly collectively owned, and the incremental tweaks of many visitors create a coherent whole. ThreadMode, on the other hand, where each person merely adds their thoughts rather than shaping the collective consensus, makes it much more difficult to follow, with many of the dead-ends, sidetracks, and disagreements that are so prevalent on mailing lists or usenet.

In “conversation mode”, weblogs, although a stage removed from mailing lists etc, still require an interested party to follow many avenues of investigation and thought. This is not a bad thing. But a wiki can be more than that. It represents a consensus of opinion (even when there is no consensus!) It’s the summary of many conversations. Eventually most ThreadMode wiki pages are expected to be refactored into DocumentMode.

And, in “history mode”, weblogs are a useful record of your thoughts and ideas over time. In many ways they should be sacrosanct. Editing an entry from several months or years ago to reflect your current thinking is bad form.

So I’m starting to see almost a progression path – from outline to blog to wiki. It’s already happening at one level with some of the people publishing their outlines. Dave Winer promotes thoughts from his instant outline to his Scripting News weblog – presumably ones which he believes deserve a wider readership. The bigger, more widely relevant(?) issues, he writes up into DaveNet pieces, where he can craft more coherent whole articles.

Some people’s “end of line” publishing is to a page which enables readers to add comments (ThreadMode). However, by replacing that final step with publishing to a Wiki, in Document mode, you can truly release your thoughts, allowing the community to tweak, adapt and extend your ideas in a wholly different way. This is the power of a wiki.

But, to twist back to the beginning, I’m starting to see real value in wiki pages, once settled in Document Mode, being expressed as outlines. The ability to see the main points at a glance, and drill down for the information you want, is invaluable.

So, in some ways, an outline is both the best start point and the best end point. But to make that progression I believe that the information needs to be freed from the inherent constraints of outlining.

I’m sure there are parallels for this elsewhere, but I can’t think of any right now …

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