Although wikis have been around for quite a long time, each of the last few years has seen significant growth in awareness and usage, and also in money flow. 2006 has continued this trend: ‘wikipedia’ and ‘wiki’ both feature in Google’s Top 10 Searches of the year, Alexa shows Wikipedia rising to the 12th most visited site (now displacing eBay), with a reach that has trebled over the last year, and of course Google’s acquisition of Jotspot, Amazon’s investment in Wikia, and a flood of VC funding into new entrants such as Wetpaint.
So where do we go from here? Despite the surge in interest I think we’re still in the very early days.
Wikipedia has proven that, contrary to most people’s intuition and fears, it is possible to shape something of great value out of what appears to be complete chaos. Both Wikia and Wetpaint are doing a good job of extending this approach to allow the creation of intricately detailed sites on topics that only merit a page or two on a Wikipedia (such as Lostpedia). Although the majority of these sites will never gain the necessary critical mass, I believe we’ll see a massive increase in the number of these highly specialised mini-encyclopedia wikis over the next few years.
I also think that wikis will continue their steady march “inside the firewall”. Companies that have spent huge amounts of money on intricate content management systems for their intranets will be reluctant to switch, and traditional corporate paranoia will make lots of companies very wary of ceding so much control down to the “lower ranks”, but an ever increasing number of SMEs and progressive BigCos will continue to take the plunge.
The rise in corporate wikis will also drive a lot of necessary technology innovation. The last year has shown signs of this with the move to Wikiwyg, so that users no longer have to learn troublesome formatting commands. Corporate clients will continue to demand advances that make the technology more accessible to all employees, and also more useful for actual business needs as the initial excitement gives way to frustration at the things that are still too difficult to achieve. I suspect we’ll see some significant developments in the next year relating to finding information that is currently getting lost in the twisty maze of ad hoc content, and many improvements related to dealing with and integrating with more traditional document management (Word), as well as tabular and numeric data and charts (Excel). For the latter, WikiCalc appears to be leading the way at the minute and I suspect we’ll see some of that approach start to make its way into other products.
Along these lines I suspect we’re about to see an explosion of wiki-style technology start to appear in other types of applications, as the wiki ethos starts expanding beyond wikis themselves. We’ve already the very early stages of this, with Amazon and eBay attempting to find ways of harnessing customer involvement throughout their sites, and many software products basically delegating their help and support functions to a customer-powered wiki. Over the next few years, I believe the line between the supporting wiki and the actual product will become much more blurred in numerous products.
My own personal hope is that we’ll also see huge growth in support for structured data in a wiki environment: both in terms of the underlying technology and also in sites actually using it. It will be interesting to see what Google do with the JotSpot technology here (I believe the current approach leaves something to be desired, but the idea is good), and Semantic MediaWiki is continuing to move forward at an impressive rate. However, much as I might desire otherwise, I suspect we need another year or more of increased acceptance of the general wiki concepts before we really start to see the benefits of structured wikis emerging on a wide scale.