Things We Need

A remarkable quote:

Somebody: I do note, however, that you now have a blog. Not criticizing, just sayin’. You can call it a lead-in to real social software, which would be quite useful, but as yet it’s a blog. If you can make useful collaborative webspace—perhaps a single page where different colored users can manipulate the same stuff (in realtime?)—that would be very cool.

Useful collaborative webspace. I want to meet this request, but what exactly do we need? Surely more than “different colored users”. Right now, all the concepts cluster around blog, wiki, groupware,forum, and chat. Where’s the beyond or, if we must, the synthesis?

  • There’s TiddlyWiki. Goofy! Look how people are using it.
  • There’s PHPWiki, simpler than Mediawiki , that lets you insert dynamic content plugins into the pages.
  • We’ll see what Jotspot brings to the field.

What I Want.
I want I-know-not-what-yet. It’s the old simplicity-depth-information conflict. It’s information systems design. You want a single page, indeed with colored users, to be as useful as possible, but not dizzyingly complex. You want to be able, but not forced, to navigate to more specific pages. You want all the pages to be out in the open and easy for everyone to find, but you also want them organized in some logical (even hierarchical) fashion; you also don’t want to be locked into one form of organization (date-based, hierarchical, category, document, etc.). You want your own stuff, but you want to work with other people, and you never want to wait for an administrator’s permission. You want to be able to do the basics without thinking about it, but you want to be able to do exactly what you want. You want it to be integrated, but you don’t want to have to stretch a metaphor (“pretend the article is a guestbook…”). You definitely don’t want to do everything the way a system, no matter how sophisticated, dictates that you do. You want to rise to the challenge of (ahem) new informational paradigms, but you want to navigate information in a natural, intuitive and potentially deliberative way.

Concretely

  • I want a book browser attached to a personal document system. Presently, the document management systems are web filesystems that let you download files that members of a working group have uploaded. I want a system that you can hand a text, word, pdf, docbook file to and it will generate an indexed set of html pages to be read linearly (you know, like in a book). Basically, I want the back-end script the etext sites must have, but I want the books to be discrete entities in a database.
  • I also want wiki systems to be able to import any wiki page into any other wiki page, like the {{templates}}. This would be an easy and cool way to handle semi-dynamic content.