why wiki, continued

Posted by anton
on Sunday, December 17, 2006

our team has been running on trac for past four months, and the results so far were very encouraging. we organize things under coarse-grained categories, and then use tags to organize content further. tags really help out a lot, i got so used to CLI-like searching (/trac/tags/tag1+tag2), and their indexing capability (ListTagged() macro).

a few things learned:

  • wikis work best for small homogeneous groups, and even then only a few "expert" people contribute; sadly it is not the whole group that enthusiastically uses the wiki as a group's collective knowledge base, as well as communication device (perhaps it is a nature of our environment though)
  • it works really well as a metadata "glue", when it pulls together different sources in one context (a few links to documents in sharepoint, a few links to some internal systems, and some text to describe it all). i would really like to extend this further and start consuming stuff from other apps (syndicate feeds, pull in reports, etc. for instance - every morning create an entry for past night's batch run issues from the report we currently have, so that person on call can start annotating it as issues are worked on)
  • i really need an auto-save feature (gmail and the like). since i am trigger-happy on the keyboard, i've lost posts a number of times. it should be trivial to implement. on a side note, i thought i would hate the new spelling support in firefox, but i find it incredibly beneficial
  • tags are great, but the consistency of tag corpus is an issue; self-imposed rules help a bit (nouns, no plurals, lowercase, etc), but a del.icio.us-like drop-down of suggestions as you type would be very helpful
  • i haven't really needed to search through attachments yet using trac, but then we still store most of our binary docs in sharepoint. the funny thing is that people save bigass ms office documents in sharepoint with revision tracking turned on (40M documents are not uncommon), which forced sharepoint admins to turn off versioning across the board, defeating one of the main benefits of sharepoint (apparently our version did not use binary diffs, saving full content every time). on top of that search within documents in our version of sharepoint is pretty much useless anyway. so considering all this i am thinking of just asking people to map a branch of our svn repo as a drive and save documents there; although it might result in a lot of commits, it would be versioned and in addition mapped into our website's namespace
  • need for templates - as we start to store more structured content like technical specifications or high-level interface descriptions that have certain required fields
  • and the final wish, or more of a pipedream - smarter markup that has semantic value that could be harvested/searched/aggregated (something along the lines of a yet-to-be-realized promise of xml-based backend of ms office) with support for intellisense-like autocompletion. as mentioned above, as we start storing interface descriptions that have certain common fields (source system, target system, integration technology, group that owns it, canonical data format used, etc), i want to be able to run queries like "show me all interfaces owned by this group", or "show me all interfaces that use this integration technology", or "show me all interfaces that feed this system". then i want to save these queries and make them dynamic, so essentially they become different views into the data. sharepoint currently supports it with excel-like functionality and views, but the content is strictly tabular. what i want is the ability to use one of these domain-specific markup microformats as i am writing my wiki entry. i can hackily mimic this to an extent with "typed" tags (i.e. interface/source/systema, interface/technology/toolb), but it just feels way too flimsy. jon udell's continuous laments on this subject were very inspiring.

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