TPVortex: Intro, Call For Help

In my manifesto for collaborative tools, I cited Backlinks as an example of a common, yet oft-overlooked conceptual construct in collaborative tools. Those who know me well know that my strategy for implementing some of Doug Engelbart‘s ideas (which I crafted over three years ago) has always been to create simple, concrete tools that could easily be shoehorned into existing applications. The plan was to start with Granular Addressability (Purple Numbers), then move on to Backlinks.    (247)

For a number of reasons, now seems to be the right time for me to start shifting my technical focus to Backlinks. The strategy for doing this is to implement a generic, Open Source, Backlink database (dubbed “TPVortex” and integrate it into several existing tools: PurpleWiki, blosxom, MovableType, MHonArc. I’m looking for folks who might be interested in participating in this project.    (248)

The motivation for such a tool is straightforward: Backlinks provide useful, contextual information. Most Wikis already implement Backlinks. Some of them display Backlinks on the main page, which is the correct behavior. Others (including PurpleWiki) do not. In order to implement this properly, you need a Backlink database.    (249)

Once you have a Backlink database, you might as well use it for other applications besides Wikis, such as blogs. We have this integration in PurpleWiki (see Wikis As Topic Maps for the resulting benefits), but again, it would be much nicer to display the Backlinks on the page itself rather than requiring a person to click on a link to see them. In order to implement this properly, the database has to store document metadata, such as title and author, not just the Backlink. For this reason, I think that TPVortex should use an RDF database on the backend.    (24A)

Other thoughts:    (24B)

I welcome help in all forms — comments, critiques, and especially coding. I’ve set up a Wiki page at the Collaboration CollaboratoryCollab:TpVortex — to serve as the center of design discussions. If you’re interested in contributing or commenting, please do it there. Feel free to drop me an email as well.    (24F)

Wiki Linking Using Ontologies

Last weekend, I posted some notes on Markup Free Auto Linking Wiki. The idea is that instead of relying on user syntax for identifying and linking to Wiki pages, the Wiki could do a linguistic scan of the text and link words based on a site-specific ontology.    (242)

I posted my notes mainly as a Blue Sky Idea, but it ended up generating a ton of discussion at the Collaboration Collaboratory. That discussion made me realize that this idea may not be all that blue sky after all, and that — given the proper PurpleWiki:DataBase design — we’re not all that far off from implementing something like this in PurpleWiki.    (243)

PurpleWiki 0.94 Released

The latest release of PurpleWiki has mucho changes. The most visible is customizable look-and-feel using templates (see PurpleWiki:Templates), but there are a slew of other important changes as well.    (23X)

Thanks to a growing user base (which included many folks who tested the beta code in live environments), many bugs have been eradicated. The code has advanced to the point where there’s only one significant chunk of UseModWiki code left — the database, which is on our list of things to replace next.    (23Y)

All this means two things: First, PurpleWiki is becoming a very good, very stable, production-quality Wiki. It’s not quite there yet — We could use a better installation script and more documentation, and there’s still some refactoring that needs to be done — but it’s close. Second, with a lot of the grunt work out of the way, folks hacking on PurpleWiki can start refocusing on the more interesting features — Purple:DistributedPurpleNumbers, PurpleWiki:TransClusion, etc. You’re going to start seeing a lot of cool stuff.    (23Z)

One of these cool features is support for Identity Commons‘s i-names (see PurpleWiki:INames). PurpleWiki is the first publically available tool to support this important new technology.    (240)

Amber Alert in Action

On Monday, I found myself in the middle of a car chase. More importantly, I saw Amber Alert working first-hand.    (23L)

I was driving south on 101 to Campbell from Redwood City for lunch and a slew of meetings. As I drove through Mountain View, I saw an Amber Alert on an electronic billboard, which said that a girl had been abducted in a blue Land Rover. I noted the first few numbers of the license plate in my head, then thought about how great Amber Alert was, and how interesting it would be to see it in action. I was thinking about how Amber Alert could potentially use Instant Messenging in cell phones when I saw the second notice on the sign at Great America in Santa Clara.    (23M)

In San Jose, I merged onto 17 towards Campbell, and a few minutes later, I saw flashing lights in my mirror. I was running a bit late for my lunch appointment, so I glanced at my speedometer to see if I were in trouble, and to my relief, I discovered that — thanks to traffic — I was right at 65 miles per hour.    (23N)

Checking my mirrors again, I noticed the blue SUV behind me change to the fast lane. I remember thinking, “That’s strange. Makes more sense to switch into the slow lane.” Yes, I can be slow at times. As the SUV zoomed past me, I noticed “Land Rover” on the tire cover and recognized the first few letters of the license plate. The three police cars in pursuit confirmed what had slowly dawned on me. That was the kidnapper.    (23O)

I fully realize that if I were truly cool, I would have captured the chase on my cell phone camera and moblogged it immediately. Folks would have seen the chase snapshot live, rather than having to wait for this account two days later. In my defense, I was calm enough to do it. As I watched all of this unfold, I actually called my friend and told him that I was in the middle of a car chase and would be a few minutes late. Unfortunately, my cell phone is four years old. It doesn’t have a camera, and it won’t connect to the Internet.    (23P)

I can happily report that the police did eventually catch the culprit (in San Luis Obispo, about five hours south of San Francisco), and the girl is safe and sound.    (23Q)

Precinct Walking in Mountain View

November is just around the corner, and like many folks who care about the upcoming election, I spent this gorgeous day campaigning… for my friend, Stephanie Schaaf. Steph is running for city council in Mountain View. She’s very active politically, especially about environmental issues, and will make a great city council person. She’s also running a very tight ship with her campaign, and has a large, well-organized team of active volunteers.    (22Z)

This was my first experience precinct walking, and it brought back mixed memories of selling candy and gift wrap door-to-door for elementary school fundraisers. Each of us had a list of registered voters broken down by street. The goal was to visit as many of these voters as humanly possible, and to tell them about Steph and give them literature. It was hard and slow work. I’m in decent shape, and my recent travels left me conditioned to the heat (about 90 degrees today, with low humidity), but even so, I only managed to tackle 95 houses in about three hours. There are about 35,000 registered voters in Mountain View. The lesson? You can’t visit them all.    (230)

I enjoyed the experience more than I expected. It was great exploring the neighborhoods and interacting with the residents, even if most of those conversations were thirty seconds at most. The few blocks that I walked were diverse ethnically and economically, which was nice to see. My day broke down as follows:    (231)

  • Visited 95 homes.    (232)
  • 39 people were home.    (233)
  • 6 people refused to talk to me.    (234)
  • 2 people asked questions.    (235)

These numbers made me wonder how much of an impact I made. Both Steph and her boyfriend, Rafael Reyes, who’s also quite active politically, insisted that precinct walking is extremely important in local elections, and that the face-to-face interaction — brief as it is — leaves strong impressions on voters. The nice thing about elections is that the precinct breakdowns will quantitatively show the impact that we had.    (236)