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)

Blog Backlinks Enabled on PurpleWiki

If you view the Backlinks on any of my Wiki pages, it will now display Backlinks from both the Wiki and also this blog. For example, if you view the backlinks to “DougEngelbart”, you will see a list of all of my Wiki pages and blog entries that mention Doug.    (SG)

The beautiful thing about this feature is that it maintains context for all of the different concepts described on my Wiki. I list several Patterns on my Wiki, with some level of detail on each page. But when you look at the Backlinks to those Patterns, you see a list of all the stories where the Patterns are mentioned. I tell the stories as I have before, and the tool explicitly ties the concept to the stories that describe the context. That’s augmentation! As Chris Dent said, it “makes the universe bigger.”    (SH)

My essay, Wikis As Topic Maps, describes this phenomenon in further (and slightly more technical) detail.    (SI)

Open Source At Work    (SJ)

How this feature finally became implemented is a wonderful example of what makes Open Source so great. We’ve wanted it for a while, but didn’t have time to implement it. Last month, I started thinking more seriously about implementing the feature, because I wanted to demonstrate it to some potential clients. Unfortunately, I was swamped, and didn’t have time to do it myself.    (SK)

David Fannin to the rescue. David had installed PurpleWiki and the MovableType plugin, and liked it. However, he also wanted the Backlink feature. So, he wrote it, and contributed it back to us. Neither Chris nor I nor anyone else in the small PurpleWiki community knew David beforehand, but as you can imagine, we welcomed his contribution.    (SL)

David’s patch was just a hack. Chris had some ideas for refactoring the PurpleWiki code to better integrate this feature. So, he implemented them, and released a preview of the code. Chris’s refactoring made it very easy for me to write a similar plugin for blosxom. Suddenly, we had the feature I had been pining for.    (SM)

As an aside, I had grander plans for how to implement this feature, and those plans haven’t gone away. (See my notes on TPVortex for a preview.) The important thing is, David and Chris’s approach worked. It may not do all of the whiz bang things I eventually want it to do, but it does what I want it to do right now. More importantly, it may very well inspire others to implement some of the grander ideas. Release Early And Often is an extremely important pattern of Open Source development, because it enables collaboration, which accelerates the implementation and dissemination of ideas.    (SN)

Precedence    (SO)

Ours is not the first integrated Wiki and blog. Notable precedents include Kwiki and Bill Seitz‘s Wiki Log. These tools all had the integrated Backlinks feature before we did.    (SP)

The key difference between these tools and ours is that they require you to use a single tool. You have to use Kwiki as both your blogging tool and Wiki to get all of the features. Our approach integrates PurpleWiki with MovableType, blosxom, and conceivably any other blogging tool. This is consistent with our overall philosophy of improving interoperability between tools using Doug Engelbart‘s ideas as a unifying framework.    (SQ)

We’ve only taken baby steps so far. We plan bigger and better things. More importantly, we want to encourage other tool developers to adopt a similar approach, and to collaborate with each other to do so.    (SR)