PurpleWiki v0.9 Released

PurpleWiki v0.9 is now available. Chris Dent‘s announcement covers the basics. A few words on how we got here, and where we’re going.    (83)

The Wiki Experiment    (84)

When we launched Blue Oxen Associates last December, we made Wikis a core part of our infrastructure. We had two reasons for choosing Wikis. The first was practical. We needed a system for sharing documents and collaborative authoring, and Wikis fit the bill quite nicely.    (85)

The second reason was more philosophical. We wanted a knowledge management system like Doug Engelbart‘s Open Hyperdocument System (OHS), and felt that Wikis already resembled the OHS in many ways. It was immediately usable and useful, while also offering the perfect platform for coevolution.    (86)

PurpleWiki fulfills the following OHS requirements:    (87)

  • Backlinks. This is a core feature of all Wikis, but also one of its most underutilized. In a future version of PurpleWiki, we will create an open API to its Backlink engine, so that other applications (such as blogs) may use it.    (88)
  • Granular Addressability. PurpleWiki‘s site-wide, automatic Purple Number management had the additional benefit of enabling us to quickly experiment and evolve the feature. Node IDs are now document-independent, which has improved usability and enabled features like Transclusions.    (89)
  • Link Types. We’ve added a syntax for specifying link types, and have implemented our first new link type: Transclusions.    (8A)
  • View Control. We can easily add new or customize existing output formats, thanks to PurpleWiki‘s modular architecture. More importantly, we can implement dynamic views, such as a collapsible outline view, of any document on PurpleWiki.    (8B)

PurpleWiki‘s most visible feature is Purple Numbers, but its most important feature is its data architecture. In general, Wikis view the world as a graph of linked documents. PurpleWiki views the world as a graph of linked documents with a unified data model. The data model is sufficiently general and simple to apply to any kind of document. When you use this data model in other applications, you automatically inherit PurpleWiki‘s features. Integrating PurpleWiki with blogs was a piece of cake as a result, and we’ve only begun to explore the ramifications.    (8C)

Next Steps    (8D)

Our roadmap lists several enterprise features we plan on implementing: templates, pluggable database back-ends, mod_perl controller, etc. I consider these important, but relatively mundane. Blue Oxen Associates isn’t in the business of software development; we’re implementing these features because we need them.    (8E)

Blue Oxen Associates is in the business of research and improvement, and of facilitating coevolution. PurpleWiki is an amazing platform for this. One of Chris’s pet projects is to create universal ID space for nodes, possibly based on handles. Think of this as persistent URIs for nodes. Among other things, this will enable us to support Transclusions of content from other sites, not just the site on which PurpleWiki is installed.    (8F)

My long-term interests lie in three areas: the aforementioned open Backlink engine, Wiki page types, and Wiki namespaces. I’ll discuss the latter a bit here.    (8G)

One of the reasons I dislike TWiki is its notion of “webs.” You can partition your Wiki into multiple webs, and each web is contained in its own namespace. The problem with this is that it encourages people to balkanize their Wiki content. That, in my opinion, runs counter to the spirit of Wikis. Early balkanization prevents evolution.    (8H)

Several months ago, Richard Gabriel passed along some insight he had learned from Ward Cunningham: In computer science, you want to keep namespaces separate. With Wikis, you want namespaces to clash. Ward’s idea for SisterSites is one way to create namespace clash. This idea could be taken a step further by allowing site administrators to establish a system of namespace resolution. For example, if a certain page doesn’t exist on a local namespace, the Wiki would search another namespace for that page. If it existed there, the Wiki would simply take the user to that page.    (8I)

Language and Adolescence

Penelope Eckert, Professor of Linguistics at Stanford, gave a talk entitled, “Language and Adolescence,” this afternoon at the PARC Forum. Eckert explained the role that adolescent language played in developing peer social order, and dispelled complaints that teenagers were hurting language by using it irresponsibly. Her theories are based on extensive ethnographic studies of junior high school students in Detroit and the Bay Area.    (7E)

I went to this talk for two reasons. First, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear an academic lecture on “jocks” and “burnouts.” Eckert clearly enjoyed emulating various teenage and adult speech patterns, and garnered many giggles throughout her talk. Second, I’d like to eventually recruit a sociolinguist to Blue Oxen Associates, and wanted to get a sense of what such research entails. What do language patterns reflect about communities? What do we already know, and what remains to be studied?    (7F)

Eckert claimed that adolescents are leaders in linguistic innovation, which reflects their efforts to find their place within a structured social marketplace. She found a high correlation between various roles (e.g. “drama queens,” “onlookers,”) and certain speech patterns. According to Eckert, over 50 percent of the kids she studied were either “jocks” or “burnouts.” The latter group exhibited unique speech patterns. For example, burnouts were far more likely to use Negative Concords (e.g. “That don’t mean nothing”) than jocks, an act of rebellion against socially imposed institutions.    (7G)

Eckert has written several books about her research, including Jocks and Burnouts and Linguistic Variation as Social Practice.    (7H)

Sociolinguistic Analysis    (7I)

Identifying who plays what role in a community, or whether or not a person is a member of a community, is a difficult problem. I posted some ideas on this in January, where I argued that individuals mostly categorize themselves. I asked Eckert what criteria she used to categorize people as jocks or burnouts. She said that the students categorized themselves. She had some socioeconomic data that she could use to challenge the self-categorization, but found that she never needed to do so.    (7J)

Eckert’s talk reiterated my awareness of the sensory richness of face-to-face communication. Speech nuances alone carry a tremendous amount of information. Sadly, these nuances don’t exist in online communities. What affect does this loss of sensory richness have on online communities? Do online interactions have their own kinds of richness that face-to-face interactions do not share?    (7K)

Applying sociolinguistic research towards online communities would require analyzing patterns in writing. I believe we could learn a tremendous amount about communities through this kind of analysis. If anyone knows of such research, please let me know.    (7L)

Blue Oxen Trivia    (7M)

There are a number of good public talks held at PARC’s George Pake Auditorium in Palo Alto. In fact, I met half of the Blue Oxen Associates advisory board there. I first heard Doug Engelbart speak at the BayCHI meeting on December 10, 1996. I first heard Richard Gabriel speak at the Software Development Forum meeting on January 23, 2003.    (7N)