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Hands-on TWiki Collaboration (Project)

Launch and summary page for Codev discussions related to practical, hands-on use of TWiki as a flexible collaboration tool, including: best practices for creating and editing topics, Wiki site start-up and management, and determining which automated support features are both useful and consistent with Wikiness - the focus here, it appears, is on the human factor, rather than program features.

Collaboration Overview

Wikis have only been around for five or six years, and they're still very underground, so it's really too early to tell based on history whether they will "work" - work in the way email and message boards have captured the mainstream: personal, keyboard communication that leaves a permanent record.

The Wiki software style is seductive - it's what you'd imagine as the natural evolution of the browser-based Web itself. The freeform editing, HTML shorthand, fast and simple operation, with, in TWiki's case particularly, a seamless, endless upgrade path: build it up as far as you like...or keep it simple.

What this view doesn't address is the central participation factor, the CollaborationProject core issue. Wikis can be used as cool, next generation message boards and Web authoring tools: by not-too-focused businesses, by kids. But it's the collaboration capabilities - trust, group creativity, spontaneous, mutal editing, organizing, refactoring. organic TEAMWORK - that's the ultimate T/Wiki allure - at least, for those who need collaboration tools (which, by need, is really just about evey organization, but by ability to use, probably only small, elite groups in various industries).

And in all cases, collaboration relies on PEOPLE behaving, in general, in the least likely work mode imaginable.

So that's the core issue to deal with, here in CollaborationProject. I came up with four key questions, closely related:

  1. Is it realistic to develop T/Wiki along the "traditional", Wiki Wiki Web principles, the "no one webmaster syndrome" claim made here, the references to and belief in spontaneous, shared organizing and "refactoring", GoodStyle, and the like? This has to be a gut call - there are great examples of amazing Wikis in action, but that doesn't mean more widespread use will maintain an average even close to the best cases.
  2. If reliably delivering this high-concept collaboration catalyst, mindset, whatever, is the ultimate aim and measure of a good Wiki - the software package, including docs and start-up materials, and the support community behind it (whether OS or commercial) - what is the size and composition of the target markets? TWiki's high-end corporate users? Mid-size businesses. For Wikis in general - if not TWiki itself - just about any team or organization: schools, non-profits, professional offices, creative start-ups,...? Does it require a certain mind and/or skill set minimum requirement?
  3. Are the available collaboration tools suitable for development - these are basically WORDS, the original Wiki/Ward Cunningham practical insights. Rules of order and etiquette, as guidelines for already-motivated participants. Or is there some magical Wiki balance of features and design that can trigger a "collaboration mode"? (The thought of using software structures to encourage results sounds, on first consideration, quite opposite to the core Wiki collaboration mode of mind over machine rules. (Wiki thinking does suggest that Wiki filters people, a somehow "better" - better suited - subset of everyone to work.)
    1. Perhaps TWiki's market is indeed highly specialized, and any broad adoption of Wiki dev will be based on the software package, with none of the traditional collaboration background - minimal GoodStyle. This doesn't mean that Wiki won't end up being an ultimate collaborative environment, far superior to newsgroups, hypermail, P2P schemes, various other shared community projects. But the dev course would be quite different. This, naturally, wouldn't necessarily affect TWiki, with it's specific target.

The above is less than succinct, I realize - in a day or two, I may read back and wince. And I haven't seen high-end Wikis in action, which might alter some of my views in a day. That said, I'm confident in the initial direction - hopefully I've at least conveying the points. Definitely to be edited - feel brutally free (I have a sentence apiece floating around in my head, and staying there for now. No sleep till Brooklyn!)

-- MikeMannix - 29 Dec 2001

Initial Notes

The preliminary notes and headings below can be hacked apart as necessary, on the way to a final structure for this page.

Main types of collaboration activity

What are people using TWiki for, exactly? Are there a few major types of use, or has TWiki been adapted into all kinds of specific mutations (reading some of the add-on/customization posts, one can imagine molding TWiki into many shapes).

  • In an business-office context for the first time, I'm using TWiki for its core basics, to serve as the overall (secured, but Web-based) intranet platform for an office and production group, and an "extranet" to communicate with key clients where specs and tracking are required. There is a distinct dev collaboration component, but overall the use covers the range of networked office productivity stuff: reports; templates; digital library for standard graphics & forms (document management); employee manual type info; to a degree, email replacement/message board; knowledgebase,... So "collaboration" is in the broadest sense. TWiki is specifically suited on the collaboration level because of, in order (under either basic Wiki or TWiki-specific):
  1. Wiki ease of use, near-zero learning curve for email-level input into a flexible, searchable, system - a diverse staff can start using instantly, "usable" solutions - ex: a task-specific "form" - can be created on the spot, refined later.
  2. TWiki security features, users, groups, ALLOW and DENY (obvious, but maybe still worth noting is that access control can be a major collaboration feature, in that, having it can be a prerequisite for Wiki approval AND for making individuals more comfortable using it, for a variety of personal reasons, from familiarity of having an account, to the standard confidentiality/security concerns.)
  3. TWiki for specific tasks, forms/meta data, attachments, all of those special features allow TWiki to do things regular Wikis can't.
  • The collaboration things that T/Wiki isn't replacing (though conceivably, but not necessarily usefully, could):
    • database for volume data, like catalogs, mailing and contact lists (though subsets of this stuff - ex: most active contacts - will be posted in TWiki, and richer additions to individual records - notes, etc - will be done and probably stay in TWiki)
    • internal-use email (though instant messaging may be a cool alternative, though how it's incorporated - is there a reason to, is open; appending email could also be good, but for remote logins, with no browser access);
    • group calendar

-- MikeMannix - 04 Dec 2001

  • extract stories from topics in Codev, Main
  • Peter's survey results?

Topic creation & editing guideline requirements

Much of the potential value of Wiki comes from "manual" activity - people have to make the effort to maintain things in a more hands-on, analog, editor-marking-up-copy way. Any type of knowledge/collab system takes the same work, but in Wiki, it just appears more hand-done, when most software goes for boxes and buttons and as much apparent "automation" as possible. So, is a really useful user's manual possible, one that will actually affect user habits, or is it really a case-by-case thing: How well Wiki works is entirely based on each group, and no collaboration guidelines will be universally effective?

Current problems

  • TWiki needs more templates and even sample usage set-ups. Though the exact target audience may make this a pretty broad target. Right now, the TWiki distribution includes webs for a virtual office/core directory (Main), a knowledgebase (Know), reference/help (TWiki), and TWiki training (Test). They're a start, but could go a lot further.
    • a general office productivity set-up would be useful, and probably not that complicated: mainly a matter of forms and inline searches? - without playing with words too much, I think business collaboration is pretty well defined by what people generally do with some combo of MS Office and Outlook, mostly, or similar products: WP, database, spreadsheet, presentation, email, Web browser...
    • a project collaboration web
    • a content/BBS set-up (suitable for collab use, public Web use,...)

-- MikeMannix - 09 Dec 2001

Proposed solutions with related topics

New features & modifications

  • The new (01-Dec-2001) FormattedSearch adds even more flexibility to the already frisky inline search, adding in the collaboration area to the ease of organizing and presenting info. -- MikeMannix - 09 Dec 2001
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Topic revision: r9 - 2004-10-01 - CrawfordCurrie
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