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Structured Wiki


Executive Summary

  • Goal of a Structured Wiki:
    • Combine the benefits of an enterprise wiki and a database application
  • Wiki:
    • Organic content: The structure and text content of the site is open to editing and evolution
    • Open content: Readers can refactor incomplete or poorly organized content on the spot
    • Hyper-linked: Many links to related content due to WikiWord nature
    • Trust: Open for anyone to edit, "soft security" with audit trail
  • Database application:
    • Highly structured data
    • Easy reportings
    • Workflow (e.g. purchase requisition)
    • Access control
  • Benefits of a Structured Wiki:
    • Flexibility to add free form content to structured content (and vice versa)
    • Lends itself to build Wiki Applications (how-to)

Plain Wiki vs. Database System

Ward Cunningham invented wikis, a type of website that allows users to add, remove, or otherwise edit all content very quickly and easily. Wiki systems:
  1. support organic content: The structure and text content of the site is open to editing and evolution,
  2. have open content: Readers can refactor incomplete or poorly organized content at any time,
  3. are hyper-linked: Many links pointing to related content, and
  4. are built on trust: Open for anyone to edit, with "soft security" and audit trail.

The ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing and to share knowledge. Now, on to a completely different world. Database systems:

  1. contain highly structured data,
  2. offer easy reporting,
  3. support workflow, and
  4. are built on access control.

Power of Structured Wikis

A structured wiki combines the benefits of - as it seems like - contradicting worlds of wikis and databases. When you do that you get something very powerful: A collaborative database environment where knowledge can be shared freely, and where structure can be added as needed.

Not too much Structure

In a structured wiki, structure can be added as needed. The "as needed" part is important. First and foremost, employees are enabled to document processes and to share their daily workflow in the free-form wiki way. Secondly, employees can create structured wiki application with forms, queries and reports to automate their daily workflow.

Iterative Process

Status board in view mode and edit mode Knowledge workers follow a pattern when working in a structured wiki environment. People typically start with unstructured wiki content. For example, a call-center might have a simple wiki page with a status board listing who is on call at what time. This could be in the form of a bullet list or a table. The users discover patterns while maintaining the page: The status board has a fixed list of support engineers and a fixed list of time slots. A user or administrator can now build a simple application to automate the task of changing the status board. Discovering patterns and adding structure is typically done in iterations. The example on the right shows the final iteration of a status board. When you edit the table you get pick lists to select a time and person.

Features of a Structured Wiki

A combination of features make up a structured wiki. Features are used case by case, as needed.

Learn how to create a TWiki Application.

History on Structured Wikis

TWiki pioneered the structured wiki concept in 1998. Peter Thoeny was working for TakeFive as the director of customer support. The company had one relatively complex software product that integrated with other software. He was based in the US, the software factory was in Salzburg, Austria. The product had nice end user documentation, but internal documentation was almost non-existent. Customer support was quite challenging at times, especially because the developers have been 9 hours time difference away. His first priority was to deploy a knowledge base for customer support. He initially considered to get an off-the-shelf knowledge base software. Then he thought, what about a wiki? A wiki makes it very easy to collaboratively create and maintain knowledge base entries, but it lacked the structure to categorize, publish and control content. His engineering background kicked in, and he started to add features to a wiki so that it can be deployed as a knowledge base for customer support. The result was the T5-Wiki, which later became TWiki.

(Large parts taken from http://www.structuredwikis.com/peter_2006-06-01.html)

-- Contributors: PeterThoeny - 06 Jun 2006


I moved older discussions to the StructuredWikiDiscussionsArchive, and off-topic content to ConvertPdfFileToWikiFile.

-- PeterThoeny - 31 Oct 2007

I came across this article by Paul Prescod on the web. It is the best expose on why wikis work that I have seen. The article makes the point that wikis, contrary to other document/knowledge repositories, allow contributors to add to the knowledge in the immediate context that triggered the response.

I have found this to be the major advantage of using twiki over say:

  • documents stored in a directory tree. The first thought is captured. the followup thoughts are scattered everywhere, repeating part of the text.
  • use of sharepoint. Again, the first thought is appropriately captured. But what comes next is disjointed and not easily structured.

The convergence of structure and chaos, Paul Prescod.

-- BramVanOosterhout - 02 Apr 2008

Thanks Bram. A very good article, especially the focus on product development - that being my major focus.

A separate point - wouldn't it be good if we could have a place to put links to mutually interesting articles and then be able to discuss them? Has anyone tried to do something similar to this on Codev before?

-- MichaelCorbett - 02 Apr 2008

MichaelCorbett > wouldn't it be good if we could have a place to put links to mutually interesting articles and then be able to discuss them?

I like it, it sounds like Slashdot. A work-alike seems to be possible in TWiki:Plugins/DiscussionForumAddOn

-- SeanCMorgan - 21 Jul 2008

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Topic revision: r25 - 2014-04-25 - PeterThoeny
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