As previously mentioned here, I was in Boston last week at the Gilbane Content Management conference. The turn out for the conference was strong with more than 1,200 people in attendance. However, the timing for me was bad because Tara and Ashby both were sick and Ashby’s final X-ray for her hip dysplasia was on Thursday. I missed the last day of the conference in order to make it back for Ashby’s doctor appointment. The flight was about 30 minutes late; so, by the time I made it there Ashby and Tara had already gotten her X-rays, but we had to go back in for another couple shots because the first were obliqued. Good news is: everything looks great with my little tree frog. Her hips have a 30 degree alpha angles and the femoral ball is deep in the acetabular. Dr. Quanbeck, our orthopedist, gave us some recommendations on doctors in San Diego. I thought it was odd she actually knew, from memory, several doctors in San Diego. Perhaps not. Guess how many medical doctors there are in the United States. Guess…ok it’s only ~350,000. Seems like there should be a lot more with approximately 296 million people living in the US.
So, Gilbane. That was fun.
We won the crown of best wiki at the Wiki Idol contest. More on this in a moment. Also, I was on a panel with several executives and founders from other wiki companies. The panel was tasked with discussing wikis as they are today and where they’re heading tomorrow; at least, I think that’s what it was supposed to be about. Some of the panelists presented dense and lengthy Powerpoint slide decks that were more focused on their company. I had expected that Ross Mayfield was going to be there. He is one of the founders of Socialtext (competitor) that some allege is a pioneer in the use of wikis in enterprise/business. Some also allege his company is open source. I always find people who are self-proclaimed experts or pioneers on software, but don’t write code…well…amusing. Why is it that these same people always seem to be prolific bloggers? I guess this makes them an expert. Perhaps it makes them open source too. I should start blogging on nuclear physics, I use electricity from nuclear power plants–I’m an expert, nay a pioneer! Perhaps I could get a job at the energy department.
Anyhow, Ross didn’t show. Instead it was their VP of Professional Services (Matt I think) who presented. I squirmed as he cited his company as being ‘best of breed’ and ‘open source’. There are wiki companies out there that, in my experience (and opinion) give people a poor opinion of the technology because their product is just crude. On the topic of open source…well…you may recall what I wrote previously on this topic here. You may now understand who I was referring to when I stated: "Moreover, I personally find it offensive when companies slap open source contributors and companies in the face by claiming the title of open source while, in some cases, selling (distributing) for years while not releasing their source code or providing any transparency and then when they finally do release their source they create a non-OSI approved license." Perhaps by using open source components they are open source? A side of me regrets not calling drawing attention to the lack of accuracy on this fellow’s statements, but I was concerned that most in the audience would have no idea what I was talking about anyway; so, I let it lie.
I met some really great people from competing companies that were on the wiki panel with me, Cindy from Customer Vision, Jon from Atlassian (met again), Ani from eTouch and others. Cindy is just wonderful. Her company has been around longer (doing wikis in business/enterprise) than any other that I know of. I was disappointed that Mike from Atlassian wasn’t there. He is a riot. We first met at Office 2.0, man that guy has a great sense of humor. Jon, his sales or marketing dude, was there in his stead and he seems alright for being a sales/marketing/whatever dude. However, the other guy who presented with Jon during wiki-idol (explained below) seemed like a bit of a lackey though. I know he got very uncomfortable whenever I got around his pod on the exhibit floor (not Jon the lackey looking fellow) as if I was going to steal away his prospects or something. I wish I could remember his name–large balding fellow.
The highlight of the Gilbane conference was the Wiki Idol contest. It was setup such that each competing wiki company would be introduced by a fellow who would ask a couple questions about what the presenters’ names were, where they were from, etc. Then the demo would start and each company was allotted six minutes. At the end of the six minutes three judges essentially attacked the demo, presenting style, product, etc. Finally, the audience voted for their top two favorite wikis. I have no idea how many people voted of the 1,200 in attendance at the conference, but I can say the audience was overflowing into the main exhibition hall and people were jockeying for a view of the presentations. When the votes were tallied MindTouch’s Wiki won best wiki!!
I was surprised with how folks have devd their wiki applications. They’ve definitely taken a decidedly structured/complex CMS-like tack. In some other cases we saw again how some companies are attempting to replace desktop applications with web based ones, which–big surprise–blew up in their face when they demoed and lost connectivity. I’ve made my opinion clear on this tack previously. In general it was clear that these applications were intended to be replacements to other applications rather than embracing and extending existing applications in way that makes them significantly better.
We stood out during Wiki Idol and the executive panel for several reasons. The main reason is that I spoke (really for the first time at length publicly) about how I see wikis. Wikis are an aggregation and integration framework. They can, and should, be used to provide a simple and usable interface to more complex applications. In a way, this would make wikis a high level middleware that non-technical people can interact with directly that can then be used as glue for more technically complex applications and data stores. This solves the data silo problem for applications like ERP, CMS, KM, home-brewed Intranets, etc, SaaS applications like your CRM, web services, files servers, databases, email, AND proprietary file formats like: Visio, MS Project, whatever. In this world users will publish content (actively or passively) to the wiki, edit it, permute the data to suit whatever the needs are and extract it to whatever application is most suitable. I suppose this makes wikis a kind of application and knowledge XML based substrate. In order to achieve this the wiki has to, at the very least:
- Adhere to open standards
- Have a service oriented architecture
- Be open source
Yes, wikis are wonderful for creating and editing webpages, simple information sharing, etc, but they can, and will be, so much more. This seems obvious yet I’ve not heard anyone talk about this. For a taste of what I’m talking about, take a look at my presentation at DemoFall or glance at the fancy graphic I have embedded below. We’ve not yet seen the end of the beginning for this wiki thing.