Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Going walkabout

One of the persistent noises at Wikimedia mailing lists are those made by those who see a conspiracy everywhere. Who always assume things that there is more to the story. One target that is increasingly considered evil is Google, even though one of Google's aims is not to be evil. And given their size, it is assumed that everything is targeted to bring about world domination.

The one “attempt at world domination” that I personally hope will succeed is Wave. I love it because it brings so many aspects together of applications that are on their own incomplete and/or dysfunctional like e-mail, forums, chat and wikis. For me, Wave provides a platform, a protocol that is intended to be extended. It allows you to add to it and make it better like we are doing with the MediaWiki Wave interface. This is possible because people are invited to add to the Wave protocol as long as they implement the functionality described on the public reference implementation as well. All the resulting software will be available under a free license and consequently even the FSF is interested in how Wave evolves.

World domination requires an evil genius but the genius behind Wave are Lars and Jens Rasmussen. They had enough of being the big guys behind Google Maps and decided to do something new. Their thing was to do technical things and not grow pointy hair. They called their project Walkabout... Walkabout is this Australian thing where you remove yourself from civilisation to experience the world to come back and tell about it.

They certainly told the world about it. They renamed Walkabout Wave and they mixed and merged many of the paradigms of computer communication; e-mail, chat and used that as a starting point because they also brought Wiki and collaborative editing in the mix.

Wave is heady stuff. I find I am still grappling with its potential because while on the one hand it provides a much richer experience then e-mail or chat, the interface on the other hand suggests that it is still centred on small groups of people sharing the environment. In most environments, business or personal that makes sense.

We are however integrating Wave with MediaWiki. Wikipedia articles can have hundreds of contributors and they do not really know each other. In a wiki all articles are mine to edit, the authorisation is not based on me as an individual but on me as part of a group. What we already demonstrate in our project are the immense benefits Wave provides. As we progress it becomes clear that the inclusion of a Wiki in an environment that started of with the merger of the electronic equivalents of a letter and a telephone conversation is similar to throwing a newspaper into the mix.

We have to get this right because how else are we going to conquer the world

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