Wringing opportunities from wikis

If you spotted something that you thought was at the stage now that the Internet was at in 1993, what would you do? If you were the entrepreneurial type, you would probably start a company to get in on the ground floor.
Two years ago Joe Kraus spotted something he thought was about where the Internet had been a decade earlier. Kraus is certainly the entrepreneurial type, and he ought to know what would look like the Internet in 1993, because in that year he co-founded Excite Inc.
Having left Excite in 2000, Kraus was in a good position to jump on what he saw as another emerging opportunity in 2003.
That opportunity was wikis.
A wiki is an editable Web page. While a typical Web page is created by one person, and nobody else can do anything but look at it, with wikis anyone can make changes.
One of the best-known examples of a wiki is the Wikipedia, an open-source encyclopedia on the Web. Anyone can contribute articles or edit the articles that are already there.
Wikis are interesting collaboration tools. Used by limited groups of people — such as everyone involved in a project — they become repositories of documents, comments and discussions.
Many businesses use wikis for this purpose, although if you ask top executives, they often won’t even know what a wiki is.
“Like all great disruptive technologies,” says Ross Mayfield, co-founder of SocialText Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., “they always enter into the enterprise from the bottom up.”
SocialText and Kraus’s JotSpot Inc. — also based in Palo Alto — were both founded to make wikis easier for business types to use.
When Kraus says that two years ago wikis were at the point the Internet was in 1993, he’s referring to things like the rudimentary editing tools in basic wikis, resembling those in early word processors. He says the way wikis worked until companies like his started prettying them up reminds him of the Internet in the days before Web browsers, when you searched for things using Gopher and retrieved them using FTP.
JotSpot set out to make wikis easier to use by providing tools such as an editor that shows how your page will look as you edit it, the ability to add content to a page just by e-mailing it, and wiki hosting on JotSpot’s servers so you don’t need to download software and set it up. SocialText does the same sort of thing. You could say both of them are about wikis for the rest of us.
Mayfield says e-mail isn’t good enough any more, because it doesn’t provide an easily referenced record of discussions and a single repository of data.
But there are collaboration tools on the market — Lotus Notes and all the others that came after it — why do we need something more? Well, says Mayfield, those tools are too structured, and users tend to end up just using them for e-mail or file sharing. Wikis are entirely unstructured: “Users just start communicating and then the structure starts to reveal itself.”
It’s hard to imagine wikis turning out to be as big as the Internet. But they do seem to be quietly infiltrating a lot of organizations. If Joe Kraus is right, 10 years from now they will be ubiquitous. Well, he backed the right horse in 1993 . . .

Would you recommend this article?


Thanks for taking the time to let us know what you think of this article!
We'd love to hear your opinion about this or any other story you read in our publication.

Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

Featured Download

Previous article
Next article

Related Tech News

Featured Tech Jobs


CDN in your inbox

CDN delivers a critical analysis of the competitive landscape detailing both the challenges and opportunities facing solution providers. CDN's email newsletter details the most important news and commentary from the channel.