Wikis have not yet hit critical mass, but they will by 2006 Q3 when I predict Yahoo! will unveil a well-integrated wiki feature called “Y! Whiteboards.”
So what’s a wiki?!
First, those in the un-know may be wondering what the heck a wiki is. Yeah, yeah, it sounds just as goofy as “blog,” but it’s worth getting to know.
A wiki is basically an application on the Web that lets practically anyone edit or even create pages and easily link them together. Think of it as an extendable set of whiteboards, with all interested folks having handy virtual dry-erase markers and erasers. It’s a fabulous albeit admittedly not flawless solution enabling groups of people to collaborate on a particular topic or defined scope of topics.
Okay, gimme an example!
One of the grandest wikis of them all is Wikipedia, a massive free encyclopedia. Although not without controversies and challenges of its own, Wikipedia has inarguably grown up to be a valuable and impressive resource. And of course, it does have an entry on Wikis 🙂
Or take my new humble wiki, “Lindy Hop Whiteboard Supreme.” A distinguishing factor of the (hosted) software I’m using is that folks using Firefox and IE can use rich-text controls to edit pages. Even so, though, I’ve found contributions to be few and far between so far. 😐 [Want to try it out? Play in the playpen :-D]
So what does all of this have to do with Y!, and what on earth is a Yahoo! Whiteboard?
I’m glad you asked, but first, this C.M.A. disclaimer:
Before I spill all (my wild conjectures), let me clearly state up front that I have no insider Y! knowledge. I don’t work there, I know few folks who do, and they don’t tell me anything Y!ish anyway. So all of this is pure guesswork / passionate hoping :-D.
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There are two things that have been holding back mass understanding and adoption of wikis, IMHO:
Name a popular site appealing to non-geeks (e.g., ESPN, Disney, Google) that features wikis. Can’t do it, eh? And go ahead, ask your neighbor if they like playing with wikis. You’ll likely either get a blank stare or a slap.
2) USABILITY ISSUES
Translation from geek-speak: Wikis are generally painful to actually use. With most wikis, you have to learn “wiki markup” before you can author any nicely structured documents. Sure, many geeks’ll argue that making something bold is really simple, yadda yadda… but ask those same geeks to create a multi-level bulleted list or drag-and-drop in some photos, and they’ll excuse themselves with a “Wikis are just fine in plain text anyway!” They’re lying. It’s like the Web circa 1995; sometimes fun to look at, but contributing content is like getting a root canal. Without anaesthesia or a spell-checker.
Additionally, many wikis require you to register before you can contribute. People tend to be sick of giving out their e-mail address to yet another site and remembering yet another password.
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Yahoo! can change all of that, and I think they will. Here’s why:
1) Y! has experience with rich-text controls and increasingly is getting good at mass-consumer usability niceties.
Their new mail Web client is apparently fabulous, and based upon my experience with its predecessor (Oddpost), I believe it. Drag and drop deliciousness. Painless formatting. All good stuff for a wiki. Geeks will undoubtedly be able to optionally author pages in HTML; the rest of us can icon-click and shortcut-key our way to content-contribution bliss.
2) Wikis are sticky
Wikis tend to revolve around a specific topic, appeal to a specific demographic, and often illicit strong loyalty within group members. What does this mean? Well, for advertisers and, by extension, Y!’s beancounters, it’s a cash cow that members milk themselves. 🙂
3) Y! gets integration… and oh, is there integration potential!
Despite some glaring and frustrating resource allocation issues re: Y! Groups and related problems, I do think Y! has some good integration smarts. And imagine the coolness of a wiki, er, whiteboard (friendlier name) attached to each Y! Group, floated next to a Y! chat room, integrated into each Y!360 circle, included as part of one’s new Y! Mail account for access-anywhere notes, and more. Or, hmm… how about Flickr group integration? That could be fun!
4) Y!’s large userbase will help facilitate attribution and accountability options.
Want to start or edit a Y! whiteboard? If you already have a Y! ID, you’ll be good to go. And if not, well, that’s quite an incentive to get one, eh? I envision that Y! whiteboards will include a strong and flexible permissioning structure, including read, edit, create, and delete permissions based upon:
– Y! ID (only these 8 Y! buddies can edit, but all can read…)
– Y! group membership (only members of Foo group can read, and only Foo administrators can edit)
– 360 affiliation (1st degree friend, 2nd degree, colleagues, best friends…)
– Y! mail (only I can edit, anyone in my Y! address book can read)
Plus the anti-spam possibilities are intriguing:
– Reverse all edits by ID
– Reverse all edits except for those from Foo group administrators
…and so on.
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With the acquisition of Flickr, I’m optimistic that Y! is seeing the
‘Online Community’ light, and I am hoping for great things to come from the big Y!.
But why not Google? Or Amazon, Microsoft, AOL…
I don’t think Google quite gets integration yet. And Google IDs aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as Yahoo! IDs. Lastly, I’ve been quite disappointed with Google Groups. In a nutshell (and to my surprise and disappointment), I just don’t think Google understands online communities or knows what to do with them. While the company’s community communications are steadily improving, it still seems to focus on and be good at tools that empower individuals, not groups.
Amazon? That company isn’t brave enough to embrace open community communications yet. I heard rumblings about an Amazon Social Network a while back, but… well, I’ll believe it when I see it. Book reviews are pre-screened, Amazon.com badly botched its acquisition of PlanetAll (though admittedly that was 7+ years ago), and I just don’t perceive Online Communities and collaborative sharing in Amazon.com’s DNA at this time.
Microsoft? Too much of a control freak. While they’ve been doing wikis as part of their developer section (Channel9), and quite admirably in many ways, I just don’t see them releasing such power to the general public. And if they did, it’d only work in IE… alienating about 50% of those folks who’d want to contribute to wikis in the first place. Robert Scoble, I encourage you to prove me wrong. 🙂 (I love that guy AND I love baiting him :-P)
AOL? They’re a close partner of a company I’m doing consulting for, so I’m going to plead the fifth.
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Any possible wiki-introducers that I’ve missed?
And do you think I’m on the mark, or will wikis be forever outside the mainstream… a pie-in-the-sky idea embraced primarily by geeks with too much time on their hands?