Archive for the ‘General’ Category

A Wagn in the Cloud


wagn-logoI’m always on the lookout for a better wiki platform.

Wikis have already had a huge impact, from pet projects to enterprise solutions to Wikipedia, the popular free online encyclopedia.

Wagn could open up even bigger ideas about what online communities can do.

“Wagn is one of the freshest contributions to wiki since I coined the term.”
– Ward Cunningham, who invented wikis 15 years ago.

Wagn’s lead developer, Lewis Hoffman, explains Wagn this way:

“Like Wikipedia, all wikis give you the power to create web pages without speaking HTML. Wagn adds the power to create structure without speaking database, and it increasingly lets you create functionality without speaking programming code.”

The trick is in the cards. Wagn helps you organize all your information into “cards” that can be linked, nested, and formatted to create new structures. “Kind of like online legos,” says Hoffman. A given web page might contain dozens of cards organized into a set structure.

“Wikipedia has loads of community norms and policies, and their pages often have some structure, too. Look at the sidebar of the Wikipedia page for, say, “Wyoming,” and you’ll see structured information common to all the states: a flag, a seal, some nicknames… But the difference is that all of this information has been organized by hand. Someone had to go and manually insert that structure by adding special code to every single state page. So maintaining the pattern can take hours and hours of cut and paste. That strategy might work for Wikipedia, with its millions of contributors, but most wikis have more like five or ten editors who would appreciate a little more power.”
Ethan McCutchen, Wagn co-creator.

On the intention behind the concept of cards, we can read somewhere else:

So we started with smaller units than web pages, and we decided to call them “cards.”

We’re all familiar with lots of kinds of cards: playing cards, postcards, business cards, library cards…  They’re all different sizes and hold different amounts of information, everything from a picture to a filing record to a complete story.  The same goes for cards on Wagn.

As we started organizing cards of information about companies and products, we quickly saw patterns emerging.  We wanted company cards, for example, to include logo cards, address cards, etc.  This has been one of the driving ideas behind Wagn: cards including other cards in patterned ways.

One innovation of Wagn that’s worth mentioning is what they call Plus cards:

Also known as connections or connection cards, plus cards are one of the core innovations of Wagn.

The basic idea is that any two cards can be plussed together to create a third.  So for example, I might have a card about Dell Computers called “Dell” and another about labor issues called “labor”.  If I connect these two cards together I get a third called “Dell+labor”.  I can then enter into that card anything about the intersection of Dell and labor – Dell’s labor record in general, specific events, direct feedback, etc. Any time you see a + in the name of a card, you know you’re dealing with a plus card.

And something else is worth mentioning too: Form cards.

Wagn lets you create forms (called “cards”), and to apply a form to many cards, so that when you have a set of cards that are about the same kind of thing, you can be sure they will all contain the same information, in the same layout.

An example of a form card is that which every user gets when he signs up on the service: his User card. Each user’s card is made up of the user’s image, the user’s story, the user’s wiki, and finally, the user’s tags. You’ll see some of these in the screenshot below. Also note my highlights, were I have tried the Plus card feature, and the Inclusions feature:



Note that my screenshots don’t show the whole layout of each page. There’s also comment boxes there and the whole site navigation cards.

Through the time I tested it, Wagn 1.0.0 worked well but showed many signs of immaturity: visual inconsistencies that needed me to refresh my web page to correct them (javascript issues), and a layout glitch when I tried the titled view style (which was otherwise very nice).

Wagn is available as a paid hosting plan, or as a free, GPL-licensed open source Ruby code project.

Were I to choose a wiki solution today, Wagn would be high in my list. That said, I believe the future Google Wave solution might eventually be used to kill quite a few wiki solutions out there. Meanwhile, here’s what the project leaders have to say about Wagn’s future:

Oh, it’s far from done — we’ve got literally hundreds of design ideas in our tracking system (which we built using Wagn).

Hat tip to Wagn 1.0+Press Release, The Story Behind Wagn 1.0, and the Documentation for most of the prose.

Hello, World!


world.jpgNow, now, let’s see, I’m trying out the blogging thing again.

After all, it’s been more than 7 years that I’m hooked to reading some great bloggers, and I rarely contributed my own thoughts.  I used to write three blogs from 2003 to 2005, each one with its own purposes.  One of them was called SoftwareCreation.  I might bring back some of its posts if I believe they still have some value today.

So what brings me back in the blogosphere today?   Steve Yegge nailed a good point and it looks like it’s all I was waiting for to show my nose here.  It’s funny how a rant that’s been written three years ago can still have an impact today.

I hope I’ll enjoy the ride this time more than the last one, and who knows, you might enjoy it too.