There’s a new crop of business wikis. And some interesting discussion.

But what’s wrong with this picture?

SystemOne, an enterprise-knowledge-management system masquerading as an ordinary business wiki. What’s cool about this product is that it automatically creates, at the bottom of each page, a list of relevant other wiki pages, feeds, and Web search results. The autocreation of the links removes some of the need to manually create links to connect wiki pages together. This is a key feature if the wiki is to be used by a lot of people who aren’t hypertext-savvy.

Answer : Everything is wrong here.

Firstly, what’s the point of automatically making hyperlinks for people who aren’t web-savvy? Or rather, why are you trying to get people who don’t understand hypertext to use wiki? (In fact, in 2007, why are you even employing people who aren’t hypertext savvy? But that’s another story.) At the very least you should ask how exactly they are going to use wiki if they can’t understand what hypertext is, or have some intuition about how to use it?

Remember, this is wiki we’re talking about : all the hard graft of making links (like the trivially fiddly writing of “anglebracket a href”, and the genuinely tricky part about finding the right URL to point to) has been eliminated by the simple WikiWord or [[double square bracket]] conventions. What’s left is the only other difficult question : deciding what links to make.

SystemOne “solves” that part for you. But remember, the links are part of the valuable decision-making and information that goes into your wiki. Wiki links are not meant to mean that “this page is vaguely similar to that web-page”. If I want to know what pages are vaguely similar I can use Google. Wiki links mean “I, the author, want the reader to notice this kind of similarity between this page or this paragraph or this word, and that page because I think it’s significant.” Which is far more precise and subtle piece of information.

A wiki which automatically creates links is as useless as a word-processor which claims to write your letters for you.

The purpose of creating documents is not to kill trees or fill up as much disk space as possible. The purpose of creating documents is to capture the value added by human intelligence. Attempting to automate away that, in order to help consume more wood-pulp or fill the screen with more blue-underlines is counterproductive. Bad links devalue the good links. The reader of a page is overwhelmed and confused.

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  1. Hi Phil,

    this is Bruno of System One. Well, while i do fully agree with your love for hypertext, a simple look at our website would have shown that we don’t insert links automatically but augment the process at a strictly separated section on the bottom of the page. Links in the text are of course done by hand, for exact the reasons you mention.

    What the system would have done is point to things like this or that, and thus optionally allowing you to see that your post is based on a false perception of System One.

    Beside that: Please keep writing about hypertext being the most important wiki concept, not an edit button or even autolinks.

  2. Addition: Of course the edit button is crucial, but there are a few systems out there labeled as wikis because of that which don’t have any linking capability at all.

  3. Hi Bruno,

    thanks for pushing back 🙂

    Agree, that it looks like System One’s automatic search for similar items is something quite different.

    I wasn’t really trying to get at you guys. My rant was reacting far more to the spirit of the piece I quoted – which made it sound like autolinks were a way of avoiding all the effort of manually adding links to the wiki.

    Thanks for the links, I think you guys are into some nice stuff – although you may notice that I’m also pretty grouchy about the concepts of wikilogs and the semantic web, too 😉

  4. Phil,

    David the MS is now back to learn more about what happened to SdiDesk developments in past twelve months or so. My yahoo email is dl_australia and sorry I never got the hang of using the Tribe account you helped me to create, maybe I learn to use FaceBook instead 🙂

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