Wikis get Organized.
"Wagn" adds organizing patterns to online collaboration.
An open-source application called Wagn is bringing new order to web collaboration by expanding the power of wikis, the popular collaboration tools that let you add, edit, and link information while browsing.
On June 10th, Wagn released its version 1.0. Its pattern-making power has already been hailed as "revolutionary", and "advancing the state of the art".
"Wikis are fantastic for creating encyclopedias, paper drafts, trivia sites, and other shared documents," says Wagn co-creator Ethan McCutchen, "but web communities can do so much more with the added power to organize patterns. Patterns are behind Facebook's profiles, eBay's product listings, and nearly every powerful website ever developed. There's no reason non-programmers shouldn't all be able to build patterned websites together. Why should geeks have all the fun?"
Forward thinking organizations are taking advantage of the simpler, faster, more affordable web development process Wagn makes possible. Wagn-based websites are being used for academic research paper tracking, commercial project management, conference organizing, issue-tracking, personal record-keeping, and more.
Why not use specialized software to do these things? "The key to knowledge management is integration," explains McCutchen, "so there's tremendous value in doing a lot of work with a single integrated tool: one login, one search bar, one home."
Ward Cunningham, who invented wikis 15 years ago, calls Wagn "one of the freshest contributions to wiki since I coined the term". 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's lead developer, Lewis Hoffman, explains that "Like Wikipedia, all wikis give you the power to create webpages 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 webpage might contain dozens of cards organized into a set structure.
Many of us think of "wiki structure" as an oxymoron, but McCutchen maintains that successful wikis are never as wild as they seem: "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."
Hosting and consulting for Wagn websites is available via wagn.org. Wagn is freely available under a GNU Public License, and is built on the ruby-on-rails platform.
About Grass Commons
Grass Commons is a 501(c)3 public education charity that helps build tools for a thrivable world. Its Wagn project, originally designed for researching company and product impacts, received initial funding as a knowledge management tool in 2006 from Meyer Memorial Trust, Oregon's largest private foundation. To learn more or contribute please visit www.grasscommons.org.
- A few Wagn screenshots
- The Story Behind Wagn 1.0 (blog post)
- Wagn 1.0 tracking page
- ReadWriteWeb on Wagn
- RailsInside on Wagn
- Hosting and Consulting
- Register for your own Wagn website