Earlier this month, an exciting thing happened: a book was published to a Wiki. To my knowledge, it is one of the first technical computing books to be published to a freely editable WikiWiki on the World Wide Web. Kudos to the individuals who had the audacity, imagination, and wherewithal to instantiate this radical idea. History looks fondly on the restless innovators.
For the last year, I’ve been selling my soul to evangelize a related idea that I call DocWiki. A DocWiki is a documentation repository and collaborative authoring environment that Microsoft (or any other company, group, or individual for that matter) might someday use to publish customer-editable documentation for our many products online.
Microsoft writes it. You read it. You improve it if you want. Imagine that.
In the corporate context, an anything-goes DocWiki like Keith Brown’s book is a pipe dream. If you think it might happen, I have two words for you: shockporn and hell-no. That said, it is possible to preclude legal, competitive, social (ie, WikiWars), and brand-eroding issues by establishing a semi-permeable authorization system that harnesses the good intentions of the majority, the need for accurate information, and the near-universal human need to connect to other humans to minimize the effects of disruptive and destructive behavior. Believe me when I say that this is *not* a radical idea. When was the last time somebody keyed your car or spray painted graffiti on the front door of your house? It’s been awhile, huh? Why should a WikiWorld differ from the RealWorld? It mustn’t. In a DocWiki, editorial authorization should and would have to be granted preemptively and revoked selectively to maintain an even keel. Even in the absence of active moderation by Microsoft employees or our peacemakerbots, I believe that a well-conceived system would make it possible to implement a sustainable DocWiki. My proposal addresses more issues than I can shake a stick at in this post. Like any radical design though, it only takes one little gust, too much sail area, and a microscopic epoxy failure to break a great racing sloop in half and dash the hopes of its crew on the unforgiving rocks of despair and desolation. But hey! That’s all the more reason to laud and applaud the innovative and hard working folks (like Craig Andera) who ported Keith Brown’s book from Microsoft Word to the PluralSight FlexWiki. Also, congratulations to David Ornstein for the ongoing success of FlexWiki. Here’s hoping y’all keep an accurate (and public) log of your journey through unchartered waters.