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Structured Wiki: Enterprise Wiki & Application Platform = Flexibility & Power

2014-11-01 - 07:47:47 by PeterThoeny in Deployment
TWiki is unique in the enterprise wiki space because it is also an application platform. Sharing content among team members in a wiki has many advantages, and brings transparency and accountability to the workplace. When you go a step further and use TWiki as a structured wiki you bring a whole new dimension to wiki collaboration: You can now automate your workflow with custom tailored wiki applications, which makes your whole organization more effective. You may ask why and how?

Structured elements in edit mode

Unstructured wiki page in edit mode
If we look at "just" traditional wiki collaboration you get:

  • support for organic content - the structure and text content of the site is open to editing and evolution,
  • open content - readers can refactor incomplete or poorly organized content at any time,
  • hyper-linked content - many links pointing to related content, and
  • an environment built on trust - open for anyone to edit, with "soft security" and audit trail - the users takes care of security

The ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative writing and sharing knowledge.

Now if we look at a traditional database application you get:

  • highly structured content,
  • easy reporting,
  • support for workflows, and
  • an environment built on access control - the system takes care of security.

Work gets done in a traditional database application, but you do not have the flexibility and organic nature of a wiki. TWiki as a structured wiki allows you to combine the two seemingly opposite worlds of wikis and database applications. A structured wiki brings flexibility to add free form content to structured content. It also allows you to add structure to unstructured content on an as needed basis. In other words, you are not constraint to rows and columns like in a traditional database application, and you are not limited to unstructured and organically growing wiki content. This combination is powerful and flexible at the same time.

Let's look at an existing TWiki application to make this more concrete. TWiki's user profile pages have structured and unstructured elements:

  • Structured elements: Form fields Organization, URL, City, Country, etc. - when you edit the info box you change the structured content.
    • Purpose: Key value pairs can be queried.
  • Unstructured content: Wiki page content on the profile page - when you edit the whole page you edit the wiki content with the WYSIWYG editor.
    • Purpose: Add any content you like, including pictures and embedded videos.

The screenshots on the right show HideyoImazu-san's profile page on TWiki.org. The first one shows form fields in edit mode (structured elements), the second one shows the wiki page in edit mode (unstructured content).

Because we have structured content we can do reports, such as "show me all users in Tokyo".

What kind of applications can you create? This is up to your needs. Some examples:

  • Need to automate status reporting for your teams? Write a status reporting application with roll-up.
  • Need to keep track of your consulting hours for billing? Write an time tracker application.
  • Need to organize your server infrastructure? Write a data center inventory application.
  • Need to organize events of your social club? Write an event tracker application.
  • Need to manage expense reports in your organization? Write an expense report application.
  • Need to keep track of sales opportunities? Build a sales pipeline tracker application.
  • Need a shared contact list? Copy and customize the contact database described further below in this blog.

How do you create a TWiki application? It all happens in TWiki pages. A TWiki application is created using the TML (TWiki Markup Language). For example, a report can be created by embedding a %SEARCH{}% variable with some parameters. An application is typically composed of several TWiki pages, such as application home page, create new record page, template page, report page, etc. Intrigued? Learn how to create a TWiki application and start hacking!

Need to import content from a database application into a TWiki application to take advantage of the structured/unstructured TWiki way? Export the database as a CSV (Comma-Separated Values) file, and convert that into TWikiForms-based topics using the newly created CSV to TWiki Add-on.

For inspiration, here is an example knowledge base application where articles are arranged in a hierarchy that can be searched:

Knowledge base dashboard: (screenshot)

Knowledge base search: (screenshot)

Knowledge base article: (simulated, click on tabs)

Knowledge Base » Bicycle overview

Knowledge Base Card

Summary: General overview of bicycles
Status: Article
Categories: B

Edit Card




A bicycle, often called a bike or cycle, is a human-powered, pedal-driven, single-track vehicle, having two wheels attached to a frame, one behind the other. A bicycle rider is called a cyclist, or bicyclist.

A knowledge base is a relatively simple application.

Some fairly sophisticated apps have been created as well. Here is one used by power utilities. They have complex technical problems that are difficult to diagnose and solve. Someone with a lot of experience creates a decision tree, which guides technicians to find the source of an issue. The decision tree is traversed by proving or disproving a hypothesis. Sometimes it is not a simple yes/no question, in which case a Analysis of Competing Hypotheses (ACH) table is used. The table lists hypotheses across, and evidences from top to bottom. An algorithms will suggest which of the hypothesis most likely applies. The ACH model was developed by PARC (Palo Alto Research Center); an intro video gives a good overview.

See some additional TWiki screenshots to learn how TWiki is used as a wiki and as an application platform.

Let us know what kind of applications you have created or would like to create.

-- Peter Thoeny - Founder TWiki.org




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Topic revision: r3 - 2014-11-03 - PeterThoeny

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