Dwins’s Weblog


That is one semantic wiki!

Posted in Cool Stuff,Open Source Software by dwins on August 3, 2008

I talked a while back about this talk program I’ve been working on at TOPP (program as in scheduled events, not program as in software.)  So far I’ve been managing it using an OpenPlans project to organize things (one talk == one wiki page, plus a main page that lists all the talks ever given, grouped by whether they’ve been given yet or not (upcoming talks first, click the link above to see what I’m talking about).  So when someone wants to give a talk, there’s a pretty straightforward process:

  1. The speaker tells me (s)he wants to give a talk.
  2. I say “Great, put a page on the wiki so I don’t forget you told me that.”
  3. The speaker puts a page on the wiki.
  4. Later I talk to some other people who run things at TOPP and find a good time for a talk, so I go back and rearrange the main page on the wiki.
  5. A couple of days before the talk, I send an email to the office saying there’s going to be one.  (The actual timing varies as I am kind of forgetful, and sometimes I spend too much time trying to badger people into giving me a summary to include in the email.)

This left me thinking ‘man, I wish the wiki knew more about the data we’re keeping there so it could automate some of this stuff.’  So when I saw Semantic Mediawiki I was pretty excited, since basically all it is is a tool for making a wiki more aware of what’s in it.  Today I finally got around to installing it and went from a basic LAMP setup to talk management application (with HTML, RSS, and iCal versions of the upcoming talks schedule) in about 2 hours.  It’s pretty cool (by which I mean really awesome in potential, but relies a bit on having lots of people following some not amazingly well-advertised rules.  Semantic Forms looks like it will help, but I haven’t played with that yet.)  As long as all talks have their own page with a [[scheduled for::some date]] tag on it someplace, they get pulled in automagically to the various feeds.  I was even able to embed a nice autogenerated table of upcoming talks in the wiki main page with a search like

{{#ask: [[scheduled for::>now]] | ?speaker | ?audience | ?scheduled for}}

where the stuff in brackets is the query and everything that starts with a ? is some attribute I’d like to include in the table.  Pretty sweet right?  Aside from smart page listings in wiki pages, SMW allows browsing by the different attributes you add.  So in the table when it says ‘audience: Non-techies’ I can follow the link to a page about non-techies, which links to a listing of all pages that are tagged as having that audience in mind, which seems to me like it’s way better than hand-maintaining ‘interesting’ lists of pages.

Anyway, it looks like there’s a lot of potential here, but a little bit of polish should go into it before it’s ready to replace the current ‘David polices the wiki’ approach.

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One Response to 'That is one semantic wiki!'

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  1. Mel said,

    Ooh, SMW. It’s pretty great stuff – I’ve been trying to get it installed on the OLPC wiki for over a year, and they finally did it this summer and are beginning to implement the semantic awesomeness + forms of goodness. Slow process, very experimental, plenty of stumbles, but conducive to occasional tiny flashes of happiness like the deployment page, which up ’till recently was an unmaintained swamp of blauuughpfffkt. Looking forward to seeing how your experiments go – Mediawiki’s a gigantic behemoth of a thing, but fairly ridiculously powerful.


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