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DekiWiki...when a wiki becomes a 'thneed'

There are so many things that can be done with a wiki like DekiWiki's that it's hard to define what it is. It's a bit like a "thneed" from Dr. Seuss' The Lorax.

Just what is a wiki, anyway? A few years ago, I could have told you. Today, I'm not so sure.

Part of the problem is that wiki authors have made innovations, broadening the appeal and scope of wikis. Witness MindTouch's recent upgrade of its DekiWiki platform to 1.8.3.

DekiWiki, the leading enterprise wiki (measured in terms of downloads and, in my opinion, by raw innovation), still allows easy creation of Web pages by nontechnical users.

But the new release goes much further. DekiWiki eliminates the need to use a separate programming environment to add widgets, external services, or JavaScript libraries. In other words, it makes it easy for developers to connect a wiki to everything else. Yes, everything else:

According to MindTouch's release:

The extensive open source platform also offers seamless Dapper integration, providing the ability to create "dapps" that query the Internet as one giant database directly from within the wiki. This enables the ability to create new mashups that leverage Web services, widgets and applications to improve how people obtain and interact with data.

It sounds like a collaboration platform to me. But it's more than that. It's a way to pull together disparate pieces of information into one place...programatically. Consider the following scenario.

Let's say I wanted to gather competitive intelligence on my competitors. DekiWiki could very quickly create a page that would compare their download statistics with mine (assuming it were an open-source project), their mentions in the blogosphere with mine, their public financials with mine, and so on. I'd simply use Dapper to "scrape" the content from the Web into a page and then provide context about this data on the page or mash up the data real-time with Google Charts, maps, graphs, etc. Very easily done.

DekiWiki's integration with Amazon's S3 is also very cool, and can be configured in just a few clicks of the mouse. This is great for online communities, e.g., developer communities, because they can have code samples right next to executing code. With S3 they can also host files at Amazon rather than their own servers and save money on storage and bandwidth.

Very cool. Arguably, though, this is the wiki's biggest problem: there are so many things that can be done with a wiki like DekiWiki's that it's hard to define what it is. It's like Dr. Seuss' "thneed" from The Lorax ("a fine something that all people need"). People like categories. Wikis are hard to categorize.

Regardless, companies are using them. Companies like Federal Express reportedly have over 10,000 internal wikis running. Now imagine if they were running all of those instances on a single host, as DekiWiki allows...? Delicious.

Disclosure: I am an adviser to MindTouch. Now you see why.