I hope Google Sites will help people “get” wikis

BusinessWeek’s Rob Hof is reporting that Google is launching a new “app” tonight called Google Sites. As I write this, it is not yet live, however, according to Rob, it uses the “Jotspot” wiki platform Google acquired in late 2006. Previously, it has been reported that Google Sites will replace another Google App called Google Page Creator which is currently be used by a grand total of 23 people — all employees of Google. (But don’t quote me on that.)

There are already several great free, easy-to-use, wiki-apps available, but I still find that most people I know in the real world (i.e., people who don’t read this blog), have no idea what a “wiki” is beyond the website Wikipedia. (Wikipedia is an encyclopedia that uses a wiki platform and approaches. But thinking that all wikis are encyclopedias is a bit like thinking all books are encyclopedias.)

Maybe repositioning Jotspot as “Google Sites” will help people get over their aversion, fear or misunderstanding of what wikis can be.

I’ve been “hosting” the wiki SmallBusiness.com for almost two years and my appreciation of the read/write approach, the communities they foster and the versatility of the platform grows continuously.

About six months ago, I finally realized (in a duh moment) how much working on a wiki reminded me of using Hypercard, the Mac program from 1980s that was my first hands-on involvement with “hypermedia.” The little program — and it was little — used the metaphor of a stack of blank cards on which you could write anything and connect words (link) them to text on other cards: hypertext. It was a very simple concept to understand and, more importantly, the only programming necessary was the ability to type and link. I credit using it as a way to organize notes on my Mac with why I found it so easy to grasp immediately what the web was about.

It didn’t surprise me later when I ran across some interviews in which the creator of the wiki concept, Ward Cunningham, said he conceived of it first as a web equivalent of Hypercard.

It will be interesting to see if Google can help a more general audience grasp what they can do when they break away from thinking a wiki is “Wikipedia” and realize it’s just an endless stack of blank pages that you can use to organize a bake sale — or create your own company’s encyclopedia. Or anything in-between.

Later: Allen Stern (CenterNeworks) says he “hopes people never get caught up on lingo – as long as it does what they need it to, who cares what it’s called.” While I agree that it’s more important for people to use it than know what it’s called, I think a tech platform can go mainstream quicker if those who provide alternative services that do the same thing can at least all agree what to call the platform category. I can remember when companies were launching blogging platforms right- and left, but calling them things like “spaces” and “web journals.” We have a category name for e-mail. We have a category name for spread-sheets. (I could go on, but you get my drift.) Why shouldn’t the same be true for the category of wiki creation applications.

Thursday morning: Google luanched sites overnight with this explanatory video. Allen will be happy. The word “wiki” is never mentioned:

  • http://www.centernetworks.com/google-sites-launches Allen Stern

    Rex, my take is simple – I don’t want the general public to know what we call things in the biz – just that they use the tools effectively.
    http://www.centernetworks.com/google-sites-launches

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  • http://www.pbwiki.com Chris Yeh

    Rex, I too noticed that Google deliberately avoided using the term “wiki”. Only time will tell if this is a good move or not.

    I happen to believe that it’s silly to try to rebrand yourself with a generic term like “sites,” but considering I work for a company called PBwiki, I’m not exactly objective!

    We’ve gotten millions of people to use PBwiki. Our users have created almost 450,000 wikis and counting, more pages than the Wikipedia, and we have thousands of paying customers, so I think that there can’t be that much wrong with using the term “wiki”!

    As a side note, Google Trends itself shows that the term wiki is now searched for more often than the term “blog”!

  • Rex Hammock

    Thanks, Chris. I love PBwiki.