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2005-05-03

Is That an Encyclopedia in Your Pocket, or...

Wikiwiki is Hawaiian for quick, or 'super-fast'. One public-spirited Portland programmer, Ward Cunningham, came up with the idea of a really simple system for hyperlinked documentation in '95 he called Wiki, and moved it shortly thereafter to HTML and web servers.

Well, it's grown like The Blob. Now, it's a well-accepted system for knocking documentation together quickly, for the ability for anyone to make updates in documentation is very, very useful. Even some advertising-supported websites use Wikis as their primary sources of information.

Some Wikis are locked, without the ability for everyone to update the information, but most are open. That openness and the resulting ease of creating and updating entries far outweighs the occasional crank who posts incorrect data. Most Wikis have volunteers who track changes, and remove them if incorrect later, and many Wikis are inside firewalled corporate networks, which guarantees no unruly outsiders have access.

IMHO, it's wise to use a public Wiki with the idea that it's not a primary source, but will provide information you can quickly verify as true. Other, similar work like the Open Directory Project have proven the merit of allowing the public to increase and catalog the corpus of knowledge, which otherwise would be virtually inaccessible by anyone but librarians and skilled researchers.

There are large public Wiki projects, like the
Wictionary, a dictionary with 68,055 English entries (and less in many other languages)
Wikipedia, an encyclopedia with over half a million English entries, and
Wikiquote, a compendium of thousands of quotations and proverbs.

Now, here's some PalmOS stuff. If you don't use or have interest in PDAs, move along, nothing to see here, move along.

PalmOS(TM) genius-level programmer and documenter David A. Desrosiers (no, not the other Dave Desrosiers, Simple Plan pop-rock musician from Montreal) is porting the Wictionary, Wikipedia and Wikiquote into versions which you can load into a Palm PDA.

His new project is converting these data sources into a format usable by the freeware PalmOS document viewer Plucker, for which he is owner and lead developer, and for which he has also created improved, easier-to-read fonts (relevant when you're dealing with a PDA screen). Plucker itself is petty darned neat, if you have oodles of documents you may need to have on hand yet don't want to actually have to, well, physically carry them. A good example is the 9/11 Commission Report, which he converted to Plucker format and made available for free download.

Desrosier's pretty public-spirited, too, so like Communique, he's going to be getting some bucks from me.

BTW, if you want Plucker to do more, Sunrise Desktop is freeware which automates scooping content from the Web, converting it and making it ready to load into your PDA at next sync time. Here's a discussion forum for support. It works, and it's the best way I know of to automate downloads for sites which AvantGo won't allow.

AvantGo was early with this idea, and their software generally works, with few sync failures. But I'm getting allergic to their ads, and they won't allow a web site to have very many subscribers before they lock off access and demand the website to pay for access to our PDAs. Humph.

Me, I believe we've got a constitutional amendment missing:
"Is not owning a comconsole the lowest standard of living you can imagine?" he said in wonder.
"It's the first article in the constitution. 'Access to information shall not be abridged.' " - Aral and Cordelia, Chapter Seven, BARRYAR
(Available for unencrypted, multi-format, e-book purchase.) It's a wonderful book, BTW. Go get it, wikiwiki.