Friday, June 03, 2005

Rational Technology: Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts

Some weeks back, I wrote about the blogging phenomenon. To recap, a blog is an online journal where you can share your thoughts about a particular subject. For many, a blog takes the form of a diary; for a growing number, it is also becoming a tool for promotion, whether for a business or a cause.

Blogs are essentially time-stamped entries, presented in reverse chronological order, with the latest information coming out first. The entries themselves can take any form. We can usually think of them as essays, but they can also be poetry, comics, or photographs.

Blogs are easy to publish because many of the tools are available for free. Arguably the most popular blogging engine is Blogger, and you can sign up for your site in a matter of minutes at Blogs can be maintained by a single person, or a group of people.

For some purposes, though, the chronological bent of blogs can be a bit limiting. Time is only one of the ways in which we organize information, and sometimes it's not the most efficient.

Another method of instant publishing, one that's only starting to get popular, is the wiki.

Wikis organize information per topic, and each topic can itself point to additional related topics, much as would be done on a traditional web site. The difference of a wiki from a traditional web site is its easy publishing mechanism and collaborative nature.

Unlike a regular web site which would have to be handcoded in cryptic HTML or written using special web editors, pages in wikis can be written in plain text, almost as if one were writing an email on Yahoo or Hotmail. The wiki software takes care of the formatting. There's some bit of special tagging that may be required, but at most only five are essential.

Since the wiki software takes care of all the connecting pages, there's no such thing as a broken link. As-yet unwritten topics are simply highlighted with a question mark to remind the author to fill it in.

Wikis are also collaborative in nature. Several people can post information and modify pages created by their colleagues. It's a somewhat chaotic method of publishing, but it's chaos with a purpose, and it actually works.

The best-known example of a wiki is the Wikipedia, the Internet's largest encyclopedia. It's a radical concept, but the Wikipedia allows anyone and everyone to edit the information on its pages. So far, it has 1.5 million entries in 76 languages. Is it reliable? To a certain extent, it is.

The June 6, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine devotes an entire article to the subject of wikis and the Wikipedia.

On the downside, hosting services for wikis are not yet as popular in the mainstream as their blogging counterparts. People who want to set up personal wikis will have to resort to some paid hosting services (which, at the going rate of USD5 to USD10 per month, aren't that expensive.) Either that, or create entries in the Wikipedia.

Not satisfied with online publishing? How about online broadcasting instead? Another growing trend is podcasting. Podcasting takes its name from the Apple iPod, the portable music player. With the prevalence of MP3-capable devices, it's possible now for people to record their speeches, dialogues, or performances in MP3 format. Interested listeners can download these recordings into their portable devices.

These and other tools are at hand. They're either free or inexpensive. They're not complicated to use. So there's no reason not to get published.

Now, go: write about what's good about our city!

Announcement: TVB Group, in cooperation with Foundation University, is holding a wiki/blogging workshop at Foundation University on June 10, 2005 from 2 PM to 5 PM. Participants will have hands-on access to blog and wiki tools. Only five seats are still available, so please email me at if you want to attend. Subsequent workshops will have a fee of P300.

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