Near-Time: An integrated approach for blogs and Wikis

I first noticed Near-Time because Dion Hinchliffe included it in the list of most promising Web 2.0 software of 2006 .

Next month, I am speaking at Tech 2006 conference organised by the Council for Entrepreneurial Development in Raleigh . Since Near-Time CEO Reid Conrad is the Chairman of the Board of the CED, it was a good opportunity to speak to Reid about next generation collaboration systems, blogging and Wikis.

Specifically, I discussed the Near-Time service in context of a knowledge management problem we encountered when a community I run (forumoxford) grew rapidly over the last year.

Near-Time is an interesting service because it fulfils a collaboration need which is only now emerging; as we will discuss below. Once again, like my posting about movietally , there is no mobile component to Near-Time (yet) as far as I can see. However, I still think this analysis would be useful for the readers of the OpenGardens blog because it solves a problem which many bloggers/ web 2.0 sites/companies are likely to encounter soon.

With respect to mobile applications, the caveat is: this post talks of a service where content and context (categories and tags) along with related files travel together across all applications. In this case, we discuss Wikis and blogs. But there is no reason why the same architecture should not extend to any other application or device. Hence, that could well provide a mobile/device angle in view of interoperability of content. I seek views and thoughts about these features

Collaboration is a big theme on the Web (and especially with Web 2.0). Broadly, there are two ways to collaborate on the Web: i.e. Weblogs and Wikis. They work in fundamentally different ways. Blogs (Weblogs) facilitate chronological (time based) organisation /collaboration of ideas and links. Wikis, on the other hand, pertain to a ‘shared workspace’ collaboration.

On first impressions, these two mechanisms (blogs and Wikis) don’t have much in common. They co-exist without much overlap.

However, like me, if you have been involved with both blogging and communities, then a new need emerges. I can explain this more in terms of forumoxford – Oxford University’s next generation mobile applications panel which I chair.

One of the popular threads on that forum which I started was: ‘Mobile TV is like sex in the open air ‘ ..( jolly exciting idea – but not always practical’) (The strap line was originally by Dick Emery – chief executive of UKTV as reported in the Financial times – London Dec 30 2005).

Obviously the title caught a lot of attention (sex sells!).

While it was a popular thread, there were other threads on the theme of Mobile TV. As forumoxford grows (forumoxford hit 1000 members in one year), it became necessary to see all threads on a specific topic (in this case Mobile TV).

Note that this is more than searching for a keyword in a thread.

What we need is the ability to include all such threads linked in from a single page (Wiki) (or a bird’s eye view of related threads). This would enable the group to see at a glance what has been discussed and then update information on the Wiki. Further, the links on the Wiki could be either from within our own forum (our blogs) but also from external sites (thereby keeping the information fresh and relevant). Linking to posts within Near-Time includes their content and context and attached files. Linking to external blog posts is just a link to the post’s URL.

Almost any substantial blog, company or community would face this problem as it tries to capture knowledge from discussions(as we face as discussed above). It’s the ability to integrate blogs and Wikis from the start which would make a big difference here (the operative word being from the start – as opposed to retrospectively).

The same concept extends to sharing information out from the system.

A feature like ‘saved search’ enables the creation of an RSS feed which would comprise changes to Wikis as well as blogs (and of course new Wikis and blogs).

Thus, in an open standards, next generation, collaborative world like Near-Time, it does not matter where the information resides. The key advantage is that: content and context (categories and tags) along with related files travel together across all applications (in this case Wikis and blogs but that could extend further to any application). The result is fluid content and application (and device) interoperability.

I can relate to this from my personal experience running forumoxford. Keen to see other view points on next generation collaboration/problems faced in existing collaboration mechanisms etc.

Some screen shots follow: Note the tabs which indicate a common and interrelated interface for blogs, wikis, calendar and files(all of which may be tagged/categorised through a common set of tags/categories)