I’ve had a very serendipitous journey lately based on my podcast on TechWriterVoices and the work on the One Laptop Per Child project that I want to share. Through others listening to the podcast, hearing about OLPC, and contacting me via my blog, I learned about wikislices, and it just might be a method for DITA and wiki to play in the same sandbox.
This concept seems very apropos to the shift we’re seeing in technical publications away from books. What’s interesting is that there seems to be two directions you can go from books – wikis or DITA, crowdsourcing or singlesourcing. Some times it seems like choosing between wikis and DITA is like new school/kewl kidz versus old school/squares.
But what if there’s a way to have your wiki be the single source (also crowd sourced but with a strong guiding hand, let’s say), but to create cross-sections or wikislices of that content? This idea would essentially allow writers to write in the wiki and then either the writer or an architect would “slice” it.
There is a way to Wikislice Wikipedia already. Go to wikislice.webaroo.com and enter a subject. You can view this nice slideshow showing the basic features of a wikislice. You can even make offline wikislices available.
There are selected wikislices created already for the One Laptop Per Child project, such as the Great Wall of China, Space exploration, and the Brothers Grimm.
What’s interesting to note is that the Webaroo wikislice of “violin” is different from the one for the OLPC wikislice of “violin” and it appears that the OLPC one is more easily read by a student. Somehow the slices are customized, perhaps for the audience? I’d like to dig deeper into the guts of a wikislice. All I’ve found so far is that they’re built using regular expressions according to the Wikislices definition on the OLPC Wiki.
With the correct use of tagging in your wiki, I would imagine that you could slice the wiki based on audience, language, or content type, such as grouping tasks, reference, or concepts.
It seems like any wiki could be wikisliced, and if DITA maps are the method for the slicing, then you can get a table of contents and PDF output based on a cross-section of your wiki – a wikislice. This process is just a thought piece right now, but my hope is that working on the OLPC project helps perfect the wikislicing process so that it could be used for other end-user documentation projects.