Encouraging Semantic Mediawiki use with non technical people

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Prepared for http://semantic-mediawiki.org/wiki/Spring_2010_SMWCon

Who is a non-technical person

  • Their focus is not technology, but they can contribute
  • Never learned programming concepts
  • Didn't realize Wikipedia can be edited
  • Maybe used a web content management system, blog, Facebook
  • Busy with their own concerns

Why non technical people

  • Under-served and under-represented
  • Helps understand many issues of usability
  • Create a more comprehensive Web with more voices, organized semantically
  • They are the domain experts in their field.

Types and motivations of participants

  • Traditional executive — "everyone else is doing it," inexpensive solution
    • Ideally they will participate but getting them to can be difficult
    • May be more cautious about full commitment - license, security, who can access and edit
  • Creative group or individual — may be inspired but needs constant guidance
  • Worker bee — tasked to use the wiki
    • May be less receptive to wiki ideals, make it straightforward
  • Outside contributors - often a stated goal of projects, have their own objectives
    • Flexible to meet random demands
    • Fair re-use terms


What do they want

  1. To solve their problem, often a "one of those" web site with some special requirements
  2. Something that looks good - design is still paramountResults indicate that first impressions are most influenced by the visual appeal of the site. Users gave high usability and interest ratings to sites with high appeal and low usability and interest ratings to sites with low appeal. User perceptions of a low appeal website were not significantly influenced by the site’s usability even after a successful experience with the site.http://www.surl.org/usabilitynews/112/aesthetic.asp
  3. To learn about the participatory web
  4. To have more control over their own site but keep things simple
    1. Usually they don't want to 'innovate,' just do what everyone else is doing
  5. To work with someone they trust
  6. Don't really seem concerned about "silo" and re-use aspects

Typical tasks


  • Put narratives and media on graphs (time, place)
  • Event management
  • Link narratives by theme
  • Better organization of content, avoid tangly mess
  • Qualitative, develop databases — demographics, statistics
  • Easy sharing of information
  • Message through wiki, terms of use to other organizations

What do I want

...the student population is about evenly divided between technologists who care about aesthetics and artists who aren't afraid of machines, which makes it a pretty good place to see the future. — Shirky

  1. Avoid per client custom code, fit things into the developing picture
  2. Promote digital literacy ­— filling out forms isn't it, stop treating computers as a typewriter
    1. Reference-able statements, reusable data under fair terms of re-use
    2. Help organize masses of data
  3. Get people to consider issues of site design and how to organize information without overburdening
  4. Promote transparency and co-development
    1. Help flatten organizations and their external relationships
    2. Don't be fearful and build hidden compromises, open it up
  5. Grow my own skills based on relevant requirements
    1. Focused on small groups Users By The Dozens
      1. Connect them in the future?
  6. Lots of value of working with cross-sector interests

In order:

  1. Useful one-off resource with lots of development input from stakeholders, possible to build on in future
  2. Contributions by many types of people
  3. Basic editing using forms
  4. Wiki markup, categories
  5. Sharing knowledge, editing each others pages, creating more converts
  6. Creating templates/queries/classes
  7. Understanding of good class design, inferencing, distributed data, licensing
  8. Reuse ontologies and web-based content
  9. Distributed applications, creating standards


  • Commitment vs follow through
    • Constant attention, guidance
  • Tangly mess
    • Better use of SMW features, more forms, patience for gardening
  • Misunderstood requirements, not really listening to what they want
    • Learning experience


  • General spread to community workers (they know easier specialized systems, didn't help guide structure enough)
  • Gardening site (chose to get programmers to build custom system around Wordpress)
  • Lots and lots of guiding
  • Reassure - built on Mediawiki, always exportable
  • Inspire - self empowerment, learning culture, creating, leading, "coolness" (graphs), "where the web is going," open source and transparency, participatory web
  • Blow past increasing complexity of security to simpler wiki model (all private or all public)
  • Threaten - others are doing it, loss of leadership
  • Really enforce importance of discussion tab, history, diff, learning from others (view source).. site evolution as an interest, lead of Mediawiki
  • Magic — Exhibit example of copying filtered data and pasting to spreadsheet
    • Too much magic (hypergraphs) is confusing and doesn't work everywhere
  • The importance of design
    • promote the cues of Wikipedia but provide something original
  • Appoint leads based on interests, give them responsibilities
  • Peer helpers — spread the virus
  • Focus on people's abilities - detail oriented, annotator, gardener, storyteller, communicates with offline world, etc
  • Translators for those who can't directly contribute
  • People like visualizations and they can help with shaping and debugging data
  • Always focus on their goals rather than ideals, but try to explain the vision, the two should come together
  • Use lots of meaningful examples
    • Placeography, DiscourseDB, sites related to organization
    • Good distributed examples would help too


Compare Wordpress vs SMW — "Raskin vs Englebart," specialized appliance model vs learning to use a computer


  • Wordpress is task driven software. Forms for every day tasks. SMW is building blocks, play-doh. Helpful to map MW, SMW, extensions but it still won't be the same.

Every day tasks —

  • Everything oriented towards content management around blogging
  • SEO, user management
  • "Delete" content, one click
  • SMW site will need a UI (immediate functions) inside a UI (MW)
  • Learning curve is constant on wordpress, gets steep fast using SMW
  • Can recreate a blog in SMW but tasks are more manual
    • But you work in a reusable semantic space
  • Some successes with non technical users, usually individuals within orgs
  • Patience, constant guidance, listening to requirements are most important
  • Build up big expectations but focus on immediate goals
  • Some SMW facilities such as task oriented guides would help a lot
    • Slick rich page editors - links and annotations - would help a lot
    • 'Class' editors work with existing elements
    • Visual form editor


  • What are the best extensions to make the site easy to use?
  • Can SMW be a good "universal platform?" — is information a nail?

Notes from conference

  • Business people love reports
  • Authoring tools - ease of tagging
    • Problems with easy to use rich text editors mangling output
  • Stop saying "semantic" — "knowledge engineering"
    • Bad perceptions about 'wiki,' they get messy - call it "knowledge management"
  • Need more white papers instead of mountain of data
  • Find meaningful ways to connect to well known solutions (SQL, etc), use it as an integration platform
  • In gov't — "people don't want to collaborate" wan to install wiki but still use Word
  • Burden of proof, show how easy it is, fast examples