Initially I thought that one would have to write a custom application to address the needs of Scholars and remedy the inadequacies of bibliographic management systems. However, I have been playing with Wikis recently and I believe that there is great potential there in managing a scholastic workflow.
In recent days I have been working frantically on learning the Cocoa development APIs and I am learning to appreciating its elegance.
There are tools which make it even easier than it has to be. I considered C my favorite language for years before being overtaken by a Python craze. Since then I have tried to do everything in scripting languages because it is easy and in my opinion, enjoyable. Python has an enormous community and it is especially strong in the sciences.
Unfortunately Python, and PyObjC are rather weak, and even the developers suggest just using Objective-C, which is not particularly hard, especially if you use Xcode. I have never used visual studio, so the experience with a powerful IDE is quite novel. The code completion and suggestions, as well as the dynamic analysis of code are very nice. And yet, I often do prefer to use the shell.
When using the shell, it is easy to write small little experimental apps, I am using MacRuby and F-Script which provide fantastic exploratory features. Unfortunately the MacRuby irb shell is frankly lacking. It crashes frequently if I make an error, and doesn’t really provide the tools and help that I have grown accustomed to with iPython which is tremendously stable.
MacRuby does have the advantage of being directly tied to the Cocoa APIs rather than having to create a bridge. And one can quite easily put their classes and application code in a file and then run it by invoking MacRuby.
F-Script is also quite nice because first of all it takes the place of a Cocoa NSApplication so you don’t have to instantiate one, you can directly create windows, but you don’t have to do this even. Your drawing code shows up in the terminal directly if you want, so it is extremely easy to try new things.
But I digress…I meant this post to be about Semantic Mediawiki(SMW) which I have found to be an extremely powerful tool. We are all likely familiar with MediaWiki, which powers Wikipedia. SMW provides semantic modeling to the content which, when you create or add properties, you can do things that are not possible with traditional Wikipedia. There are examples of this on the sight. One would be querying for the largest city which has a female mayor, something that you cannot do in Wikipedia. However if you add properties to mayor, female, and cities, you can construct a query which would return the information which can be then sorted by a property to give you a list.
Category pages in Wikipedia like cities ranked by population have to be manually updated. With this, our query dynamically pulls data and is automatic. This is a major benefit
I have created a SMW and several properties related to programming. If I am writing about a class I have properties such as superclass, and I can create a page that has an inline query for all of the properties that match the class for superclass, and I have a dynamic page for all of the subclasses of a class. This is powerful.
At the footer of a SMW page, you have all of the information defined by properties which gives a nice overview. Secondly you can export your semantic data to the semantic web, though this is a feature I have not tried yet.
Constructing a wiki or a subwiki for scholarship in the humanities would be straightforward. If you have a page for every article you read and your annotations to it, you could have properties for Author, Argument, paradigm to give a few examples, and you wouldn’t have to create and curate those pages yourself. If you labeled things consistently it would be quite easy to find all the articles written by a specific article, or make a specific argument, or fall under a given paradigm.
Secondly, you can edit the properties in a front end of Forms which allow you to fill out all of the properties in a natural way without having to know much about wiki editing.
I am personally running a Debian virtual machine on my secondary iMac(first generation intel) and it seems to be very responsive. I only have two GB of RAM installed in the machine and the VM is taking up around 600 MB.
The SMW distribution I am using is called SMWplus which includes many features which make it quite a bit easier to manage SMW including a data explorer with graphical creation of properties, categories, instances(pages), and allows me to create inline queries graphically. It has a WYSIWYG editor which is great for some, but I prefer the classic wiki text editor. I tried to install Halo and other features in a MAMP based wiki installation but I simply couldn’t get it to work. The virtual machine is quite easy to install and get up and running. Just run it and it gives the IP address of the wiki to connect to. Secondly it is portable. I intend to give my work to my supervisor and all I would have to give him is the virtual hard drive and he could run it in VMWARE player.
There are a number of research papers on the topic of Semantic Wikis demonstrating their use and the theory behind them. I used Sente to gather many of them and will be posting reviews as we continue this blog. I am quite interested in the topic of digital information management, and have been using DevonThink Pro Office daily, but I feel that it is great for inserting information and searching for it, it is lacking in presentation and making annotations to the data. That is something where wikis shine, They are very readable, generate a Table of Contents automatically. DevonThink has Wiki style links allowing you to create a web of knowledge, but it is a difficult process and does not generate a ToC for your pages which is indeed quite important. I suffered some agony trying to make DevonThink better at accumulating my own personal notes, but I don’t believe that is the purpose of the application.
I do still love it and will continue to use it as a repository for my information, as the search features are most advanced. I will be using the wiki for presentation and keeping track of my personal notes.
Also to be considered is DocuWiki which I was using earlier. The advantage here are first that it stores your data in plain text files allowing them to be easily backed up or synced to a remote server. There are also quite a number of useful plugins easily installed with a plugin manager. SMW+ has something similar but is certainly not as useful.
On my todo list is to find a mechanism for syncing local note taking to my Wiki. The company that makes SMW+ also sells a microsoft office connection tool, which, while i hate using Word, may be a solution to this, or I could find a way to script uploading to the Wiki.