Portland is filled with hidden gems. Technologists of great aplomb who are quietly working away building awesome things. And it’s always nice when they take a few minutes to share some of their amazing insights. This month, New Relic has managed to wrangle one of those folks to speak—Ward Cunningham, inventor of the wiki—at their FutureTalks series. Read More
I’ve no idea what it is about Portland that attracts interesting inventors, but we seem to have more than our fair share. Read More
Yesterday, a number of us celebrated the 14th anniversary of a gift Ward Cunningham gave to the world, the Wiki. So today seemed like an appropriate day to celebrate a new gift that Ward—and his current company AboutUs—have given to the Web community. Something that features some of that same Wiki goodness and yet, brings something new to the table, the AboutUs widget.
What’s the AboutUs widget do? Quite simply, it provides a chunk of dynamically updated information about any Web site referenced in AboutUs to any blog—actually any site for that matter. Or, as the creators of the widget describe it:
Whatever your blogging forte, the widget is a way for you to serve your readers better by providing an unobtrusive introduction to websites you’ve mentioned. The best part is, if you or your readers have ideas for improving this info, editing the AboutUs page updates the widget automatically.
I’ve been using the widget for a few months in private beta—coincidentally one of the first posts to include it was about AboutUs—and I couldn’t be happier with its performance.
And now, you can use the widget, too. Just go to any AboutUs page and look in the right sidebar for the widget code.
What’s that? The site you want to feature doesn’t have an AboutUs page? It only takes a few seconds to add it. Just add it, provide a short description and some topics, and voila! Widget worthy.
But how did the this little piece of widget magic come about? That, my friends, is an interesting little story. Gather round and let me spin a little tale….
AboutUs Widget: The True
Hollywood Portland-collaboration Story
Not so long ago, I was a wee bit frustrated. I wanted to provide additional information on the companies about which I was writing, but I didn’t want to keep repeating the same boilerplate over and over—and I wanted to make sure that it remained as fresh as possible.
What I wanted was something like the CrunchBase widget. Something simple and compact that provided necessary details about the company.
But there were a couple of problems with the CrunchBase widget as far as Silicon Florist was concerned. What were they? I’m glad you asked (because I’m going to tell you anyway).
First, most of the companies I write about aren’t in CrunchBase—and aren’t likely relevant to the majority of the CrunchBase population. Once they reach that level, they’re a bit above my pay grade. Second, an important part of the CrunchBase data set is “funding.” Given that most of the startups I profile are pre-funding side projects or garage gigs, that was a gap. Third, in my experience with CrunchBase—when I tried to edit the content for Vidoop to indicate that it was, in fact, a Portland company not a Tulsa company anymore—the updates weren’t “dynamic.” They required approval. Meaning, that the CrunchBase information could be incorrect for the time that the majority of the folks were reading the posts. Finally, as much as I loved the CrunchBase content, it simply wasn’t homegrown.
So that got me to thinking: maybe I should build a little database and widget of my own? A database that contained relevant details on the companies or projects that I write about. That contained the information I thought was relevant—and that I could edit on a moment’s notice so that it was always fresh.
And after about two seconds of thinking about the time and effort required to build and maintain that kind of resource, I smacked myself for even letting that thought enter my head. Or I noticed some shiny new Silicon Forest startup about which I could write.
Honestly, it’s a bit cloudy.
Besides, if I built it, it would only be available to me. And seriously, how useful is that? That’s right. Not very.
If only, I thought. If only there were some structured database of Web site information that I could access. Some set of data that was always up-to-date, that was easy to embed, and that had access to information on the types of companies and projects I tended to cover.
And if only it existed in the Silicon Forest. A homegrown solution, as it were.
And then, there I was standing at Portland Lunch 2.0. And there was Ward standing there.
And then it hit me.
AboutUs has a structured database of the Web site information I need. AboutUs is always up-to-date—and if it’s not, I can change it. I mean, it’s a wiki, right? And AboutUs has every single Web site ever—and if it doesn’t I could add it in a matter of seconds. Best of all? AboutUs is a homegrown Portland, Oregon, Silicon Forest production.
So, I walked up to Ward and said, “If you’ve got a second, I have an idea….”
And Ward was kind enough to listen. And we talked it through. And it turned out that there was something interesting for AboutUs there, too. It provided another way to distribute the AboutUs content to a variety of providers and a way to get folks back to AboutUs to edit and update their content.
So a few meetings, some note card sketches, and countless hours of coding that fell on someone else’s shoulders besides mine, and we have the first iteration of the AboutUs widget.
I can’t help but take pride in helping this little widget come into being—if only as being one of the sparks of the idea. And I couldn’t be happier to get the chance to work with the amazing AboutUs team—Ward Cunningham, Didip Kerabat, BJ Clark, Vinh Nguyen, and Jon Farr—to bring the idea to fruition.
This is still an early first step. And there’s room to improve. So give the AboutUs widget a shot. Embed it. Test it. Give me or them feedback about what you’d like to see.
We’ve already got some ideas on how we can improve it and what features can be added. But it would be great to hear from you—and to see you adding it to your blogs and Web sites.
At the very least, you’ll find the widgets a regular addition to Silicon Florist blog posts. Hopefully, they provide you with some relevant and meaningful information beyond my usual blather. And if not? You can always change them—unlike my blather.
You may remember Portland-based Versionista from last year, when they stepped into the limelight as the McCain camp used the tool to highlight recent changes to the Obama campaign site.
Now, they’re allowing Web site owners to expose those changes, themselves, with a new service that provides the date of the last change and highlights the content that has been revised.
Here’s an example using Silicon Florist’s recent changes.
It seems appropriate that the town known for its wikis—and home to the father of the wiki, Ward Cunningham—is home to a service inspired by the wiki view of recent changes. Even if you don’t let your readers edit your site, it’s always nice to let them know what you’ve changed.
To test drive this feature or to add it to your site, visit Versionista.
Like the little orange RSS chiclet, the Universal Edit Button—launched last week—is, in my opinion, one of the most promising promotional tools for raising the visibility of wikis and other editable sites.
But in order for it to work, people need to understand exactly what it is.
“I heard about the UEB when it came out, and I thought it was really cool,” said Kistner. “Then I started talking to some other folks about it, and managed to get Ward, who devised the wiki concept, Mark, who had been coordinating the UEB launch activities, and Pete, who had been integral to the project, all on the phone.”
Kistner’s Skype conversation is available below. (Audio quality is a little rough at times, but the content more than makes up for it. And don’t be fooled at the beginning… You didn’t just initiate a Skype call.)
Just click the little gray arrow to listen.