Talk:Wiki Organisation

From Organic Design
Info.svg This is the discussion page for all things to do with our organisational system structure

Discussing Nested Templates

Some templates need to be nested, for example a book needs to contain resource properties in addition to its own specific properties, and many kinds of record such as transactions or worklog entries require time properties. We may need to make record templates more generic like a bullet list of name: value pairs which can then be given specific layout with CSS. This way they can be treated differently depending on whether they're used alone or within another template.

Template requirements

Starting a list of what is needed:

  • Nestable
  • Collapsible
  • Hide non-filled in values
  • Links to: v-d-e (view/discuss/edit a template a la wikipedia nav boxes) and portal of related topic see: w:Portal:Time/Categories and Wikimedia
  • Easy to change to semantic forms
  • Record template: Permissions

Book example

Let's go over the book example and analyse the components to see how these concepts apply. It might be good to also do a notebook/whiteboard sketch of what the book template should look like. I have just used whatever names seemed right but we can always change them to be more appropriate.

  • Book info article - this embeds an infobox type template (Example: Human Ecology)

The book article contains the summary and discussion of a book and is a document, the template adds the book to books category and has parameters such as author, etc. which can be filled in. It could link to the books workspace/portal. Reader discussions and reviews may be placed on the talk page of this article.

  • Book resource article - this embeds a Record Template, which in turn embeds at least some parts of the book template (book icon, link to book portal/workspace?) as well as linking to the appropriate book info article; because it is a resource of type "book". (Example: Milan/I Ging Das Buch der Wandlungen

The book resource article is a record which allows for resource management and accounting of an actual resource. Embedding the resource template categorises it in resources. The current naming convention is Owner/Resource and numbers starting from "1" if there are several instances like multiple copies of the same book, say. Further, the owner's notes and thoughts on the book may be stored here, which might not be for general public consumption on the main article of said book. The resource article has permissions implications, because I may want certain resources to be private or visible to a trust group.

  • Book portal - Portal:Books an Organisational Portal/workspace where the user can access all aspects of dealing with books. Set up/enter a new book, request/borrow books, review books, buy/sell books, import books, etc. (Example: w:Portal:Time/Categories and Wikimedia NB - This portal only covers informational aspects and few if any of the resource management aspects. In organisational terms, portal:time should be a schedule interface). Probably best linked to from Template:Book.
To summarise my current understanding


Templates & Packages

An organisational wiki relies heavily on establishing convention, and this come in the form of centralised repositories of documentation and templates. Templates are also used to add standard sets of attributes to articles, in effect allowing them to more like objects than text articles. Such templates can also include semantic annotations to further standardise the attributes and make them universally accessible.


DPL can be used to select articles based on categorisation and templates in use, and SMW can make queries based on specific attributes and relationships. Custom forms should be made for making selections on specific sets of criteria such as date or financial attributes and can also involve filters to reduce the selection down. The forms should be interchangeable without clearing the selection.


Once selections are made the results are by default rendered in a similar way to a category page, but different templates can be used through which the selection is rendered such as a sortable spreadsheet table or a tax return form.


Each job is an article in the wiki and it is categorised based on its state such as "in progress" or "completed". The idea of wiki workflow is to use categorisation to allow larger jobs to undergo interaction with multiple roles in the correct sequences.

We've been developing organisational systems and related ideas within the MediaWiki software for a few years now and have set up Organic Design as a platform for a team of us to work on these ideas together.

We work on a number of different development projects and use a variety of different software in the process, but our main organisational infrastructure is MediaWiki and ties all the other technology together. Our system has a lot of room for improvement, but over the years we've developed quite a refined idea of what we'd like to see in such a system. Following is a brief outline of our experiences and plans.

Navigation Tree

The tree is dynamically created and uses portals. At the portal one may gain an overview of an area of the organisation and create dynamic PDF reports. In the navigation part there is a link to PDF reports of the various categories of content (Document library). For creating the roles we propose working off Dave W's suggestion referred to in the roles portal. Looking at this tree, the 6W framework breaks down somewhat and proves too restrictive in terms of needing to match each branch of the tree with one "W" in a 1:1 fashion.--Milan 05:28, 11 July 2008 (UTC)

  • People (Who)
  • Resources (What) (New)
  • Projects (Current work) (New)
  • Places (Where)
  • Calendar (When)
  • Roles (What and How) Was best practises. Roles and procedures, only lists roles and links to main roles portal. Procedures are accessed from roles portals, not tree
  • Departments (What and How) Was biz processes. Departments and business processes, similar structure to roles, only lists dep. portals and not biz processes
  • Protocols (Organisation-wide) (Why) Was compliances. Internal and external policies of governance, also mission, vision and core values)

  • Systems (New) The components of the organisational system and management interface. Maybe only some roles (IT Support, admin) need to see this one.
  • Products (New) Maybe only for customer, sales roles?
  • Services (New) Maybe only for customer, sales roles?


Record admin for time requires

  • User (auto populate)
  • Calendar
  • Client
  • Project (auto populate)
  • Task (dropdown from assigned, might come later)
  • Hours (javascript calc from start/stop?)
  • Set as Billable/Unbillable
  • Notes

--phalseid 19:05, 29 January 2009 (NZDT)

Organisational Model

Note: this section still needs expanding The basic structure of the generic wiki organisation system is an ontology representing the organisation as a whole. The organisation is divided up according to its departments/divisions and/or roles and maybe into various branch offices etc. We then have a number of classes which are the aspects such as resources, people, places, procedures and best practices which appear in various places throughout that tree. The individual items contained within the occurrences of the classes throughout the tree may change dynamically as work flows through the system and are made accessible through department/role portals which have specific information as well as creating a dynamically queried portlet for each of the classes within its context. The ontology is shown in the wiki's sidebar tree and goes down to the level of the classes within the departments/roles, the dynamic items within those are only shown in the portals which are linked to from the department/role nodes in the tree.

  • Generic framework: A Generic framework or environment that encapsulates information in a structured way. By generic here we mean that it can be implemented with nothing more than linking, categorisation and transclusion - basic functionalities which are available to any reasonable content environment. An Organic ontology.
  • Software unification: Software unification though connectivity of diverse applications.
  • System documentation: If the roles, projects and procedures are fully documented then you can change any aspect of a system, for example move the framework to a different software platform or incorporate a new application into the system.
  • Technology independence: The collaborative nature and completeness of the documentation allows independence from any specialist support or and specific technology
  • Reproducibility: Reproducibility of systems the current work/research conducted without relying on specialists.
    • Allows dynamic expansion of systems
    • Mitigates against any potential disasters

Wikipedia and Mediawiki

The goal of a wiki is to provide an environment where the collective intelligence of all the users of the software is harnessed. We chose to use MediaWiki for our collaborative environment for a few critical reasons

  • It is the successful software behind Wikipedia providing a familiar interface to users and ensuring it will last for some years to come
  • It has proven itself as a highly scalable framework
  • The software is undergoing very active and organised development
  • The content management and workflow policies provide an excellent example of how to collaborate effectively
  • The content itself is extremely re-usable and useful

The Wikipedia project contains millions of articles which are collaborated on by millions of users. At any one time there are thousands of threads of work underway, all being carried out by thousands of administrators. Its this underlying structure of administration consisting of roles, policies, categories, procedures and jobs that allow the content to evolve over time into a more and more presentable, objective and concise state. All of this administration is achieved using the same article environment as the main content uses so that the system itself is able to evolve under collaboration.

In a collaborative and dynamic environment, documented procedures can also include associated resources and information that are required in their day-to-day application, and articles can contain the current state of specific jobs and projects including discussion, planning and research. This means that the documentation for each role, procedure, project or any other entity within the organisation forms a natural communications channel, because the attention of those that work within those entities is focussed there regularly in day-to-day operation.

MediaWiki Organisation

In the last couple of years there has been a massive increase int the use of MediaWiki software within private LANs and corporate intranets. In these environments MediaWiki is being used to document work and procedures and discuss ideas and plans.

The modern concept of an organisational system is ideally suited to a wiki environment. For example a category-based workflow model like Wikipedia use is essentially a simple means of implementing the blackboard system. Semantic MediaWiki in conjunction with Semantic Forms brings a new level of "web3" structure to the article environemnt. By combining this structural aspect with a spreadsheet-like way of selecting lists of structured articles and editing their proeprties, the wiki environment will be able to support a flexible system of organisation encompassing workflow, scheduling and automation and will be able to integrate more tightly with foreign applications.

The specific structure we have in mind is to structure the workflow categories as a tree of organisational activity which covers the whole organisation for example

organisation → departments → roles → procedures

This is the tree of active working components from highest to lowest scale. Each of these components is represented by an article which acts as its "home page" and contains dynamic lists of their current work, research, messages and other specific resources. Instead of being viewed in the style of a category page, workspaces are more appropriately rendered as a list like a spreadsheet or email inbox, the items of which can be sorted, filtered, queried and properties edited in-place, including mass-updates.

The Wiki Organisation package

Using the Set up a new organisational system procedure a group can set up a network of workstations and servers along with a wiki-based organisational system with which to manage and utilise them. Each trust-group of servers and workstations form a shared file-system within which all their data is stored so that a robust and resilient infrastructure of knowledge can be maintained by all groups transparently.

The package includes installed applications for use on workstations as well as a server running a wiki containing the template organisational system of procedures and practices which can be modified to suit an organisations specific needs. Also included is a full email solution with spam protection, IMAP folders and webmail and also basic accounting and scheduling/booking needs are handled.

The package automatically stays up to date on all workstations and servers so that the system as a whole can continue to evolve as we refine and develop it.

Template wiki

The wiki supplied with a wiki organisation package is still being developed and will be in the form of a collection of articles, images and extensions. The articles are collected in export form and is initially available at wiki article packages. As well as the standard sets of templates it should also include the following defaults.

  • Main page should be a more specific and helpful portal
  • An welcome message should be emailed to users once the new wiki is set up guiding them to the user setup procedure
  • Preferences should already be set up to email watched pages
  • CategoryWatch should set some cats automatically based on role

Lessons Learned

Our first attempt at developing an organisational framework based on Mediawiki software was a Fork of MediaWiki 1.4 called XmlWiki. The approach utilized a Properties namespace which worked in a similar way to the discussion pages such that any article could have an associated properties page. Using the properties page, permissions could be set on articles, and formatting/language control and other functionality were provided. This project abandoned in 2006 in favour of an extension based approach, but some important lessons were learned along the way.

Separating Content and Implementation

One of the most important reasons why we abandoned XmlWiki is because it separated the article properties into their own article and syntax, rather than using the wiki's existing ability to describe parameters using standard template functionality. Another reason we abandoned it was when we realised that Semantic MediaWiki was a far better approach than a separate article. But we can still apply this lesson to how we implement semantic annotations.

If our approach requires us to add and edit these annotations directly within the article content, we are locking ourselves into a particular syntax and technology. Instead, such properties should be added to an article by embedding a template with the properties supplied as named template parameters. The specific syntax of the semantic annotations or parser-functions are then centralised into the template definitions rather than in the many articles that use them.

WYSIWYG and Forms

Many people think that the out-of-the-box absence of a WYSIWYG editor is the main reason that wikitext is considered difficult, but in our experience the main difficulty beginners have is with categorisation and templates, not the basic formatting. The best idea would be to use WYSIWYG editors to handle all wikitext except for template syntax which is handled with a forms solution. The Semantic MediaWiki and Semantic Forms combo handle this well, but need to be extended to work with MediaWiki API and AJAX.

During 2008 the RecordAdmin extension was introduced into our system which allows simple form-based handling of templates. They can be treated as records so they can be searched for based on parameter vaue, and edited via their corresponding form. Rather than using specific syntax, RecordAdmin allows standard HTML-based forms to be used so that there is little learning required for anyone already familiar with standard HTML.

System Administration

Part of the workflow system must include the jobs which keep the best practices up to date and ensure the roles are following it. An administrative role can be added which includes procedures for ensuring the best practices are up to date and being followed properly. Since all the entities receive regular attention from those working within them, it means that when changes need to be applied to procedures or discussion about solutions need to take place they won't go unnoticed.

Current Work

We currently maintain our own procedures in a wiki which include maintaining servers and workstations with their OS and software requirements, working on various IT projects and collaborative research and development for our own projects. We've been chipping away at a number of extensions aimed at enabling us to implementing the wiki organisation ideas more fully.


Automation plays an important role in any organisation, especially those involved in IT. Part of our current system is a robot framework which allows us to schedule backups, content maintenance work and functionality tests. Since robots integrate with the system as normal users, they will be able to form a part of the same workflow as the human users. As procedures become more refined they can eventually be specified formally and automated, and when automated procedures fail, they can then easily be temporarily handled by users.


Another thread of work we've been chipping away at is MediaWikiLite which is designed to run using the SQLite shared library instead of large database server software like MySQL. MediaWikiLite will eventually be able to run as a daemon or service without requiring a web server. MediaWikiLite can easily be installed on any small workstation and even on an iPod-touch or iPhone, it goes hand-in-hand with the P2P extension which is aiming towards a distributed serverless model that can synchronise content with trusted peers. It's important to note that this functionality is not a fork of the software, its a MediaWiki extension and we've added the SQLite support directly to the code-base of MediaWiki 1.13.

Road Map

Our next step is to use MediaWiki in conjunction with a handful of extensions such as Semantic MediaWiki and ListView, to encapsulate a range of generic organisational concepts as described in the following section. We will continue to develop this further toward the idea of a generic organisational framework in tandem with applying the technology to create actual, functioning organisations within the Organic Design Wikia, with people collaborating to create content, setting up workflows or refining procedures.

The main work we'll be doing apart from completing the extensions currently under way, is to make the system description more complete and more re-usable. The Packages extension mentioned above will allow us to maintain and distribute large sets of template articles and pre-populated structures of categories and content.

A new feature in MediaWiki is the API which allows it to integrate much more easily with foreign software. many of our extensions use AJAX functionality to request and manipulate wiki content dynamically without page reloads. The MediaWiki API makes such functionality more secure and efficient. The API layer also makes automation far more efficient by enabling the Robot framework to integrate directly with the MediaWiki system rather than via the HTML forms interface which is really designed for Humans.

Self containment

A key feature of this way of working, which MediaWiki software (in terms of functionality) and projects like Wikipedia (in terms of application) exhibit, is that the content (in the case of Wikipedia, the actual content articles and categories) as well as the administrative and organisational mechanisms (Wikipedia: User administration, policy documentation, deletion or article improvement workflows, etc.) are described in the same collaborative environment, giving rise to a basic form of self containment.

The reason we chose MediaWiki is because in addition to fulfilling our basic technical criteria, it is being used to run Wikipedia; therefore we're working with a large and active community, the code is well-tested and under continuous development, and has proven scalability. We also agree with the philosophy of Wikipedia's parent organisation, the Wikimedia foundation, and their statement: "Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. That's our commitment." By using MediaWiki, we are aligning ourselves with that philosophy, the development momentum, a large amount of people familiar with the software interface and a vast amount of freely accessible content and knowledge.