Syntax standardization

Wiki syntax standardization project proposed

In coordination with wiki software maker Socialtext, the Wikimedia Foundation proposed last week the development of a standard for wiki syntax.

Following up on a discussion with Socialtext CEO Ross Mayfield at the Emerging Technologies Conference last month, Wikimedia President Jimmy Wales suggested on Wednesday that the Foundation should lead an effort to develop a core set of wiki syntax standards. Wales indicated that Mayfield was eager to help the project. Socialtext is a company focused on enterprise-level wiki software built around a Kwiki framework, working with clients like Nokia and Ziff Davis Media.

In his post to the wikitech mailing list, Wales said, "I propose that we set up a group of people either in a mailing list or a wiki or both, and invite representatives from all the major wiki software projects and companies to participate in a syntax standard." Several developers jumped in with ideas, and the general concept seemed to be readily accepted. As Wales put it, "it seems that wiki syntax is a natural for some standardization."

Brian Ingerson, a Socialtext employee and creator of Kwiki, joined the discussion as well. He said, "The key is to have a standard semantic model" which would allow wiki documents to be processed through that model correctly. Several people suggested that XML could provide the basis for developing a standard format.

It is not known whether Socialtext's biggest competitor, JotSpot, has been approached about participating, or whether the two companies would be able to cooperate on developing a syntax standard.

Some attempts have been made to promote syntax standardization previously, but the idea hadn't yet gained much traction. This might change with the explicit support of Wikimedia as the largest wiki project group, with MediaWiki being a popular software platform on other wiki projects as well. A comparison of several existing wiki engines, covering both syntax format and other features, can be found at DokuWiki.

Evan Prodromou of Wikitravel suggested the possibility of having a WYSIWYG editor within the browser, which would allow contributors to avoid the problems of differing wiki syntax. However, Ingerson said that a standard model for syntax was necessary "before you can seriously think about moving to a WYSIWYG option."

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