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Dreaming — what will the subject wikis look like in 2015?

By 2015, the world will probably look pretty different from what it looks now (although the more things change …). Particularly in the computing and Internet connectivity side, things will be different: touch interfaces, ubiquitous social networking, and all kinds of other forms of interactivity and intelligence will be embedded into web browsing. I hope that the subject wikis will continue to evolve. It’s hard to exactly imagine interaction with tomorrow’s technologies, but here’s a start as to the kind of improvements possible.

Instant page loading

This sounds mundane, but it’s the start. If individual pages can load on user’s browsers in under a second, then it would be possible to load large numbers of pages. Velocity matters, and people spend entire conferences giving talks about shaving off milliseconds from page load speeds.

Morphing pages based on user needs

Pages will no longer be static or quasi-static constructs but rather will be highly responsive to what the user is looking for. Underlying each page will be a static page (which the user can view as a static page if desired) but the default interaction will include such features as:

  • Highlighting or focusing on parts of the page that are best suited to the user’s state of knowledge, as inferred either directly from past history on the site, or through a quick, seamless survey question, or through the user’s social network information. For repeat visits, highlighting portions the user may have missed or ignored in the past, or new stuff that is best kept to a second visit.

  • Facilitating highly intelligent page annotation and sharing. For instance, if a page gives five equivalent definitions of a concept, a student for a course can circle Definition 1 and say “this is what we saw in class” and circle Definition 2 and say “this is what I need to show as equivalent to Definition 1 in the homework” and circle Definition 3 as “I don’t understand this yet, but it might be worth coming back to later if I’m stuck with some question involving this idea.” This annotation can affect the user experience in future visits, and it can be combined with sharing. Imagine two or three people doing homework together. One of them sees something relevant to a homework problem, then he/she can “share” it with friends, annotated with the number of the homework problem, and they can all study it together.

Large-scale statistical generation

As pages tailor themselves to user needs, the users in turn provide pages information as they interact with them, and this information gets aggregated in a data-rich environment. Rather than going by anecdotal impressions, we’ll then have fairly concrete, large-scale data, across different learning and course environments, of things people find difficult versus easy, of common confusions that they have, of the ideas that they find interesting, and all other kinds of correlations.

Explore in depth

For any topic or any statement that an individual user doesn’t understand, that person can tap into a vast network of further resources that elaborate on it — including not just the static wiki content, but also how other users in the past have interacted with the content, and how these other people ultimately resolved their issues with the content. It’s like a dream come true of somebody saying “Hey! I didn’t understand X” and actually getting a clear, more detailed, and interactive explanation of X — all without an actual instructor.

At the basic technological level, all of these are feasible today — but with the technology of today (both hardware and software) much of this isn’t seamless, which means that it would be very hard to implement, which means it will not scale. But circa 2015, much will be different!