Liberating information from foswiki

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Paul Harvey got in his turqoise coloured polo shirt, and white shorts, ready to tell us all about some cool stuff he was doing with foswiki. But as the keynote had gone overtime, we had to wait a little until before people came down from morning tea.

He works at the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. And at his work place there has been a long history of overusing microsoft excel for grabing information, and reusing it.

Foswiki is written in Perl+Javascript. It's 2.25 years old (since it forked from TWiki). Biodiversity is in a bit of a mess when it comes to loking after their data. He described why he went with foswiki, and it's openness and plugins were important to them. Also the plugins for foswiki is good. It has 262 released, and more in svn. Fos had a good modular architecture. It is a bit of an old perl project, so it has some old nasty code.  They have WYSIWYG. They also have a "Whi-it-up-titude", enabling wiki patterns. 

He described a data form. If you attach a schema to a topic (ie a page), you can add data to the page with forms. But using these facilities are hard for normal users, you have to do lots of reading of the manual.

Paul found that ownership was the key feature that his users kept using excel. They didn't want to go to databases, and databases often aren't really flexible. And you sometimes need to be an expert to use and adapt.

He mentioned google DataWiki, which surprisingly enough do a better job of describing foswiki than foswiki does of describing themselves.

Paul kept talking about foswiki, and where he works, and what they do. But he didn't have a great narrative, and he was jumping around a bit, and not really giving the uninformed user (us in the audience) what he was talking about. Which made keeping these notes difficult.

He said they are trying to use foswiki as a kind of portal to other information, and other systems. So they are trying to link to other data sources (like information on a plant, it's species, it's order, who classified it, or re-classified it). 

He started talking about some Wallace Core thing they had been working on to help the biodiversity area coalesce onto common set of terms. But I got board, as I didn't see how that related to foswiki. 

Paul hadn't tailored his talk to the audience, but was more talking about what they had done, rather than just using examples to help the audience understand the topic. So as far as a talk goes, it was pretty average, even though I thought the underlying material could have been really interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Geoff Crompton published on January 28, 2011 11:31 AM.

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