The mashable wiki

Wikis are extraordinarily useful but essentially flat resources. It’s tough to conceive of a wiki being made up of structured data; indeed, a key concept behind wiki-ness is that anyone can edit and make the wiki wiser, and we don’t force people to edit in particular ways. So a wiki is just there, like a painting – a dynamic painting, sure – beautiful in its changing coherence, but not something you can treat like xml data.

At least that’s what I thought until earlier this week, when I went to the ITP spring show (always an inspiring event) and saw Fred Benenson‘s CauseCaller.

CauseCaller is just so elegant and powerful. It’s based on Semantic MediaWiki, a free wiki extension that allows people like you and me to add data to wikis by filling in forms. The result? Structured, useful data that other applications can use. Fred’s idea was to populate forms with information about politicians – what party, what state, what phone number. Then he hooked those phone numbers through Asterisk – essentially, an online telephone switch that allows you and me to make calls using our computers.

And – presto – you’ve got a phone tree application.  You want to forward a cause?:  You click on the cause you’re interested in on CauseCaller (or you create a cause of your own and associate it with particular politicians), and the application will start calling politicians for you, one by one.  You’ll talk to them, hang up, and call the next one.  Lots of people have discovered CauseCaller already who don’t know Fred.

The powerful, beautiful thing about this Fred move is that anyone can add more structured (or tagged) data to the wiki.  You could add more politicians; state politicians; anyone anywhere in the world you want to reach.  The application doesn’t have to be an online phone tree, although that’s a good thing to have.  It could be anything riding usefully on top of the wiki.  You can change the templates/tagging for the underlying data when you need to.

All very emergent, mashable, simple, open, and interesting.

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