21:47 PM

I want a portable wiki -- a WalkAbout Wiki (with TagAbout GPS technology...)

By Tom Foremski for SiliconValleyWatcher

Wiki-Maid.gifThere has been a lot of talk about mobile applications and geo-location projects lately, and that reminds me of a product I have longed for: a portable wiki, or WalkAbout Wiki.

Wikis are very simple but very effective software applications that can organize information out of chaos, and also build themselves into simple applications.

I get most of my ideas when I'm walking around San Francisco and I want one place where I can jot everything down, throw it all into one big repository, business and personal, and then retrieve it through tags, search, and simple organization of projects via a wiki interface. It would hold my notes, my midnight musings, my personal and public stuff, photos, videos, audio. Some of it would live in the cloud, some on the client.

The WalkAbout Wiki would be cheap—under $200 for the basic model. It would be notebook sized, with a near full sized keyboard, a decent size screen and very robust.

It is so robust you can play frisbee with it, let your dog bring it back and send it spinning back out again, and it still keeps working, dog slobber and all.

WalkAbout companion...

It would also let me record messages, or events photo, video or audio. The Walkabout Wiki would naturally, have a built in Skype-like phone service, broadband, and bluetooth. It would have open source Office-like applications, which would be a mixture of client side and server side - but I shouldn't really know or care. All I need to know is that I have access to my applications, to a degree, even if an Internet connection is not available.

When a Walkabout Wiki walks into a hotspot, or hops a bluetooth connection, things sync up and I don't need to know. Everything is always backed up and I can roll things back to any point in time on my device.

The largest application of such a device would be as a knowledge store of a person's life. For example, HP Labs has played around with the concept of recording every moment of a person's life. Search technology could be used to bring back names, photos, anything from anytime in the past, that is contextually relevant to now, my now.

That would be a cool device, I'd buy one. And Walt would probably like one too :-)

Tagging GPS locations

But wait, I also want a global positioning sensor in my WalkAbout Wiki so that I can attach notes to a specific location, a restaurant review, a note about a person, where a photo was taken, a conversation I had in that spot. I could get a $10 coupon from walking into a store as part of a promotion, I could play a treasure hunt with friends.

The WalkAbout Wiki, with the TagAbout application, would share some of my tags with the public, some with friends, and I could read other people's tags at a GPS location. Billboards too, would have associated tags with promotional messages and video. This would overlay the Internet onto the real world, a concept that HP Labs and IBM have played with. HP proposed wired "beacons" attached to billboards, but with wireless connections and a GPS location, you don't need an infrastructure of wiring "beacons" to billboards.

There would be a ton of other applications that would arise from a WalkAbout Wiki platform, but probably not much money in making the device itself - unless it's a proprietary approach that links the hardware to the services, the cell phone model.

Could IBM do it again?

An open-platform open-sourced WalkAbout Wiki would create a larger community and a more vital ecosystem than one modeled on the proprietary cell phone business model.

But, how would we get an open WalkAbout Wiki platform? The only reason that we got an open platform PC model was that IBM was in a rush and had to use open-sourced components and software.

The PC platform is too expensive for a WalkAbout Wiki type of device. Maybe IBM can do it again? And this time on purpose, using its muscle to set an open platform. After all, IBM is the leading evangelist for open source software, and it has the chip technology, a lot of it already in the consumer space.

An IBM POWER microprocessor chip integrated with graphics and communications could easily power a WalkAbout Wiki. Or maybe a chip like Broadcoms Alphamosaic chip plus an ARM RISC processor (both are British designs BTW) would fit the BOM (bill of materials) quite nicely. And Intel's StrongArm based XScale chips could also provide a decent hardware platform for a WalkAbout Wiki.

We'll get there one way or another, the hardware layer is less important these days anyway. And there is a ton of open source software, from operating systems to full-fledged applications, and it's only going to get better.

Fencing the commons

The choke point however, in this open digital utopia, is in the gateways to the Internet. Municipalities have been challenged by the commercial sector from providing public wireless Internet. That is an attempt to attach a commercial gateway to every Internet access point, wired or wireless. That's not good. We need public access to a public infrastructure.

I've nothing against "toll roads" on the Internet, a faster service for more money, but I'm against having to take a "toll road" to get onto the Internet from anywhere-- that's an alarming trend.

Here is more on public Internet access at the SFLan project, which is run by Internet Archive. Join in and grow the network, find out if you have roof top line of sight with another SFLan node.

Also, here is something that could very nearly be a WalkAbout Wiki, the Pepper Pad.