WikiCalc: Web 2.0 spreadsheets wikified

WikiCalc is a nice piece of GPLed software that pusblishes wiki pages that are structured like Excel spreadsheets are: one can view and edit tables, modify calculation formulas in cells, manage their formatting through the web browser, etc. It brings to spreadsheets the inherent advantages of many wikis: ease of use for Web publications, ease of modification, revisions track for undoing unwanted changes by other users, RSS views on recent changes made to the page. It brings to wikis the inherent advantages of spreadsheets: live calculations, nice formatting, compliance with corporate way of thinking and managing things (will we see a WikiSlides with bulletpoints and animations in some future?). More than this, WikiCalc lets spreadsheets grab input data from external web sites and do live calculations from it: some formulas generate HTTP requests to web services in order to retrieve the latest value for a stock quote, weather forecasts, and so on. Last but not least, the flexible architecture of WikiCalc allows an offline use still via the user’s browser and a synchronization mechanism will let the online version get updated once the connection is restored.

A nice 10 min long WikiCalc screencast with audio is available here.

In a former life, I was managing a team of web project managers in a multinational industrial corporation. As my boss wanted to get simple-to-update weekly/monthly status report about every project, we had tried using a wiki page per project in order to publish and update those reports. It was tedious and not nicely formatted for a corporate environment. I imagine that a nice immediate use of WikiCalc would be to let small project teams update project status reports on an intranet, including nicely formatted timelines and budget indicators. It would still maintain the update effort at a minimal and convenient level and would preserve the wiki flexibility of linking to the project documentation and resources.

We knew structured wiki pages for managing forms or category schemes. WikiCalc introduces spreadsheet structures while preserving the open and unstructured spirit of wikis. Next steps for future wikis would be to allow semantic structures to be managed the wiki-way, like in some early semantic wiki prototypes. [update: see Danny Ayers blog entries on how WikiCalc could relate to the Semantic Web vision]

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