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The HL7 Wiki reaches 2000 pages

Publication date: Mar 02, 2009

The HL7 Wiki is now of the most important tools used to support the work of HL7, an open standards development community. Initiated in 2006 by a few individual members it is now widely used and has reached 2000 pages in size.

A Wiki is a collaborative tool (see the definition of Wiki in Wikipedia, itself probably the widest known example of a Wiki) that supports the ongoing process of standards creation of the worldwide HL7 community. Pages can be viewed and edited using a simple webbrowser.

Historically the HL7 organization has used its website (as a method for the dissimination of information, as well as a repository of documents), e-mail list servers and teleconferences as its main tools to support its activities.

The figure below shows the number of file uploads (based on a representative number of HL7 committees) to the HL7 website. The increase in the number of uploads in the 2000 to 2003 timeframe can be explained by the development activities of HL7 version 3, as well as by the introduction of thrice anual ballot cycles for components of the HL7 v3 standard. From 2006 onwards the number of file uploads shows a marked decrease.

The decrease in the number of files uploaded to the HL7.org website.

I have no doubt that this is due to the introduction of a Wiki. A few individual members of HL7 began using a Wiki (dubbed: the 'HL7 Wiki') in early 2006. In May 2006 the Wiki had a mere 200 pages. It was hosted on a surplus server below the desk of a programmer in the Mayo clinic. In the summer of 2008 the wiki was moved, it is now hosted by HL7 itself. The figure below shows the increase in pages (according to the statistics provided by the Wiki software itself: the number of 'pages with substantive content') over the period 2006-2009.

The increase in the number of pages on the HL7 Wiki.

Given that Wikis are a fairly new technology the HL7 organization at first was hesitant to embrace it. Anybody can make any changes they see fit - HL7 wondered if this had any legal issues associated with it. HL7, being an ANSI accredited standards development organization, is required to keep a persistent record of all meeting minutes - does the Wiki provide such a persistent record, or should meeting minutes be uploaded to the HL7 website? These hurdles have been overcome, and (fingers crossed) there hasn't been a single case of misuse of the HL7 wiki.

Diffusion curve of new technology.

Obviously there are some laggards: the other day I received an e-mail (from someone who has been an active member in HL7 for at least 10 years) with a request for the URL of the HL7 Wiki and its username (wiki) and password (wikiwiki). Some committee co-chairs are hesitant in embracing the Wiki, others are using it as a tool to develop (and edit) the content of the HL7 standards.

The Wiki site has a username and password to prevent automated spambots from spamming the wiki. On hindsight this may not have been the best approach: having to know a username and password also scares away people, its contents won't be indexed by serach engines, and one can't provide "deep links" to pages in the wiki without also telling people what the username and password are. I'd encourage HL7 to review alternative options.

The collaborative development of standards needs to be supported by the most appropriate set of collaborative tools. The tools used will change over time; new tools may be embraced by individual members (and the HL7 community as a whole) at some future point in time.

-Rene

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