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Syncato and Microcontent Wiki

Jon Udell is getting very excited about a new weblog product called Syncato, which is described here:

“Syncato is a weblog system designed to extract the maximum potential from the content of your posts. All posts in Syncato are stored as XML within a native XML database and are searchable using XPath queries. This includes the ability to execute XPath via a URL from within your browser.”

Its developer, Kimbro Staken, describes Syncato as an “XML fragment management system”. Syncato could be the first microcontent weblog system, in that each item or chunk of content is described in XML – right down to the comments. Kimbro writes:

“Like everything in Syncato comments are stored as XML and are thus searchable via XPath. Each comment is stored in a separate file with a root tag of comment.”

So I wonder then if Syncato could be the enabling technology for Microcontent Wiki, which I described previously like this:

“…one part of the Writeable Web is often overlooked: weblog comments. Often some of the best nuggets of content can be found buried in a comment attached to a weblog post. I’ve even coined a phrase for this: Microcontent Wiki, which is defined as: Weblog Post + Comments. It’s microcontent because it’s usually content based around a single theme or topic (defined by the weblog post). And it’s like a Wiki because anyone can write a comment on a weblog, so it has a similar collaborative feel to a Wiki.”

I went on to say that currently there are no suitable tools for tracking comments, or “conversations” as I’ve called them on my blogroll. Don Park suggested that we could use actual Wikis to aggregate conversations. That is a wonderful idea, but it will require a lot of development effort to set up. The latest posts by Jon Udell and Kimbro have me wondering whether Syncato can solve the problem of tracking conversations – as easily as we can track weblogs with RSS.

Syncato can aggregate “XML fragments”, which includes comments on a weblog. So could I include in my blogroll several XPath queries to aggregate conversations I’m interested in? Instead of making an RSS feed out of a comments thread, which is what I originally suggested and which some people have already implemented on their blogs, I could run an XPath query from within my blogroll which would aggregate comments from that same thread. This process has the advantage of being driven by the weblog reader, rather than the writer. i.e. it’s not up to the weblog writer to produce an RSS feed, the reader can simply run some XPath queries to effectively create their own feed. The power to aggregate shifts to the subscriber rather than the producer, which is where it should be in the Two-Way Web. Of course this means that producers have to write their posts in valid XML, but that is where Syncato comes in – it’s a weblog authoring product that produces valid XML.

Further, because each comment is a unique chunk of XML, you could aggregate more than just a single conversation thread (that is attached to a single weblog post). Using XPath and associated XML technologies, you could pick up comments on a particular theme or topic from the whole weblog – or extended further, the whole blogosphere. How rich would conversations be then!

I’ll be following Kimbro’s new product and Jon’s experiments with much interest. It’s an exciting time for microcontent!

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