A Conversation with Adam Frey, Co-Founder of Wikispaces

Recently I talked with Adam Frey, co-founder of Wikispaces. We discussed how it started, some great things about the service today, and what’s ahead. Wikispaces is the tool used by Vicki Davis for her Westwood Schools wiki, and so it’s been at the center of my recent series [1 2 3 4 5 6 7] with Vicki. Thanks to Adam for a great conversation and good information on Wikispaces!

Stewart M. Hi Adam
Adam F. Hi Stewart.
Stewart M. Thanks for taking time to chat with me about Wikispaces! I have a set of questions I use to start things off, and then we can see where it goes
Adam F. OK
Adam F. Sounds good
Stewart M. Firstly, tell me how Wikispaces started?
Adam F. In mid-2005 James needed a simple way to organize a ski trip. After playing around with existing tools he realized there was a need for an easy to use and easy to adopt wiki system. So he started building one.
Stewart M. I love how these tools have spawned out of the need for a simple, quick tool that just didn’t exist before, and now they’ve become absolutely essential…
Adam F. Yep. When you have an insight that something you need should be simpler, that’s often an opportunity.
Stewart M. I think that’s the battle cry for wiki over the past two years or so – tools have become so complicated they scare away regular users
Stewart M. how is Wikispaces doing now, i.e. number of wikis created, etc.?
Adam F. We’re doing great. We’ve got tens of thousands of members and spaces working away. More importantly, the kinds and breadth of activity that is going on, and the feedback that we’re getting tells us that there’s real value being delivered to real people.
Stewart M. I’ve certainly seen that kind of high quality activity in sites like Vicki Davis’ Westwood Wiki
Adam F. Vicki is great. It’s an obvious but important insight that the reason her wikispace is so active and valuable is because she and her students are so clearly full of energy and enthusiasm. The job of the tool is to get out of their way and enable them to do the work they need to do.
Stewart M. Speaking of education, what do you think Wikispaces offers higher ed specifically?
Adam F. Well, I’m certainly no education expert. I’m a software guy. But what our members have been teaching us is that teachers and students need simple accessible tools that enable their core work, which is fundamentally about content.
Stewart M. Agreed – I think we’re all realizing that for technology to truly succeed in enhancing education it has to be so simple that time is not wasted on getting technology to work, but wisely spent doing better things because of technology.
Adam F. Right. The keys of course are simplicity and accessibility. Bad technology makes the learning experience worse. So you need to make sure that your tools are easily understood and enable the basic activities of learning (reading, writing, collaborating, etc.)
Adam F. Wikispaces has been evolving steadily toward that end. If a teacher gets the students excited about developing study guides or correcting each other’s home work, all we have to do is provide them with a vitual piece of paper.
Adam F. Easier said than done but often that point is missed. It’s not about our tool, it’s about their work.
Stewart M. You’re right – and the things they are thinking of doing with that virtual piece of paper are nothing short of amazing. It’s important to have a tool that doesn’t block them from doing it.
Stewart M. Let’s talk a bit about services you offer like Wikispaces Private Label – I see the AVMA (http://www.wiki.avma.org/) and Collegiate School (http://www.wiki.collegiateschool.org/) are using it – Can you tell me a little more about the service, what it offers, etc.?
Adam F. Sure. Our Free and Plus plans are great if you need one space. For example in one classroom or one project team or one book club.
Adam F. Private Label is for organizations that want to provide wikis to their communities under their own banner. So the AVMA had a couple of Plus spaces and decided they wanted to provide Wikispaces to their entire community. So they now have a separate Wikispaces community which allows anyone at the AVMA to start their own space and work with their colleagues.
Adam F. It’s also great for schools obviously as there are endless groups in each school, classrooms, clubs, study teams, faculty groups, etc. who need simple ways to work together. Private Label means anyone in the organization can use Wikispaces to do their work in a connected way.
Stewart M. When a new space is created, how do you bring in other collaborators? Would you create accounts for them, or invite them in by email?
Adam F. We recently completely reworked our invitation system to make it simpler.
Adam F. Essentially, you invite people by username or email address. If neccessary we step them through creating an account or logging in to an existing account and add them as a member of your space. Then they’re ready to work.
Adam F. Also, if your space is public, people don’t even need accounts. They just come to the address of the space and start working.
Stewart M. Sounds great! Let’s turn to your new detailed statistics feature – can you just give a quick overview of what data a user can see about her/his wiki space?
Adam F. Yeah, that’s a kind of background feature that’s really really popular. You can see page views, visitors, edits, messages, editors, and countries for your space. Just a nice way to track activity in your space. It’s all good feedback and motivation for the members of a space.
Adam F. Add that to the access you have to the complete edit history of every page in your space and you get a really good sense of what’s going on in your community.
Stewart M. No question – this is such a great feature to have readily available. It gives spaces the power to truly serve their communities well…
Stewart M. I have just two more questions-
Stewart M. Let’s talk briefly about your recently announced partnership (hope that’s the right way to describe it) with edublogs.org – I think this is a great example of good services working together to make things even easier for their users.
Adam F. James Farmer has been a great advocate of web tools for teachers so it was a really good fit. I met up with him and we clearly had the same goals so we just said “how can we get these tools out to as many people who need them as possible?” We just decided anyone who gets an edublog should have access to an integrated Wikispace. It’s been a great success so far.
Stewart M. And great for classrooms, where teachers have been asking about the differences between a wiki and a blog, and trying to decide which better meets their needs. Now they can have both!
Adam F. Yep.
Stewart M. One last question – What are your plans for the service going forward? Any new features, etc. you might be able to hint at, or give us an idea of what’s ahead?
Adam F. We’ve got some very cool stuff coming up of course. Things change all the time so I tend not to talk about too many specifics. That being said we’re focused on making the service simpler and easier but also more fun and functional. We’ve got a big often requested feature coming out really soon which people should really enjoy. Our blog (blog.wikispaces.com) and monthly email update which is sent to our members are good ways of keeping to date on what we’re doing.
Stewart M. Adam, thanks so much for taking time to talk with me. And any time you have an announcement or something you’d like the education community to hear about, please feel free to send it to me, and I’ll get it on the blog…
Adam F. Great. Thank you Stewart.
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