Typography Gets a “-pedia” that’s Special

Typedia logo
Do you ever have the feeling there are some incredible typefaces that you don’t know about or just can’t find? Do you have some of your own you want to share? Or are you looking for a better place to express your innermost disgust feelings for  Comic Sans? Then Typedia may be just what you’ve been waiting for.

But wait, there’s more! Typedia is more—well, let’s say ‘different’—than a basic wiki. As the founder, Jason Santa Maria, describes the Typedia site:

Because typefaces aren’t just pretty letters alone, but pieces of art that have distinct criteria, a more specialized tool is needed. The site is a wiki with structure, a “swiki” if you will. We’re dealing with similar subjects and shared parameters, so we can organize the form of that content, as opposed to a freeform essay-style site like Wikipedia.

Whoa! Hold on there. Yes, Typedia has added to the basic wiki framework. Any wiki has structure to it, though, even beyond the obvious parts of ‘pages with titles’ and ‘links among pages’. And his example of a "freeform essay-style site", Wikipedia, is riddled with structure.

Looking at Wikipedia, it’s hard to find places on a page that don’t have structure. Consider the Typography page. Beyond the whole left and top navigation elements, the "freeform" part includes, just to name a few:

  • a table of contents and text organized into sections
  • a module about the article needing citations
  • a right-pane module of various non-letter characters
  • a common structure around embedded images
  • a categorized module about typography terminology

Wikipedia is not a good example of a "freeform" wiki. But Typedia has added something that doesn’t exist in a basic wiki. It’s not quite that it’s added "structure". Rather, it has imposed certain structures around the "similar subject and shared parameters" that its niche domain allows. For example, each typeface can have one or more designers and foundries, and is placed within a hierarchical classification. Wikipedia imposes structures of its own, but with a much broader domain to cover, it is limited in what it can do.

Another aspect of these imposed structures is that they’re ones that the typical wiki contributor cannot change; the contributor may be able to change the value of something, but not the fact that it’s there or some aspects of its structure. For example, each typeface is allowed sample images and has a defined set of “credits” metadata fields, such as “Designer(s)” and “Foundry(ies)”. I can change the values for one of these fields, but I can’t remove any fields or change “Designer(s)” to “Maker Person(s)”. This is different than structure that a contributor may add to a wiki, or even that the site authority may create but that others are able to change.

Typedia is imposing constraints that limit in some ways what contributors can do, but at the same time aim to improve the overall experience of the site. Constraints like these can be very beneficial. The key is to find the right fit and balance for your particular domain and users, which of course is typically a moving target as your audience/user base and patterns of usage change over time.

There are many examples of this all over the web. It will be interesting to watch how Typedia fares with the constraints they’ve chosen for now.

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