Please, Not Another Wiki

Ironic secret: I don’t really like most wikis, though that’s probably putting it too strongly. Ironic because I love both Wikipedia (and, especially, collabularies), but I grit my teeth pretty much every time I hear somebody suggest we need another wiki.

Putting it tersely: if wikis are so great, why do we need more than one of them?

I think my concern is that wikis appear to depend on either very large or very, very active communities. Critical mass doesn’t come easily, and just because anybody in the world can edit a page, doesn’t mean they will.

Take the World66 Denver travel guide as an example. The site doesn’t have much more than a link to the slightly more informative Wikitravel page for Denver, and even that falls far short of the possibility or promise. Who’s contributing to these things, and why? Who would want to?

Jenny’s thoughts on the argument from Internet Librarian 2005 (yeah, a year ago) address the rather specific issue of Open Internet Librarian Blog and the Internet Librarian Wiki (both now abandoned). Thing is, the real gem in her post was her suggestion that “the tool that ended up working the best in this situation was Technorati. It was the one spot [where] everything was pulled together.”

And that’s where I think Josh Porter’s thoughts fit in: “personal value precedes network value.” That is…

…each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network.

Blogs are intensely personal, wikis less so. Issues of “ownership” and our definition of “personal” all play a larger role online that might have previously been imagined. One of the mistakes of Web 2.0 is the notion that users will generate content for free. Money may not be the issue, but “value” is.

Perhaps the pre-burst notions of the attention economy were correct, or maybe something else is at work. But even without an economic theory to explain it, none of us has ever heard of a “wikier,” even as the world appears overrun by bloggers. (“Wikipedians” are the exception that proves the rule.)

Perhaps I cringe at any suggestion to create a new wiki because I wonder why that content can’t be published on an existing wiki. Perhaps I cringe because I wonder if the proprietary motivation to create a new wiki is itself in conflict with the community nature of wikis. Perhaps anybody can have a blog, but it seems to take a whole community to raise a wiki.

community, critical mass, rant, wiki, wikipedia, wikis

10 thoughts on “Please, Not Another Wiki

  1. I have been exploring the usefulness of wikis in different situations and feel there is real potential there if, as you say, critical mass is achieved. Thing is, as an academic librarian, I am also excited when I see folks try new things (even fail! but hopefully, learn something?). I don’t think they’re the “end all” or perfect for every use requiring easy online editing across a group of folks…. but I’d like to be open to the potentials.

    And… I LOVE Wikipedia. I know that’s a bit of a sacrilege to admit in many circles, but I have found that for me the positives outweigh the negatives.

    Interesting post, especially the personal “ownership”T thoughts. Thank you.

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  3. Hi,

    Interesting post, but I think you’re overlooking some issues:

    The idea that there only needs to be one wiki seems a little silly to me. There’s more than one wiki for the same reason there’s more than one book in the library. Wikis have unique goals, styles, policies, and communities– not to mention site structure and software.

    For example, no one takes an encyclopedia on vacation. They take a travel guide because it has relevant information (i.e. hotels, taxis, restaurants), a specific tone and structure that makes it a useful document. Wikitravel has as one of its goals the ability to print out a page and stick it in your backpack for offline travel use. The site also has software extensions specific to travel such as mapping and geographical hierarchy.

    If you’re interested in knowing why people contribute to wikis, you may want to take a look at the Open Source / Free Software software movement that has produce the Linux OS. A good starting point is Eric S. Raymond’s Homesteading in the Noosphere

    Evan Prodromou (the founder of Wikitravel) gave a talk at this years SxSw on commercialization and wikis. You can find slides at http://evan.prodromou.name/Talks/SXSW07 and a summary at http://liz-henry.blogspot.com/2007/03/sxswi-panel-on-commercialization-of.html

    There’s a lot more out there, but this should get you started.

    Thanks,
    michele ann jenkins
    co-founder, wikitravel

  4. “It takes a whole community to raise a wiki” — and the wiki doesn’t have the market value of a self-proclaiming identity until its content is sufficient in scope to warrant people seeking it out as a source of information.

  5. I find that software support wikis are immensely useful, since Wikipedia is not going to get into the nitty-gritty of how to develop templates for Drupal.

    I also like wikis for “one-off” projects like organizing a conference, or even attending a conference. Seeing people’s schedules for Computers in Libraries was quite helpful to me when I was there.

    And using a wiki for presentations is not the worst thing you could do.

    That said, coming up for a wiki, hoping that everyone will just join in on your pet project is a certainly misguided and often performed waste of virtual space.

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  8. Hi. I loved your article. I think there is both some truth, and some false hood in what you say. On the one hand, it might not make sense to have the entire bod of human knowledge in more then one place, but then again – maybe it is just plain “safer” for humanity to have more then one.

    Can people have more then one opinion on how to describe what an Apple is or what a Dog is?

    The internet will ultimately become a better place with more then one Wiki. That is of course because I wrote Yet Another Wiki from scratch. I tried to put my own spin on it, adding a robot instead of a plain jane search engine. Medium success so far.

    Anyways, great article.

  9. In terms of using wiki for sharing knowledge I agree – we could all use wikipedia as our one source of knowledge sharing, but what about using wiki to drive creativity or even entertainment? I’ve just started work on a new project http://www.wherearethejoneses.com is an online daily comedy sitcom which uses wiki based technology to allow the community to upload scripts, sctorylines, characters, locations etc. In terms of entertainment it is very innovative and revolutionary.

    I would love to know your thoughts on the site and use of wiki. http://www.wherearethejoneses.com

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