[SharedKnowing] Wiki lessons learned
sanger at citizendium.org
Wed Jan 2 15:42:02 CST 2008
> I'll propose six lessons learned from the last eight years
> or so of wikiing.
This is very interesting!
> 1. Error and imperfection drive wikis. Preventing error kills wikis.
There's certainly something to that; but as you yourself explain, correcting
and thereby preventing further errors (on a given point) are exactly what
drive wikis. What kills wikis, or what kills the openness and general sense
of freedom that drives wiki development, would be any number of heavy-handed
Few wikis actually *die* due to overconcern about preventing errors.
Rather, they never get off the ground, because their participants
> 2. Wikis are bad for resolving disagreements or determining consensus.
> "The wiki renders no verdict."
Well, I've certainly thought so; hence, the neutrality policy of both WP and
> Some ways to resolve this are: limit the topics only to factually
> indisputable matters ("NPOV" on Wikipedia) or simply
> declare that the
> wiki renders no verdict on anything but has space for all opposing
Neutrality is much closer to the latter than the former, but it depends on
how you define your terms ("factually indisputable matters").
> 3. DocumentMode should be separate from ThreadMode.
> That's now-archaic terminology for "the end product that
> people are
> collaborating on" (e.g. encyclopedia pages) should be
> separated from
> people's signed statements in the first person (e.g. discussion
I think there's a difference between the DocumentMode/ThreadMode distinction
and the main page/talk page distinction. The purpose of DocumentMode as I
understand it is to sum up what has gone on in ThreadMode. Well, that's not
the function of main pages.
Still, of course there is a similarity of function. Main pages are meant to
present a single extended document with a single "collective" or "fictional"
author, while talk pages have multiple authors. The same is true of
DocumentMode and ThreadMode, respectively.
> 4. Free-form text is especially good for collaboration:
> infinite degrees
> of freedom, but it's easy for anyone to make small changes.
Agreed. It's extremely flexible; it's an infinite series of connected
chalkboards. Frankly, I think we haven't found all the possible uses of
wikis, just as we haven't found all the possible uses of mailing lists, or
of other social software. With wiki, there's basically two popular modes of
use: the WikiWikiWeb mode of use and the Wikipedia mode of use. I am quite
sure there are many others possible, though.
> Extremely rich
> media like video don't allow small changes to be made without
> completely reworking the whole.
Well, that's just because *text* is easy to change and relatively
interchangeable, as to style and format. But are there other types of
information that are equally easy to change and interchangeable?
> 5. Intervention from above should be very sparing. The growth and
> direction of a wiki are not very controllable from the executive
Agreed. This is why I have always spoken of editorial involvement in CZ as
"gentle." And, for most of our editors, it really is.
But one thing that I have learned recently, or maybe relearned, is how
powerful *initiatives* can be, even though they can be organized "from the
top," so to speak. For some interesting examples, see:
But then, starting initiatives isn't so much intervention and control as it
is organization. Each initiative is in itself very bottom-up in its own
> 6. A wiki's growth has two principal "cusps": reaching a critical mass
> when it takes on a life of its own (beyond the founder's personal
> friends and ability to control the vision), and another one where
> people show up who violate the social norms of
> collaborative writing
> and threaten to destroy it.
> The many small wikis that contain just a little haphazard
> content are
> ones that never reached critical mass. Ward Cunningham's original
> wiki at http://www.c2.com/cgi/wiki?RecentChanges
> illustrates a wiki
> long past the stage where the riff-raff showed up and ended the
> culture of mutual respect. Wikipedia is a great success, in large
> part because when the riff-raff showed up, a
> strong-enough group of
> citizens enacted rules and set up dispute
> resolution--alienating some
> people but preserving the cooperative spirit of the wiki.
Wikipedia is certainly better than it could be, but a casual glance at
"Requests for arbitration" for example shows how problematic its system is.
It has been problematic in those ways since late 2001 and 2002. And that's
about when lots of riff-raff showed up and, indeed, ended what *had* been a
culture of mutual respect and many of the social norms.
Anyway, fear of your second "cusp" is what motivated me to make the
endorsement of a Statement of Fundamental Principles (soon, I hope, to be
replaced by a slightly more elaborate Citizendium Charter) a condition of
participation. As a result, while we argue quite a bit over issues that
matter to us, we do not, generally speaking, argue about the rules that
define the community. And I think we have certainly reached a sort of
critical mass, even if we aren't yet growing absolutely explosively.
I highly recommend the adoption of basic rules for the community. But then,
when you can't know who people are, you can't know whether they have or
haven't violated the rules. Hence, in a culture of anonymity, basic rules
are problematic at best--as Wikipedians understand very well.
Gee, Ben, this is all shades of "ASP-Disc," no? What a great list that was.
Hey look--Bryan Caplan has hosted a copy of the old ASP (then SSP) charter!
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