Thursday, December 04, 2008

Wiki Whomping

"When have I seen wikis work the best?" Thanks to Noah Flower for posting his thoughtful response to my last post (about working wikily), and closing with that question.

By way of answering, I'd like to quote from the pre-eminent prophet of working wikily, Clay Shirky. In his award-winning essay "A group is its own worst enemy," Shirky states, "Prior to the Internet, the last technology that had any real effect on the way people sat down and talked together was the table."

You can click here to read my original argument that Shirky is crazy if he really believes that. Today, instead of arguing against Shirky, I'd like to use his quote to put Noah's question in clearer context:

"When have you seen tables work the best?"

If you find that question confusing, good. Tables are such a fantastic technology for collaboration, and so flexible in the ways we can use them, that asking for "best example of using a table" is more of a Rorschach test than a question. More specifically, it's a great question for a furniture salesman to ask, as the person answering will suddenly feel an urge to find some connection between tables and whatever "works the best."

Answering Noah more earnestly (sort of), I have seen wikis work very well when they are tightly controlled. For example, Claire Reinelt and I use a wiki to publish our favorite reading list about SNA and leadership networks for social change. Our reading list is a joint effort that neither of us could have assembled alone. The most important feature of the site, however, is that no one can edit the wiki but me and Claire.

I'll close today's post with this passage from Wikipedia. It's from an article on participation inequality, but it also works well as a manifesto for Wikipedia's own governance, which is much more tightly controlled than it used to be:
"A major reason why user-contributed content rarely turns into a true community is that ... a few users contribute the overwhelming majority of the content, while most users either post very rarely or not at all. Unfortunately, those people who have nothing better to do than post on the Internet all day long are rarely the ones who have the most insights. In other words, it is inherent in the nature of the Internet that any unedited stream of user-contributed content will be dominated by uninteresting material."
Next time we'll answer the question, "When have I seen social bookmarking work the best?"

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License and is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Connective Associates LLC except where otherwise noted.


Jo said...

It's interesting that you believe a community is made up of people who contribute equally. We need to find an anthropologist to comment.

Bruce Hoppe said...

I actually said that participation inequality is not a problem, by which I also mean that healthy communities typically are characterized by participation inequality