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Getting up to speed on wikis

Wikis are now on the radar screens of many of us grappling with using technology effectively in knowledge work. Ward Cunningham’s book,The Wiki Way:Quick Collaboration on the Web, has been on my bookshelf for some time now and I’ve visited a handful of public wikis. Lately there’s been a spate of posts in the blog world about wikis. I’ve gathered up and made a first pass at organizing the ones I’ve encountered into what might be a reasonable order (based on my current level of ignorance).

One thing that did help me get a better grasp on wikis was listening to David Weinberger’s talk at Seabury Western two weeks ago. David was drawing attention to the collaborative effort to produce the Wikipedia, which is essentially an open source model effort at creating an online encyclopedia. I had always been puzzled by the free-for-all editing capability inherent in the wiki technology. The analogy that finally made it clear for me was to a whiteboard in a conference room. Those frequently become shared design spaces as markers change hands. Wikis are the same idea moved to the web, which suggests to me that they are likely to be more useful inside organizations than elsewhere.

  • Why Wiki Works – [link courtesy of Corante: Social Software, which has been following the Wiki discussion in depth]
  • Why Wike Works/Not
  • Why I Don’t Like Wikis Email – [Also from Corante: Social Software] – Some interesting observations about visual presentation in wikis and email vs. better laid out web pages and how this interferes with the usefulness of wikis (at least on the public web).
  • Email Doesn’t Self-Organize – [from Ross Mayfield] – quoting Ward Cunningham

    Cunningham also points out that you can go away from a wiki and come back at any time to pick up a conversation without much inconvenience, which isn’t the case with e-mail-centric group discussions. “E-mail doesn’t self-organize,” he emphasizes.

  • The Cunningham quote comes from What’s a Wiki? an overview article by Sebastian Rupley at Extreme Tech.
  • Wiki as a PIM and Collaborative Content Tool [via Sebastian Fiedler] – which appears to be a good overview with lots of links.
  • From the other Seb in my aggregator (Sebastien Paquet at Seb’s Open Research) comes Why Meatball Matters.

    Meatball Wiki is a little-known gem in the jungle of online community-related material on the Web. What is it about? A whole lot of fascinating stuff – in founder Sunir Shah’s words:

    It philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity. It talks about user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution. But it also contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design.

    Sunir has recently been busy writing up a nice summary of what’s significant about Meatball, as part of a work portfolio he’s preparing to get into the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto.

    I believe Sunir understands Wiki philosophy better than anyone else I know. His contributions to framing the concept and patterns of soft security that underlie the social architecture of Wikis are what made me an early convert to Meatball. If only Sunir had kept a blog instead of a home-brewed diary page, he’d surely be well-known in social software circles today.

    Hopefully, as the Wiki way slowly seeps into the mainstream Internet mentality, its perceived weirdness will subside and collaborative hypermedia communities like this one will get the recognition (and linkage) they deserve.