Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Last Update

Site elements were last updated January 2, 2006 at 7:30 pm. Only this post reflects the date accurately. Individual posting dates are only those of the original posting and kept that way to preserve topic sequence.

This is an essay order blog, meant to be read from top to bottom, instead of the usual reverse order blog. It is also a coherent essay style blog instead of a series of somewhat disconnected ideas.

[There are more posts available than shown in the Post History with the Bibliography being last.]

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Wiki Thinking

Wiki thinking returns web use to the original conception of the web's inventor Tim Berners-Lee, a place to edit, annotate and enhance each other's web pages. In contrast to private composition and the comment thread debates of blogging and discussion groups, wiki work is about performing in public to some degree. A wiki requires going beyond arguing about it, or thinking about or reflecting about it. Just do it. Make the change; edit the page; and then wait. The tension can be high in anticipation of approval or of further edits by others. Collaborative editing came of age with the birth of wiki servers. So, when does wiki use apply and not apply? Is it sufficient for all editing needs, or are there partner applications that are essential? Are there privacy and blocking features to control the throttle of editing accessibility? This blog summarizes key wiki developments.

Interesting Wiki Examples

The premier example of wiki power is wikipedia.org, a world class encyclopedia. In June 28 around 640,000 articles had been created over 4.5 years, as compared with some 70,000 to 100,000 articles in major commercial encyclopedias. By March 3, 2006, half year later, the 1 million article goal had been reached.

Other interesting wikis are emerging in many areas, but many wikis are not yet well established, with significant portions of them incomplete, trivial or lacking in useful information. Here are some of the more substantial wikis:

Education: Adult Literacy Education
Reading/Writing: WikiBooks ; WikiNews ; English 242 Romantic Writing Project
Science: species.wikipedia.org; ChemWiki
Mathematics: JReality-wiki
Multimedia: WikiCommons

Merely visiting and reading a Wiki misses what makes them unique. To understand their power you must edit them. Wiki's are not designed as a spectator sport. Don't be a couch potato; play the game. In Wikipedia.org, visit the sandbox, a special set of pages with tutorials that teach and encourage editing in Wikipedia. There are numerous similarities between wikis yet editing procedures may not be exactly the same as one moves from one wiki to the next. Look for the help features in each wiki to review basic edit procedures.

Comments with rationale about the value of other wikis are encouraged.

Free or Fee Wiki Tools

To wiki requires wiki style software running on a local networked computer of your own or a hosted service. Long lists of wiki hosting services or wikiware applications themselves are readily available. Just as there are web server and blog servers providing free file storage and Internet sharing services, there are also wiki servers providing free hosting services. Users have taken to calling these wiki farms. Some wiki farms are free and some charge. There are many pages with lists of wiki farms: Wikipedia/wiki farms; Google Directory; Yahoo Directory. However, searches for comparisons, reviews or evaluations of wiki farm services have yet to be successful.

Others have focused on the software applications that run wiki services and have made comparison tables of wikiware options (splitbrain; wikipedia). Choices and features change frequently, so doing your own research is essential to having current information. Narrowing these choices from the over 100 available wiki applications can be helped by referring to top ten lists. Even the top ten lists have trouble staying current. One of the most recent developments in the wiki universe is the concept of an enterprise wiki, a set of intranet documents that anyone in the organization can edit or annotate, such as provided by Socialtext and Jotspot which function like wikis but add additional structure.

Free services include free hosting services and free wiki server software, in contrast to paying a fee for more features or buying wiki server software.

Still open to debate is the early leadership in wiki hosting. Just as there are variations in blog software depending on the hosting service, so is the case with wiki servers. The features you want will determine the choice of wiki farm. One of those critical features is RSS service for notification of wiki page changes. This includes: Socialtext; Kwiki; Purple Wiki; and JSP Wiki.

For a quick experimentation with the wiki way, follow this link get your first wiki page posted at http://riters.com/?content=Make%20A%20Wiki.

Search Engines for Wiki Content

Wiki content changes very rapidly, even more frequently than blog sites. However, RSS notification services of page changes only began to appear in 2004. Beyond the problem of getting wikis to make it standard to send notifications of page changes, another part of the problem is volume. The volume of change in high volume wikis has been too great for global search systems to stay current. However, constructing a localized search engine is within the ability of many programmers.


General purpose wiki search engine http://www.wikia.com/

Search just wikipedia http://www.wikiwax.com/


Computer Programming Making a Wiki Search Engine

Unique Values of the Wiki Way

As compared with a word processor, classic static web site, or blog design, what gives wiki design its value?

By definition a wiki is visible across a network, whether a local network or the global Internet. It is by definition a tool designed for collaborative composition and instant change. This is a fundamental value. Its application needs to fit settings and situations in which collaboration and rapid change is relevant. Not all writing is or should be collaborative. Wiki composition also fosters dispute, negotiation, and space for multiple divergent points of view as legitimate perspectives whether right or wrong. Though rapid change is basic, wiki design includes several ways to protect different versions of a composition, a concept that will be addressed in greater detail elsewhere.


Different wikis can each develop their own dispute policies, but Wikipedia's Dispute resolution page serves as an outstanding and well-tested model. Disputes must be seen as having both productive and nonproductive potential. The heat of disputes can generate new ideas and improved understanding. Balancing the tough resolution that thoroughly defends a concept with the humility that one person cannot know everything is an important part of growing one's art at being human. Of some interest would be an analysis of what percentage of wiki projects move to some of dispute resolution. In the massive global Wikipedia project, the numbers of cases going to arbitration are extremely small. Reagle (2004) reported some 125 cases out of 390,000 over 3 years had gone to arbitration, a figure impacting around .0003 percent of all articles.


Collaborative needs are ubiquitous. These needs include learning environments with writing partners and teams. They also include enterprise or organizational needs. Most of us function in a social group, sharing information, rules and guidelines that evolve as the team or group deals with its environment. The more rapid the changing environment, the more the team's knowledge base changes. Heterarchy increasingly trumps hierarchy as complexity and rate of change increase.

Wikis also provide a fast way to organize or link bits and pieces of information as it develops, a work-in-progress concept map, which has as much value for individuals as for groups and organizations. Just as static web pages can have links, so wiki pages can link to other pages. The immediate nature of wiki editing means the start up of a web page editor is not needed to make new links, nor does the file need to be saved and uploaded to a web site. This provides real advantages over the standard model for web site work.

One of the basic ongoing problems in effectiveness of every project team or group at whatever scale is communication and maintaining a common set of shared facts and ideas. "The majority of today’s organizational knowledge still exists outside of organizational information repositories, and often only in people’s heads" (Wagner, 2005). Prior tools for communication have relied on email, but email glut and non-public storage have begun to turn email into an organizational bottleneck that blogs and wikis can help relieve.

Blog design provides greatly simplified web page design but it is more a design to stimulate dialog and track debate, not forge group consensus. The blog owner just provides content and displays comments not new design to serve other purposes. The team is still dependent on the blog owner to update the information, which can slow further developments unnecessarily. Wiki's advantage is the power to immediately change the current posting.

Wiki editing makes direct incremental improvement on information. Other collaborative designs do not. Blog sites comment reflect on the original posting but do not change it. Though there are millions of discussion groups on various topics with email threads playing a valuable role, the original thread to the email is also never edited. Further, later comments often focus on one element of the thread, not summarizing the collective thought to that point. A coherent, collated and updated summation of incoming information is just not part of either blog or discussion group design concepts. As a consequence, blog authors and discussion groups often build web sites to put their accumulated knowledge in FAQ files and other web page structures. Unless there is sufficient interest to pay someone to maintain these static files, this information often decays quickly losing accuracy and because of this inaccuracy often costs the organization or team big-time with misdirected activity and wasted motion.

Wikis provide motivation simply building on the basic human need for accurate information. There is no better evidence of this than the growth chart of wikipedia, moving from 0 articles in January, 2001 to over 600,000 articles in four years, achieving an overall level of quality that has astonished many.

Wiki Ideology

The unique features and values of wiki design are also part of a deeper intellectual tradition and debate. John M. Unsworth, Dean of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, saw wiki design as part of an ideology with a long tradition, a meme of Liberation Technology clashing with the meme of Command and Control (2004). This is also characterized in other ways including open source versus proprietary, and free information systems versus safe information systems. Unsworth wrote as spokesperson for the liberation technology point of view. His adversarial approach to the situation may also obscure other paths to solution.

A different perspective might seek harmony. The creative tension between heterarchy and hierarchy is as old as human history and as old as life itself. Command and control has been well established technically and culturally. One might see the apparent conflict as merely the growing pains of making room for technological designs that better harmonize cultural forces. Wiki designs are long overdue, and are likely to further modify best practices to be more open to creative developments and flexible management.

Private or Protected Wiki Collaboration

When the fundamental wiki concept of open editing over a network is first shared, a look of shock appears on the faces of some as they try to fathom how the the benefits of high currency are to be balanced with the need for accuracy in the information. However, to say that someone can edit a page at any time, does not mean that anyone can edit or that the edits will remain. There are many levels of information control including notification of interested readers, version control, and access control. Further, sometimes what passes for accuracy is a matter of opinion and this in turn requires negotiation control methods such as voting.

Notification services are very important. A fundamental wiki concept is that developments which occur in the public eye have many eyes watching and therefore lead to better results. Democracy counts on the fourth estate (jounalism) to keep things out in the open and therefore honestly managed. Wiki sites can can count on the eyes of many interested readers. The reader/editor of a particular page can provide the wiki site with an email address and page identification. Almost anyone who edits a wiki page wants to know if someone else has changed it. Many request page change notification even if they never edit as a way to get the latest thinking on a topic. Those writers and readers most interested in the page become the wiki page watchdogs. Open access is, after all, an underlying principle of democracy.

Even wikis that run wide open and allow public editing by anyone also use version control and access control. With version control, a dated list of every change is maintained. One can return to an earlier version with two clicks in some wikis.

Access control can be implemented universally or page by page. The home page of a wiki might be locked but all other pages that descend from it may not be. A wiki site owner or multiple administrators make those decisions.

Universal access control means that there are passwords, attribution and validation. A university or a corporation might create a wiki for employees, but its use would require a login username and password. Once logged in, any comments or edit work has the editor's name attached, providing attribution. Some systems allow email to be sent to a wiki page using the CC field and will appear as a comment on the bottom page. Later editors can synthesize the collecting comments and revise the page. Notification of changes to interested employees or team members provides validation of the content.

Multimedia Wikis- Collaborative Media Editors

The concept of multimedia wikis pose special issues. One issue is confusion. There are wiki sites that provide access to multimedia compositions, such as the Media Commons project and also wiki sites that will discuss multimedia developments. A different meaning for multimedia wikis is intended here. What if one could edit an audio file or a picture the same way one can immediately edit text? Could collaborative composition be extended to other media?

Editing text on the fly and reposting changes to a web site is well understood and easy; the code to carry out this text manipulation is standard across browsers. Wiki editing of text about audio, video, animation and other forms of media would also be easy to do. Editing media however depends on having the media tools themselves. Audio files pose fundamental challenges and video files require great computer processing power and signficant telecommunication bandwidth, while photography and other graphic manipulations within video could require even more bandwidth.

Audio could allow the replacement of one voice with another, but not the editing of the same voice. Currently, it is not possible for anyone to edit someone else's talking without having their exact same voice. That is, it can't be done with voice, including a speech, a conversation, or an audio conference. One could re-write or edit the script of the speech but then the voices would have to perform the script again to re-record the unique nature of voices.

Music can be different. Though in one sense music suffers from the same problem as the human voice; each musical voice or instrument is so unique. Music editing depends on access to access to a musical instrument's unique sound. MIDI music however was designed with a set of digital instrument sounds being universal on every computer. MIDI wikis would be technology possible, but have not yet come to my attention.

Photo and video wikis share similar problems. Photo wikis and video wikis could mean downloading a multi-layered image or multi-element video segment, editing and reposting by the same file name, while keeping a reversion record of the previous creations. More advanced web editing could provide the editing within the web browser itself, but currently web editing are not designed to have the code to carry out such work for images and video. Such form of editing would be very appropriate research projects for the emerging Internet2 system where the high bandwidth rates and data storage are available at the needed scale.

In summary, though new developments are possible, currently the wiki concept only applies to text editing.

Wiki Syndication

Much of the thinking about wiki work is done in the context of sections of text, whether definitions, sentences, paragraphs and large documents. Network RSS notification of change can easily be done with Wikis. Notification of change is a critical feature for wikis to not only function, but to address the issue of quality of product. As there is no centralized point of control, wiki quality control comes from its virtue of openness. Everyone and anyone can choose to see the changes. The more people watching, the greater the tendency towards public good. That concept in fact lies at the heart of democracy too.

Creative thinkers have also taken RSS syndication to another level, using RSS for project management, but wiki based project management has yet to appear. Very large projects can scale up to thousands of participants, each needing to know about goals, guidelines, schedules, meetings and the constant change in all of them that evolves with any project. Universal RSS standards for project management timelines using the Internet for communication will prove to be an excellent concept.

Wiki project management that anyone could edit might be seen as a recipe for chaos. This thumbsucking comfort in the blanket of hierarchical control has dogged wiki inventors from the beginning. At every step critics have raised the issue of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) when someone has begun a wiki dictionary, encyclopedia, animal inventory or other concept. Given the current number of massive wiki projects of growing quality, a wait and see attitude would be appropriate for project management.

What other variations might evolve with wiki syndication?

Wiki Limitations?

A system designed to do all things well ends up doing little or nothing well. Wiki design seeks highly interactive and quick collaboration, but not every situation needs that. Wiki design allows totally open public editing, but not every situation needs that. This does not mean that wiki design has failed because all wiki features cannot be used for all situations. Wiki values must be appropriately applied and this includes knowledge of the limitations. Both technical and social factors need consideration.

Technical Factors

The public nature of wiki editing means that page vandalism, and intentional distortion and lies and inadequately edited grammar are a risk that must be balanced against speedy change and the capacity for more public control that was discussed under wiki controls.

Wiki design is constantly improving, but currently many of the features of common word processors such as the creation of tables and the easy insertion of media is not possible with all versions. It must be understand that one of the motivations of wiki design is to not add complexity and so it is likely that even though such features can be technically added, they should not be and might not ever be. There is a trade-off between speed and complexity and users must decide which they need most in different situations.

Social Factors

Involving a group of people in a new way of thinking requires some group socialization. Wiki environments by default seem designed for those with little or no ego issues. The concept of egalitarianism needs discussion and acceptance by the players. This may not be the best tool to use to achieve peace and harmony with highly controversial topics. Further, it is a stretch for some to accept shared ownership, often without attribution. Those with status and reputation concerns may not play well in wiki environments. There are many forms of passive resistance and ways around a wiki team, either using email to keep information out of the loop or simply inattention to the wiki content. How much is at stake and how socialized the group has become with a collaborative project will have a great impact on wiki newbies. Beginners considering a wiki project should consider low impact projects to try out a wiki system and their skills before pressure intensive time or public exposure elements are increased. Regular use of notification by participants so that they know what has changed and when is critical to socializing all to wiki norms.

Two cases of distorted wiki articles have been widely reported in the press, dealing with a particular kind of wiki, the publicly created and edited wiki. In the first, the Los Angeles Times experimented in 2005 with a wiki for debate on the controversial topic of Iraq and was overwhelming with porn messages and images and over the top criticism (Lee, 2005). In the second case of 2005, John Seigenthaler Sr., a journalist and former assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, discovered a Wikipedia article in which a prankster falsely accused him in an article of plotting the Kennedy assassinations (Blakely, 2005).

More scientific tests have shown that these headliner cases are the exception, not the rule, even with a publicly edited wiki. In a test by the Editor-at-large A. Jacobs of Esquire magazine in 2005, he put deliberate errors in a wikipedia article. Within three days there were 576 edits, fixing all but one of the errors. Nature, the scientific journal, used independent reviewers in 2005 to compare 42 articles on the same topics in both Wikipedia and in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the gold standard for encyclopedias. The Wikipedias encyclopedia was discovered in general to have just a slightly higher error rate than Britannica.

Beyond the issues of deliberate or accidental distortion, any degree of editing of one person's composition by another has a tendency to be seen by the first composer as ruthless, insensitive or ignorant of some detail. There is a reason that publishers hire editors. Wiki participants must accept the two phases of writing, focusing on content and focusing on editing. Participants need to discuss their capacity to accept developments with good humor and some appreciation that editing is a specialty too. Potential emotional concerns should always be addressed before work begins and this one is well known. Those who cannot accept the good faith effort of others should find other roles to play in the overall sequence of completing a project besides the wiki effort. There is always much to do.

In short, the technical tools exist to exercise social control in effective ways in a highly mixed population. Whether these are applied or not depends on a number of social factors, but it has been successful done. However, wiki editing can be reserved by only those with the proper password, which allows groups of any size to take advantage of wiki design without worrying about outsiders manipulating the composition.

Educational Uses for Wiki

What best summarizes the educational uses of wikis? New uses continually emerge, but some uses already have received serious attention: collaborative composition of student essays and projects; assembly and organization of large bodies of information; development of organizational documents for policy and planning; and annotation of existing documents.

There are many places that educators can take advantage of the unique values of wikis. The language arts area has long experimented with collaborative composition. By running their own servers with password protection, schools can protect their students from the public at large. At the same time, the potential for collaborative parent-child and school personnel projects is significant and wikis would be a very relevant tool to use. Educators in every content area from time to time require students to carry out team projects which involve writing which would further build on the wiki concept. On a global scale, adults have used this concept to create a number of encyclopedic and dictionary projects which have made impressive progress (see wiki examples). Dennis et al (2004) used the wiki concept to help manage the team teaching of a divergent course design that mixed diverse faculty and fields of study: history, journalism, computer science, and educational technology.

Many educators are also deeply involved in policy development and curriculum development, which require the collaboration of many participants. One example is professional adult literacy group whose wiki currently is collating information on methods of distance education delivery that are currently in use. Another group, Blogging101 created an extensive outline for participants to expand but open to ideas from anyone onthe net. Wikis will certainly be explored for such uses.

The wiki concept is also useful for pentrating a poem, passage of literature, policy paper or technical writing. Any word or phrase can quickly be turned into a link to a new web page which provides more in-depth analysis. Each of those pages can contain additional or follow-up links to expansions of thinking by other authors, a sort of chain of footnotes and annotation. For example, Phillipson's teaching of poetry required students to respond to or provide passages of text and then develop their own fine grained interpretation through linking selected words and phrases (Brock, 2005).

Examples of many uses may never be public and therefore not indexed by search engines such as Google. News of any wiki projects is sought and will be used to update this posting.

Wiki Futures

What will the next levels of Wiki development look like? One would expect that further evolution on networked software will be forthcoming. Sequencing and integrating discussion groups, blogs, wikis and static web pages would hold the most value today and be necessary to capture the unique role of each. But the times, they may be changing. In time, will static web pages be seen as the tip of the information iceberg, giving lift and visibility from these other underlying web elements, or will the growing pace of change and the power of egalitarian teamwork move wiki design to the visible tip of the iceberg? Will some new design synthesize the current pieces?

Fraser's (2005) perspective on the new tools for a new Internet imply that the answers will not be long in coming.

Wiki Bibliography

Blakely, Rhys ( December 30, 2005). Identity question for world's encyclopaedia. Times Online. Received 1/2/05 from http://business.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,9071-1961321,00.html

Dennis, Brian M.; Smith, Carl S.; & Smith, Jonathan A. (April 16, 2004). Team Teaching, Team Learning. Chronicles of Higher Education, 50(32), B9. Retrieved July 18, 2005 from http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v50/i32/32b00901.htm

Fraser, Janice (April 21, 2005). It's a Whole New Internet. http://www.adaptivepath.com/publications/essays/archives/000430.php

Hagel, John; Brown, John Seely (2005). The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization. Harvard Business School Press.

Lee, Ellon (Dec. 31, 2005). The (mostly) wonderful world of Wikis. The Wichita Eagle. Received 1/2/05 from http://www.kansas.com/mld/kansas/business/13489798.htm

Reagle, Joseph (2004): A Case of Mutual Aid: Wikipedia, Politeness, and Perspective Taking. Retrieved April 15, 2005 from http://reagle.org/joseph/2004/agree/wikip-agree.html

Read, Brock (July 15, 2005). Romantic Poetry Meets 21st-Century Technology: With wikis, the new Web tool, everybody's an editor and a critic. Chronicles of Higher Education, 51(45), A35-36. Retrieved July 18, 2005 from (subscription) http://chronicle.com/prm/weekly/v51/i45/45a03501.htm

Rubenking , Neil J. (December 30, 2003). Wiki Tools. PCmag.com. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1759,1402872,00.asp

Tonkin, Emma (January 2005). Making the Case for a Wiki, Ariadne, Issue 42, Received June 27, 2005 at http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue42/tonkin/

Wagner, Christian (2005): Breaking the Knowledge Acquisition Bottleneck through Conversational Knowledge Management. In: Information Resources Management Journal [Wikis, Wikipedia, Knowledge Management] Retrieved June 30, 2005 at http://wagnernet.com/tiki/tiki-download_file.php?fileId=9&PHPSESSID=4c679e2fca36f429a420ac5b1cc29891

Other Wiki Bibliographies

Wiki Research Bibliography