Tuesday, June 28, 2005

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.


Blogger Josh Lynch said...

While reading "Unique Values of the Wiki Way," I kept thinking that this would be a perfect way for students to collaborate on a class news-letter. They could peer edit each other's writing, collaborate and offer advice, assistance and criticism, as well as learn about each other as writers. This activity would also build classroom community in that they would learn to respect each other's ideas, beliefs and ways of doing things. Also, depending on each other for deadlines and seeing their own work in relation to their peers would give them a sense of ownership as well as camaraderie. This sense of community could also be built as the group decides upon the stipulations for the Wiki site. I had never thought about a Wiki site having the ability to assist with classroom community!!!

9:43 PM  
Blogger Heather Hyatt said...

I totally agree with Josh. This would also be a great way for students to complete almost any collaborative group project. Whether completing a project on tigers or plants this would be a great way for students to work on gathering and sharing their information with one another. This would also allow for students to work on their project at their own time if they could not meet regularly.

8:33 PM  
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