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The Longest Now

Workplace wikis and how Wiki works
Monday September 29th 2008, 5:23 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Now that How Wikipedia Works has come out, it is becoming easier to promote wikis at work as a model for better version control of shared knowledge.  At OLPC this isn’t a terribly hard problem, but it is still a concern : people with no experience with History or universal talk pages have a hard time mapping their ideas of a quick and simple conversation space onto this sort or more structured knowledge center.  Conversations about how to foster better sharing of documents and ideas often stumble on very different understandings of what Wikipedia itself is, and how it is used, since the project’s fame make it a proxy for the very concept of Wikis.

An assortment of wiki-way authors should update a canonical “How Wiki Works” book, and publish it under a free license — taking people back to the foundational philosophies and rules of thumb that gave us this vastly valuable cultural shift.  Wikis remain one of the simplest, and most effective, solutions to a large set of problems – what makes them successful is a philosophy of use and the realization of a new set of norms.  Trying to design a set of tools to accomodate the steps in collaboration has been done many times before and since, never with such impact.

I’d love to see that text developed now, to supplement the online version of HWW.  I bet Ward and Bo and friends have some good textual material (hat tip to Mark Dilley) on their cutting room floors to seed such a project.  Or perhaps there is a already new book in the works 🙂  At any rate, people need to be reminded that the yeast of massively parallel peer production is behavioral change, not tool invention.

UPDATE: Perhaps the AboutUs wiki is a good place to have some of these discussions, considering the depth of reflection on this school of thought there…

[PS – hey, Addison-Wesley, how come The Wiki Way is classified simply under ‘Books’?]

So if I want to set up a workplace wiki… what are good examples of work wikis in action that highlight differences with Wikimedia projects?

Comment by Narajan 09.29.08 @ 10:09 am

I’m pleased that Wiki is a positive force in the changing nature of work.

Comment by Ward Cunningham 09.30.08 @ 1:43 pm

SJ – you are right we have material – could be better organized, check out these couple things – are they near what you are thinking?

Best, Mark

Comment by Mark 09.30.08 @ 8:05 pm

That’s good, thank you. It’s funny how it makes a difference to find a *live* wikipage discussing these things than one you remember from years past — examples and language, even subtle things, change… and it always helps to know that someone browsing through an essay won’t run into a dead end that was deleted a few years back.

I guess I’d like to see the next iteration of “How Wikipedia Works” include a long chapter not on the ‘history of Wiki’ but on the Wiki Way, with modern-day examples from WP of how each step along that way helps the whole fit together without overhead or the creation of static, monopolizable roles.

It would be easy to let future seekers come to WP and discover wikis through a layer of complicated rules and bureaucracies, not unlike other legal systems that they find and — rather than realizing that our own social systems and governments and townships are ninth-generation decendants of something like wiki philosphy — decide that a wiki is just another virtual variation on modern (and somewhat arbitrary) social / legal / corporate structure.

Comment by metasj 09.30.08 @ 9:13 pm

I would like to expand the bit where we talk about other wikis in action. And I think the phrase “wiki way” is missing altogether…

A good start would be an essay for the supplements/essays/updates page that I’m putting together. Then we can figure out how to work it into the big book later. You’ve got to deal with the topic of how Wikipedia both is a (the) canonical wiki and yet isn’t at all in many way.s. Highlighting some examples of other wikis and what features they might or might not have in common with wp — something we do in a few pages in Ch. 2 but not in a way that is a highlight — would probably interest narajan and others. I have some rather painful wikis-at-work and how to make them fail stories that could go in such a compendium as well.

And a shoutout to Ward! 🙂

Comment by phoebe 10.01.08 @ 2:58 am

Or to put this all another way, there is more than enough room on the market for a community-written book about how to set up and maintain a wiki for your organization.* I am not sure that How Wikipedia Works should be that book, because Wikipedia is pretty anomalous, but such a book should be written by someone intimate with Wikipedia (“and how it actually works,” which is what I think our catchy tagline should be).

* not: how to hack the software, or what a wiki is, but what a wiki could be.

Comment by phoebe 10.02.08 @ 11:23 am

Yes, I’m hoping to see a “how wiki works” book once the titular meme catches on, based in parts on the original Wiki Way and HWikipediaW . It could afford to be more religious than HWpW.

Then of course there’s the compendium of examples and counterexamples, in “which wikis work?” and the fox news expostacular, “When Wikis Work… Too Well”

Comment by SJ 10.02.08 @ 7:34 pm

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