Wiki Wednesday

After the day was over at IIW, Eugene Kim was headed down to SocialText to speak at Wiki Wednesday, so some of us tagged along. The evening was nice enough that we moved it outside. A very informal and nice conversation.

Eugene was being controversial and said that recent improvements to wikis are missing the point. Wikis are transformational tools for communities. They are neutral space. So what features are needed and central to the notion of a wiki?

Yet wikis need single sign on. Lightweight SSO solutions are viable. If wikis are supposed to be about community, then you ought to be able to get one them easily. Wikipedia is multiple wikis. Every single one requires that you create a new user. This breaks community because you can't carry identity from one place to another.

Reputation is another issue for wikis. The number theme at the last wiki conference was reputation. Wiki people don't know what reputation means. Wikis already have reputation, but we're not acknowledging it or branding it. Wikipedia articles, for example, have discussion pages, authors, author expertise, number of edits, and so on. People should be able to see these. More transparent metrics are important.

A simple thing you could do is to "age" pages so that page color changes the older and staler a page is. Using a visual metaphor gives information without making an explicit reputation claim.

I made the point that reputation is "my story about you." Reputation is not a community thing. Communities tend to arrive at similar reputation judgments because of webs of trust. The key is to expose facts so that reputation can be computed based on those facts.

Wikis shouldn't look too good or too finished. When someone sees a document that looks finished, they assume that someone owns it or that there's no point making comments.

The second, and most important characteristic of wikis is that wikis are about language--specifically shared language. Shared language is the number on thing in building collaborative communities. "Link as you think." Referring to pages by name means you've for to think about page names (thinking about language). You might be using words differently than someone else. This can relate in namespace clash--a good think in wikis. This drives nomenclature convergence.

This affordance that wiki page links have to encourages name space clash is similar for tags. Tags create clashes and serendipitous connections. If you do a page index on any wiki, you're seeing the vocabulary of that community. The default for this listing is an alphabetical list. We should us tag clouds based on backlinks to words as a better visual metaphor for nomenclature. Wiki tags should not just show pages so tagged, but also wiki words.

Nomenclature isn't an exercise where you can get everyone together for a few meetings before the project starts and build a taxonomy. Any tool built on a wiki structure will get "link as you think" as a matter of course. That doesn't need to be. There's no reason you can't have a "link as you think" feature in forums, email, blogs, and so on. Link as you think encourages convergence around ideas.