Angry Rant on Wikis

Earlier this month, Jonas Luster invited me to speak at WikiWednesday. I didn’t have anything prepared, and I didn’t feel particularly motivated to prepare anything, so, I told Jonas that I was just going to rant. Jonas, being Jonas, loved the idea. So after IIW wrapped on May 3, I headed up to Palo Alto. I promised folks at IIW that I was going to give an angry rant on Wikis, and so several people decided to come watch, including Phil Windley, who blogged it. Feedback was great, except for a few complaints that I wasn’t all that angry. I promise to get more worked up next time, folks.    (KK2)

I’ve made all the points I made in my rant before in some form or another, often on this blog. Nevertheless, it was the first time I shared these ideas as one semi-cohesive thought, and so it’s worth rehashing the points here.    (KK3)

Overview    (KK4)

There are two things that make Wikis cool:    (KK5)

Lots of folks have latched onto the open access part, and there’s been some interesting exploration in this area. Very few folks know about or understand the Shared Language aspect. I think this is a huge loss, because it’s what makes Wikis truly transformational.    (KK8)

Open Access    (KK9)

Since I had just come from IIW, I started with digital identity. First, I said that all Wikis should support some form of distributed Single Sign-On, be it OpenID or something else. Implementing Single Sign-On does not imply loss of anonymity. Most Wikis give you the choice of logging in or not; implementing Single Sign-On would give you the additional choice of using a single identity across multiple sites.    (KKA)

Why would this be useful? Consider Wikipedia. As my friend, Scott Foehner, commented in a previous post on this topic (to be visible again when I turn comments back on), Wikipedia actually consists of a number of different Wikis, one for each language plus a number of special Wikis, such as its community site. Each of those Wikis require a separate user account. Not only is this a huge inconvenience, it effectively prevents you from having a single digital identity (along with your associated reputation) across each of these sites.    (KKB)

Simply having Single Sign-On across all of the Wikipedia Wikis would be valuable. More importantly, the identity community has converged to the point where it doesn’t make sense to roll your own protocols. There are several good existing protocols to choose from, and many of those are in the process of converging.    (KKC)

Reputation is closely associated with identity, and it’s also been one of the most popular topics in the Wiki community over the past year. However, most people have a misguided notion of what reputation is and what we should do about it. Reputation is what others think about you. Reputations exist in every system, whether or not they are explicitly represented. Reputation cannot be quantified. However, you can identify the factors that determine reputation and make those factors more explicit.    (KKD)

In Wikis, this could manifest itself in a number of ways. For example, one way to determine the quality of a page is to view the number of people who have edited it. You could make that number explicit by subtly changing the background color of that page — slightly yellowed for a page with few contributors and bright white for a page with many contributors.    (KKE)

The important point here is that you are not making a value judgement on reputation. You are not saying that a page that has many authors is better than a page that does not. All you are doing is making it easy to see that a page has many authors. Readers can determine for themselves how much weight (if any) to place on this factor for the reputation algorithm in their heads.    (KKF)

The most important button on a Wiki page is the Edit button. That button implies Permission To Participate. It should be one of the most visible buttons on any Wiki. If a Wiki looks too good, that discourages participation. Who wants to edit something that looks like a finished product? Ward Cunningham used to suggest sprinkling typos across a Wiki page to encourage others to participate.    (KKG)

At this point in the rant, I plugged both Ward and MeatballWiki. The Wikis success is no accident. A lot of the fundamental design features that make Wikis powerful were completely intentional, a testament to Ward’s brilliance. Additionally, most of what I ranted about is not new to the Wiki community. A lot of it — and more — has been discussed on the venerable MeatballWiki. If you really want to get a deeper understanding of how to improve Wikis, you should be on Meatball.    (KKH)

Shared Language    (KKI)

Last September, I wrote:    (KKJ)

What really makes the Wiki’s LinkAsYouThink feature special is that it facilitates the creation of SharedLanguage among the community that uses it. As I’ve said so often here, SharedLanguage is an absolute prerequisite for collaboration. The lack of SharedLanguage is the most common roadblock to effective collaboration, be it a small work team or a community of thousands.  T    (KKK)

It bears repeating over and over and over again. Wikis are transformational because they facilitate Shared Language. This is a feature that should be propagated far and wide, both in Wikis and other Collaborative Tools.    (KKL)

I noted two possible convergences. The first is Wikis and tagging. They both share a similar principle, namely namespace clash, and we should look at ways of combining these two concepts. For example, where’s the tag cloud view of a Wiki’s page index? Another idea: Clicking on a tag should also return Wiki pages of the same name. Technorati should be indexing Wiki pages and treating their titles as tags.    (KKM)

The second is implementing Link As You Think in all tools. Blogs that are built on top of Wikis (such as TWiki and JotSpot) have these features, but you don’t have to build a tool on top of a Wiki for this to work. This blog runs on blosxom, but it has Link As You Think. Chris Dent‘s blog runs on MovableType, and it has the same feature. It shouldn’t just apply to blogs, either. It should work in web-based forums and other Collaborative Tools.    (KKN)

A Lynne Truss Moment

For once, my infrequent blogging will work to my advantage. I had a Lynne Truss moment at a talk I gave the other day, and since I’ve given a bunch of talks over the past month — all unblogged — I can write about the incident here without revealing too much about who the offender was or where or when it happened. And no, it had nothing to do with punctuation. In Lynne Truss‘s preface to Eats, Shoots & Leaves, she tells a story about how she was autographing books and a woman in line started talking about how little she knew about punctuation, and how she wished there were some way for her to learn. Apparently, she went on and on as Truss dropped several not-so-subtle hints that this was what her book was for. The woman finally walked away without purchasing a book.    (KIT)

Recently, I gave a talk about collaboration that was fairly well-received. It’s a fairly common pattern — people come expecting to hear me talk dreamily about the latest online tool, but instead, get an earful on process, engagement, culture, and the bottom line. Because their expectations are low to begin with and because I surprise them, people enjoy the talk. (I also like to think that I’m a better than average speaker, but I’ll let others speak to that.)    (KIU)

In any case, I told several stories about transforming organizational culture and ways to think about collaboration. I talked about how fear is a huge barrier to adopting technology, and how peer-to-peer learning is the best way to overcome that fear. I mentioned tools a few times, but mostly at a high level.    (KIV)

After the talk, a woman in her 50s approached me and just stared for a while with this creepy-looking smile. Then she started telling me about how she couldn’t log into her bank’s web site. I thought she was reinforcing my earlier point about fear, but I slowly realized that she was asking me for tech support. I was stunned at first, then I actually tried to help her, but there was nothing I could do, and when I explained this to her, she gave me this very annoyed look and stalked off. Amazing.    (KIW)

Just to end this post on a positive, my friend Cindy, who gave me Eats, Shoots & Leaves, turns 29 for a second time this Thursday. Happy birthday, Cindy!    (KIX)

Oh, and Lloyd, I will eventually post my notes from my WikiWednesday talk earlier this month, I promise.    (KIY)

TWiki 4.0 Released

Congratulations to Peter Thoeny and the entire TWiki community for the 4.0 (Dakar) release of TWiki. They’re doing a release party tomorrow (Wednesday) night at WikiWednesday in Palo Alto. I’m gonna do my darnedest to make it, but if not, I hope to see many of you Wiki folks this weekend in Portland for RecentChangesCamp. I plan on visiting Seattle afterwards, so if you’re in Portland or Seattle and want to meet up, let me know.    (K4L)

Web Montag, November 7, Cologne, Germany

I met Tim Bonneman at the Collaborative Technologies Conference in New York last June. He had just moved to the Bay Area, and had experienced only a taste of the energy and passion of the area. Almost half a year later, that taste is now total immersion.    (JZI)

In the spirit of WikiWednesday, Bar Camp, and all the other impromptu gatherings that have been cropping up like fruit flies, Tim Bonneman has organized WebMontag in Cologne, Germany, next Monday, November 7. Already, over 50 people have signed up. Looks like it will be a great gathering.    (JZJ)