Tuesday, September 05, 2006

What I Know About Wikis

Even though I recently started a wiki to track my training progress, I am still skeptical of their usefulness in organisations. As a free web site hosting service, sites like PBWiki and WikiWorld are great. As an integral part of information management inside a business, I have my doubts about wikis.

Until I started my current job, I thought that the name for Wikipedia had something to do with Wiccans. I don't know why exactly. There's certainly nothing pagan in the collection of knowledge and the spelling isn't even the same. I guess it had something to do with the similarity of sounds.

Then I started my job and my co-workers kept directing me to the wiki. Need the latest project plan? Go to the wiki. Need a reference doc? Get it from the wiki. What are the standards for comma usage? Find the style guide on the wiki. I was getting a little sick of hearing about this wiki thing.

I just don't like the word. The last syllable is far too harsh for my delicate little ears and it sounds like a made-up word. Plus, the pronunciation can vary. If I don't like wick-ee, I really don't like wee-kee. (After all, it rhymes with tiki and we all know what happened in the Brady Bunch episode with the tiki.)

I thought that wikis might be some weird fringe thing, but when a preliminary Google search returned about 684,000,000 pages, I knew the wiki was here to stay. I had to rethink my wiki-Wiccans connection and research the origin of the word. I'd heard a couple of different origins (the Hawiaan word for knowledge or an acronym for What I Know Is). But according to Wikipedia (and you have to figure that they would know), the creator of the first wiki, Ward Cunningham, named it after the Hawaiian word for quick.

The chief benefit of a wiki is the ease in which users can quickly and efficiently share and grow information. For companies, a wiki is seen as a great way to share information between teams or departments. Because a true wiki lets anyone edit and add pages, wikis can become a community where users assist each other in achieving common goals.

From this point of view, I can see the value of the wiki (even though I am still not sold on the word itself). However, I think wikis have a deep flaw. Typically, since wikis are a grass-roots type of information-sharing service, they do not have an organised structure. If a wiki doesn't have a good search, it can be nearly impossible to find what you're looking for. On Meatball Wiki, someone (possibly Sunir Shah – I had a hard time ascertaining authorship of the wiki page) talked about the problem in finding information and used a vivid analogy.
“To the novice reader, they are a big ball of meatball spaghetti (hence MeatballWiki), with meaty bits lost in a tangle of slimy links.”

I have a deep distrust of things that are not structured or organised. I hate jazz and I am developing a love-hate relationship with wikis. I love the democratisation of learning and information development, but it feels like having to work in a messy room. I want to impose a structure. I want to sort the entries into categories. I want to create a site map. I have a hard time letting go and letting the information grow.

But the theory behind wikis is that they require individuals to post and edit material in as easy a manner of possible. Trying to determine where a page fits in the overall structure of the wiki is often deemed too restrictive and burdensome. It is felt that the free market theory can apply to information. Useful information will be used, expanded, and prominently accesible. Less useful topics will slide by the wayside.

I don't know how much I really trust free market information management. In the short term, roll on good search engines. But, in the longer term, maybe automatic indexing or extracted categorisation will be the way of the future.


At 5 September 2006 at 18:29, Blogger Fence said...

They can be useful, once you remember that often anyone at all can edit them. So you need to be a little distrustful of them.

I also think that they work better on small subjects, a how to do something specific rather than any auld thing.

At 5 September 2006 at 19:24, Blogger Lyss said...

I like the site redo.
Don't fret- in America we still call it a 'wick-ee' (reminds me of 'kiwi' for some reason).

At 5 September 2006 at 19:25, Blogger Shane said...


At 5 September 2006 at 21:33, Blogger Terri said...

Oh my, I learn something new every time I come here :)

btw... Love the new Décor!!!

At 6 September 2006 at 14:51, Blogger The Swearing Lady said...

Oh yes, that banner is fabulous, dawling. Fabulous.

Wikis definitely lose their novelty value after a while, sadly.

At 7 September 2006 at 02:29, Blogger Career Guy said...

Love your new look. Kind of Pipi-ish and that's a good thing! Have to look into Wiki's. We just use a shared drive at work. I suppose we could call it a wiki.

At 9 September 2006 at 11:51, Anonymous J said...

One problem is innacurate submissions. It's starting to weigh down Wikipedia and I've read that a new venture is up and running in an attempt to counter it-possibly financed by Britannica.

Great blog, btw.

At 9 September 2006 at 13:55, Blogger Arbusto said...

I love Wikipedia. It's my bestest friend ever. You should go to the debate pages where they argue about what's the correct information. Those are fun.

At 12 September 2006 at 05:36, Blogger -Ann said...

Fence - I'm a little distrustful of most things, so no problem there. I particularly like being able to use Wikipedia as a starting point to get familiar with some topic.

Lyss - Thanks!

Shane - If a tarantula comes into my room, I am totally blaming you.

Terri - Well, you know, I have to keep you back for some reason. Thanks for the compliment. It's all Shane's doing.

SL - Thanks. Good thing blogs never lose their novelty, right? :)

Dad - You know I had a couple of skangers on the bus calling me Pipi this summer. I wouldn't have thought they's have known who she was.

J - Thanks. I hadn't heard about the Britannica thing. I've only ever found one error in Wikipedia (although I guess, since I was using it to learn something I didn't know about, how could I know if things were correct or not). It was immediately gratifying though to be able to fix it on the spot.

Arbusto - I've never seen one of those pages before. I'll have to check it out.


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