[iDC] "All our wiki are belong to you"

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Fri Apr 28 12:54:36 EDT 2006

(Perhaps we can move beyond the survival and remix culture debate. 
The discussion about malleability of culture and hybridity is one vista
point of the current new media landscape. 147 million American adults
responded to a poll by the Pew Internet & American Life Project
identifying themselves as Internet users. Today, the Internet is a place
where you can go bowling together. People engage each other on a massive
scale. Apart from the commons as site of peer production there is also a
novel distributed aesthetics that emerges. Many netizens upload content.
This, I¹d argue, is a participatory turn in culture that is noteworthy.)   

What constitutes the art of engagement with regard to quotidian uses of
open access environments like wikis and blogs?

 Wikis are widely used in university settings today. Conference wikis
allow presenters and attendees to add and edit content before and after
the event. Wikis allow geographically separated collaborators to collect
ideas and work together on documents. There also other useful tools such
as SubEthaEdit for this purpose. 

Wikis can serve as a personal notebook and are useful for student
journaling in order to develop a writing proficiency. Such writing
exposes degrees of understanding of knowledge and can establish the
habit of regular reflection. Peers and instructors can jointly review
the writing.

Wikis are contributions to the Access To Knowledge (A2K) movement: they
contribute knowledge to the commons. Commitment to scholarly work, John
Willinsky writes, carries with it a responsibility to circulate that
work as widely as possible: this is the access principle. ³Wide
circulation adds value to published work; it is a significant aspect of
its claim to be knowledge. The right to know and the right to be known
are inextricably mixed.²  

Class room reports about the hands-on experiences on the ground,
however, are missing.  In the course ³Death, Data, & Desire² we used a
MediaWiki this semester. 


It is common wisdom that without a degree of closedness wikis get
quickly spammed. We kept our course wiki closed during the semester to
have a safe environment for experimentation and the development of
ideas. But in the end it was important to open it. The potential of
wikis goes far beyond single author editing. Do you know of exemplary
course wikis that are 1) cooperatively assembled and 2) really push the
properties of the medium? How does the wiki structure work on our
thoughts? Where are exemplary wikis that put that format to full
collective use in the described context? 

The meaningful orchestration of group uses of wikis does not have many
references yet. The potential is the integration of several successive
courses in one wiki in which students can build on each other¹s findings
and connect to one another. They can create reflective linkages among
their works and texts.  

When developing and maintaining collaborative student knowledge
repositories,  structure matters. Wikis are easy to edit collaboratively
but can create monumental mess when used by a group. A sea of links and
submenus will suffocate even the last bit of content. We found that the
creation of templates became an important step in the use of the course
wiki. Without the uniform use of templates, information would get
flushed down the sink of the database. Apart from templates, the
structure of each page turned out to be clearer if most information was
kept on one page, using MediaWiki automated indexing feature.   


Several commercial incarnations of wikis understand this issue well:
many wiki farms offer a clear templated structure. Clients can set up a
free wiki that is not password protected in any way, which makes them
useless for any serious, long-term use. Like with open source software
you pay for the bottle while the water is free. The convenience of
prefabricated templates gets people through the door. 

Weblogs, in comparison, are useful teaching tools but we found that they
are inferior to wikis in many respects. An advantage of blogs is that
commenting on each other¹s work is straightforward. It is easy to see
who comments on whose work. Assignments here included a compulsory
length of post, number of external links per post, and comments.
However, content gets swallowed by the blog hinterland and despite tag
clouds and monthly archives, blog interfaces do not offer comprehensive
and clear access to the content contained in a blog¹s database.

Contrary to the famous net phenomenon we say: ³All our wiki are belong
to you.²


All your base are belong to us

A2K Wiki

PbWiki: the world¹s biggest commercial wiki farm

Subethaedit-- collaborative work forum

Seed Wiki

A comparison of wiki platforms

Download page MediaWiki:


Willinsky, J. (2005) The Access Principle. The Case for Open Access to
Research and Scholarship. Cambridge: MIT. 

Benkler, Y. (2006) The Wealth of Networks. How Social Production
Transforms Markets and Freedom. Cambridge: MIT. 

More information about the iDC mailing list