Wikis are one of those internet phenomena that are confusing, intruiging, powerful, and often misunderstood. Many users and even some programmers of wiki software have missed the point completely, and from what I’ve observed in scholarly discussions on the subject, most teachers “using wikis in the classroom” are so far off the mark that I am at a loss whether to laugh or cry. When I read these reports, it’s like reading about how someone completely and utterly failed to use their shiny new Ferrari to properly tow a horse trailer. What I’m saying is that people are so confused and misinformed about wikis, both practically and philosophically, that they are abusing the term to the point of doing a major disservice to the true wiki community. To address this wretched situation, I have decided to come down from my mountain and make some observations that hopefully a few of the brighter people here will understand.
This is pretty much along my impressions of the commentary on this “new” technology (that is more than 8 years old). There is confusion about wiki vs blog wiki vs discussion board, wiki versus course management systems– why do people tend to think only in either/or modalities? It is much more reasonable to avoid dichotomies and mix and match your tools and resources.
He/she goes on to cite more or less why WikiPedia is the One and True wiki, and some observant thoughts about the different between this new sort of organic content community and the old, pay for a publisher model of encyclopedic knowledge:
People are slowly starting to realize that an entry in the Wikipedia is a better authority than a traditional encyclopedia or, for that matter, any traditional reference, precisely because it reduces the status of authors. Where authors recede, knowledge comes forward. Wiki is the single most important development in knowledge-production or “making meaning” the world has ever known…
Wiki does not find its authority in the credentials of authors; indeed, the entries quickly become autonomous from individual authors and take on their own existence. They are always developing as new collections of indviduals aim to refine or destroy them; but each edit only pushes upwards. Gradually the entries connect with one another and thus bring together communities of wiki authors. Entries show up in online articles, forums–soon they will start showing up in printed books (but no matter). Those familiar with the free software model will recognize that the same features apply to Wiki–new authors do not compete with Wiki; they merely add to its richness. Eventually, Wiki will be as well-integrated as thought itself.
It’s gonna be hard for most to toss the old approach to Truth and Authority, and accept that all is relative in the world out here.
This is all fine for the monstrous scale of an entity that the WikiPedia has grown into– I’d like to hear more about the role of the little seed wikis, the buds, where people may cut their teeth with the wiki way.
Wikis are strange, strange things, and its gonna take a long while before a large number of folks truly embrace them.