Where the Wikis Are or Where Are the Wikis?

I believe in wikis…. but they are very strange internet things to wrap your head around. I met today with David, one of the co-chairs of our ePortfolio Ocotillo Action Group and we had an interesting discussion on how to make wikis approachable and appreciated (and used) by people who have never ventured into them.

“Blogs are the rage, in a lot of media, and there is now some ‘shame’ pressure for people to get into blogs.. but wikis??? it’s not even on the radar”

And even when you explain the Hawaiian source of the word, it does not seem to register or connote a web-based collaborative, hyperlinked space when you say the word. It just sounds goofy.

David is a bleeding edge technology faculty (having jumped into HTML in 1994) and he struggles with how wikis might be best used (we planned for collaborative building of resource collections, brainstorming answers to ideal eportfolio features, etc). He definitely gets the purpose and uniqueness of the environment, but recognizes the wiki conundrum: the way to understand how wikis work is to have a successful wiki experience. And at first visit to a wiki, there is little that guides you.

So if you send a wiki URL by email to a colleague who has never used a wiki before, how will you set them up for success?

Beyond that there is a question that has nagged me. As a technology, wikis have been around since the 1990s, old, simple (not bad characteristics) technology. But when someone writes about what wikis are, why does it seem like there are no great wiki successes to share beyond the WikiPedia (which is excellent but on a scale, breadth, and level far beyond what mere mortals can create)? Where are all the great wikis to stand up as the shining examples? Where have the wikis gone? Why are the so few that leap to mind?

They are out there- I am sure, but if you got a lead, let me know. I’m looking for ones that are meaningful to educators. Offhand, there is the WikiBook project, open source wiki text books. I have found some useful leads via Teaching Wiki, for example the Green Museum wiki. I like how Brian uses wikis at UBC for workshops, reference materials etc. The Blogs and Wikis stuff from Bemidji State University is excellent, but at a first glance, like all wikis, it does not really explicitly exclaim, “this is what makes being a wiki great”. It just looks like a busy web page with lots of links.

I am optimistic about eventually finding the sweet spot with wikis. I have had a good wiki experiences, so I am a believer. But there may be a reason why wikis have been around so long but have not hit the hyoe curve like weblogs- in current form, they appeal the most to geeks, which is not good enough.

So if you’ve got the lead on some stellar wikis, let me know. Otherwise, I am just have to wiki up to Wikiup (an actual town in Arizona)

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Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.


  1. WikiFish at Auburn University (http://www.seedwiki.com/page.cfm?doc=WikiFish&wikiid=123) is a good example of how a student-owned site can foster frank communication among its participants. Its stated mission is ˆ¨to protect the delicate collaborative environment of’ÄÝDesign+Construction School culture, and to serve as a protocol and reference guide to keep these balances in check.ˆÆ Students critically examine the schoolˆ‚s methods and its underlying ideologies, often by posing provocative queries such as ˆ¨If Architecture School were an organized religion, what would our core beliefs be? What would constitute a sin?ˆÆ or ˆ¨If you had to ˆ´get rid of dead weightˆ‚ in the curriculum, with which courses would you start?ˆÆ

    A more scholarly example is the Romantic Audience Project at Bowdoin College (http://ssad.bowdoin.edu:8668/) , a collaborative study collecting entries focusing on poems, poets, and topics related to Romantic literature. The students chose the wiki framework because ˆ¨such collaboration, [by] dynamically and unpredictably highlighting certain terms as representative of communal interest, is of particular interest in a study of Romanticism.ˆÆ The ˆ¨interesting ways in which the software itself provides orderˆÆ from apparent disorder, via linking patterns and other contextualizing elements, prompted insight into the process of the research. For instance, ˆ¨posting tendencies emerged that were worthwhile pondering as a class and could be framed as the expression of this group of students. This discussion attracted elaboration; this poem went unlinked; this author attracted biographical elaboration; this entry was cited often by other entries; etc.ˆÆ

    A lot of people complain about how ugly wikis are, but thereˆ‚s no reason that more pleasing fonts, colors, and layouts canˆ‚t be accommodated through the judicious application of CSS. Matt Haughey, for one, has done an exemplary job of demonstrating the power of CSS to tailor the look-and-feel of his wiki-driven site. (http://haughey.com/matt/home)

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