Thursday, 9 October 2008

Wiki paralysis

Wikis are good for collecting information from a community but they are limited when it comes to editing and reviewing - an important stage in the writing process.
Sure, wikis have tools to allow people to change others comments and review a history of changes, but I'm yet to see a wiki editor with "Track Changes" similar to Word or Open Office and consequently we don't edit wikis as much as we should. In particular, we don't remove irrelevant content, an essential component for clear, concise articles.
The problem is that wikis don't help us honour the unwritten social law of reviewing.
"It is OK to suggest changes to an author but it is disrespectful to change content without the author's blessing."
The writing workflow should be:
  1. Author writes
  2. Reviewer suggests changes
  3. Author accepts or rejects changes
  4. Publish
The messy wiki editing process tends to be:
  1. Author 1 writes, and asks others to extend their page.
  2. Authors 2, 3, 4 add content (making sure not to remove prior content). Wiki is published after each update.
  3. Time elapses
  4. Author 5 wants to clean up the page
  5. If dedicated, author 5 looks for all previous authors to ask permission to consolidate their text.
  6. Author 5 rewrites the page.
The problem is that we often get "wiki paralysis" at the clean up stage and consequently many wiki pages are long, repetitive and disjointed.


Graeme Browning said...

You make a good point Cameron.

I've often wavered over how much I should change an existing page, usually oblivious to who its previous authors are. My attitude to wiki pages I have written is that they will survive intact for a while but eventually they will fall due for review and improvement so I am happy to see them evolve. That could mean them being touched up, overhauled or even deleted. I figure wiki pages are authored by the community rather than an individual.

Let's not let wiki paralysis stand in the way of better wiki content but at the same time let's do our best to respect the work of others before overhauling it.

JasonBirch said...

Hmm. I don't like either of those approaches. The only way to avoid wiki paralysis is to empower anyone to change anything at any time, original author be damned. If they care, they can come back and revise.