Why do some Wikis work better than others?

The COM125 Study Guide (Wiki) When it comes to wikis, many have tried, many have failed. I’m referring to experiments for people to produce public goods via wikis. With the exception of Wikipedia and the likes of Fluwiki, attempts at using wikis by news agencies such as Wired News (for readers to help edit together a news story) seem to meet with uncertain success.

So why do some Wiki initiatives work better than others?

Perhaps its when the wiki fills a real need. As with blogging, perhaps wikis demonstrate a case where the need for the contributions has to be internalized by a user or a pre-defined community of users. In my case, I’m trying to have students of my COM125 class whip together a study guide for their mid-term exams. On their own. I’ve merely provided the wiki platform and entered a skeletal framework for them to fill in with meaty content.

Will this end up better than any textbook? Or will it end in a mess?

To learn more, see the student instructions or go straight to the wiki.

Aside: The original photo for the graphic above was taken by my student Mariani Chen.

4 thoughts on “Why do some Wikis work better than others?

  1. I’ll be interested in how well this works. It’s a good idea as a learning tool. There is now a new knitting wiki being created at http://www.knitting-and.com/wiki/Main_Page, but I have a sneaking feeling that it won’t be hugely successful. There is already an enormous amount of how-to knitting stuff out there that can be accessed through google, and I doubt that there’s a lot of energy available to re-write and/or link to it through a wiki. Plus the interface isn’t terribly user-friendly (a commonly heard criticism of wikipedia) and I think that will put people off.

  2. M-H: Heard you were ill for a while, hope you’re better now. I hear you about the wiki… the problem being the lack of user motivation. Unless users see a direct need to share via a wiki, other effort would seem rather frivolous.

    Kenneth: I’m interested to see the results as well… their exam is next Wednesday so hopefully they’ll self-organize by next week. We’ll know soon enough.

  3. I think there are several problems with getting people to edit wikis. The main problem is getting them over their fear of the software. Wiki articles are incredibly easy to edit but it’s impossible to convince people of that if they won’t try it.

    A lot of the wikis that I researched before starting the knitting wiki M-H mentioned have incredibly convoluted help files. I’ve stripped my help files down to what’s absolutely necessary, added examples as they go and I’m going to add “how to edit” videos this week. I have lots of people who are writing articles that they’re going to send *me* to add to the wiki, so they do want to share what they know. They’re just afraid of the software.

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