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Why I Don't [strike]Like[/strike] [edit: Get] Wikis

Dave Taylor

Issue #144, April 2006

Without editorial control [edit: tyrannical egotistic editors in chief] wikis are at best a good idea done bad.

I've been called a curmudgeon before [edit: because you are] and there are some technologies [edit: like television] that I don't really see as astonishingly useful evolutionary steps in the world of information and technology, but even with that disclaimer, I have to say that I'm completely unimpressed with wikis and really don't understand why so many other people love them so [edit: maybe because they're just smarter than you are, jerk!].

Intellectually, the idea of collaborative editing and maintenance of text documents is quite appealing, but the pragmatic reality of having essentially zero editorial control over content is problematic at best and dangerous at worst. Would you trust a medical encyclopedia built around wiki technology?

[strike]But let's start by defining a wiki, shall we?[/strike] [edit: These sort of rhetorical questions are just trite author tricks and should be axed.]

A wiki, which gets its name from the Hawaiian phrase “wiki wiki”, or “quick, quick”, is a simple software application that allows content to be separated from its presentation to make it trivially easy to have visitors modify and change any content that they see [edit: on a wiki-based Web site]. [strike]More sophisticated[/strike] [add: Just about all] wiki packages have a sophisticated, if arcane [edit: it's not arcane, you're just stupid] [edit: come on, when =a= and ==a== produce different formatting, it's pretty arcane] [edit: screw you, l0s3r] markup language.

If this article were hosted on a wiki [edit: too bad it's not. Then we could fix all the inane commentary herein], you could decide that you don't like my definition of the word “wiki”, or even the article title, click on an edit button and change things to your heart's content. There's a change-tracking mechanism built into all wiki systems (and it should be no surprise that's a critical element [edit: if only to get rid of stupid edits]), but you can imagine that when pages can be edited and modified five, ten or even 20 or more times daily, it can [strike]lead to a painful editorial management task[/strike] [add: be almost impossible to retain any sort of quality control over the content]. [edit: The point of a wiki is that there isn't any editorial control, though. This entire premise is false.]

Now, let's say that I wanted to write about the infamous Skull & Bones Society and its intersection with the Illuminati, Opus Dei and the Bush family [edit: and your mama, too]. You can easily imagine that my take on this vast conspiracy might well be dramatically different from your take, and sure enough, there are certain types of content that [strike]really[/strike] suffer the worst in wikis, as the on-again, off-again article on JFK's assassination on Wikipedia demonstrates. It seems that a [strike]crackpot[/strike] [add: guy who didn't buy the government coverup] decided that there was a conspiracy involved in Kennedy's assassination and added that to the page. But others felt otherwise and purged the Wikipedia entry of his content. And he added it back. And they deleted it. To the point where it's now impossible to know whether the page reflects the commonly held facts of the situation or some crank theory. [edit: Truth is subjective.]

Even with smaller groups, I've tried having a wiki for a team of about a dozen people, and the necessity of using the arcane wiki coding schemes and confusion of tracking edits rapidly diminished anyone's enthusiasm for the new technology and the project quickly ran out of steam. [edit: You were probably all just too st00pd to use a wiki!] Document tracking in Microsoft Word is far, far easier, and it's not that hard to e-mail files around, even in this day and age [edit: and horses and buggies? Is that your speed too?].

I suppose wikis have their place and certainly there are fans who find them a useful Web-based document “evolution” petri dish, if you will. [edit: Sheesh, can we PLEASE purge this guy of his cliches? This is a terrible article!] [edit: Yeah, and what have you written and published lately, chump?] [edit: Where is that relevant, l0s3r?] [edit: Can't you just GO AWAY and leave this page alone?] [edit: I will when it's accurate] [edit: According to who, you?] [edit: Hey, I can edit this more than you can. Wanna test me?]

Overall, though, the only time I have seen wikis work is when not everyone who wanders onto the site can edit the content, but if there's editorial control, it seems to be counter to the basic premise of wikis, that they're a tool for leveraging the collaborative editorial efforts of the public.

That's why I believe that as technologies go, wikis are going to end up in the good idea, bad implementation, or, perhaps, good concept, bad fit with reality graveyard. [edit: That's okay, you'll be there too, Taylor, and this article shows exactly why.]

Dave Taylor has been involved with UNIX and Internet technologies since 1980 and has picked some winners in the technology sweepstakes (even in 1980 it was clear that e-mail was the killer app for networks), but backed some clunkers too. You can pick up the debate on his business blog The Intuitive Life, at www.intuitive.com/blog.

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