Wiki Hyper(digital)text

I think wiki's are really awesome. I just wanted to get it out there ahead of time. The wiki is a really nifty concept, and I think that the wiki is an example, of an "digital" textual form, like the one that I'm trying to think about. Having said that I think there are are some constraints to this form that are worth discussing as part of this project on digital text.

What are Wiki's?

I could provide a lengthy and informative history of the development of the wiki concept, but I'll spare you. It's an interesting history if you're into that kind of thing. In any case, most people know wikis via Wikipdeia, and this is a good example of what a wiki is, but I think because of this influence many people tend to associate wiki projects with encyclopedias, which is interesting, because wikis are by no means limited to such encyclopedic projects[^encyclopedia criticism].

Basically a wiki is a collaborative editing environment, that creates a non-linear hypertext document, generally in a situation where new "pages" are easily created and edited (but not necessarily). The key in my mind is the non-linear aspect in combination with the (potential) shortened distance between the reader and the editor. Because of the organization of the Wikipedia and the wiki's that have been inspired by that site, I think a lot of people tend to think that wiki means "open editing," I think group editing is more apt description.

The Strengths:

Wikis are great for distributing editing responsibility amongst a group of people, and for exploring and cataloging information that can be organized as an interconnecting "network," rather than a branching tree. The software used for wikis also remove a lot of the burden associated with site maintenance, and in a lot of ways I'm tempted to suggest that while wiki software, is a really great tool for website management, particularly when you want to create a collaboratively constructed document. There are a number of typically wiki based features that have contributed to the kind of publishing model that Kathleen Fitzpatrick and the MediaCommons folks have adopted: history functions being the most obvious. That allow us to understand documents as changing

The Weaknesses:

The problem is that wiki's aren't good for all sorts of projects. They seem to work best when there is a limited linearity, and great deal of interconnectedness. When you don't have this kind of document, or when you have a contributor pool that is too small and/or not organized enough, wiki's seem to stop being unique, and while they may contain valuable material, the format seems to just stop working. Or it the hyper/digital element seems to imposed and detrimental to the feel of the document as a whole.

For instance, Wikimedia, the folks behind Wikipedia, have a project called wikibooks, and while I think that this idea is really nifty, I'm not sure how well it works in creating "good" books, in the way that wikipedia can really be brilliant. At the same time, I'm not sure that one of the "wikibooks" are particularly unique documents as a result of their beginnings as wiki.

Just some thoughts on the forms. I don't want to come off as a perpetual critic, I think that what I seem to be trumpeting: new forms, new ideas, and new models of reading/writing/publishing are being used and deployed, we just haven't explored and questioned them enough. I think we'll let this edition run a little short this week, but I'll be back next week on monday with a post on Station Keeping.

Enjoy you're weekend, and reading! tycho

[^encyclopedia criticism]: There are a lot of criticism of Wikipedia that I find incredibly interesting, because it's as if the main criticism of the "wiki" is that it is encyclopedic. Encyclopedias are fascinating and interesting texts, but they are flawed. Neutrality is impossible, of course, nor is maximum coverage. I have yet to hear someone analyze wikipedia in the same context that

comments powered by Disqus