My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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defending wikis

Wikis seem to becoming more and more popular. Or perhaps i’m just spending too much time entrenched in the philosophy of the social software folks. In any case, i was trying to discuss them with a friend of mine and we both have our concerns about them. Not being able to defend them and unaware of where to go for a really good and trusted defense, i decided to write to two gurus whose views fascinate me. But i’d also love to hear perspectives from anyone foolish enough to stumble on this site. Here’s what i wrote:

So, i’d love to hear your arguments of why wikis are the latest greatest social software (or pointers to folks who can defend this vantage point).

Particular issues that we’re struggling with and trying to figure out how to process…

1) History means more than persistence. When we’re collaborating offline, we leave lots of traces of our use, of our presences, etc. What is the value in a no-trace environment like wikis? How is this an advantage?

2) Social kudos often motivate people to participate. Being recognized for their voice. More importantly, it motivates folks to be more articulate, more conscientious, etc. How is it an advantage to not have voices attached with text? What is gained and lost?

3) In collaboration where everyone is motivated to “do right”, there’s little motivation to sabatage others’ efforts. But if you’ve ever seen teenagers collaborate, dear me oh my. Can we say that it is an exercise in cruelness to force collaboration on teens in middle school? How are stuctures built so as to discourage malicious intentions?

4) In collaborations, there is often a lot of rituals of getting to know one another, particularly if there is not a history of past relations. How do wikis support unknown colleagues to get involved?

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1 comment to defending wikis

  • I’m not sure exactly what software you include in the category of “wiki”, but it seems to me that the canonical example of wiki includes many examples of people leaving traces of their use (dating changes, signing blocks of text, etc). These traces are a way for people to develop a voice, be recognized, and thus get a social reward for participating.

    How wiki of wiki to contain the answers to your questions… well, at the least the first three. I suggest further reading.

    A more interesting question to me is, “What kinds of communities is wiki suited for, and what in what kind of social situations does it tend to succeed or fail?”