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Wikis, Grafitti, and Process

Clay Shirky: Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. When I was CTO of a web design firm, I noticed in staff meetings that we only ever talked about process when we were avoiding talking about people.

Update: Ben Hyde has an excellent counter-rant. While I agree with pretty much everything Ben is saying, I will still tend to be skeptical when I hear people suggest process solutions to people problems.


RE: Wikis, Grafitti, and Process

Nice post from Clay. I agree with him about process and I see the same thing at work with regards to  processes being put in place to basically avoid previous mistakes by less than stellar folk.

I disagree with him about wikis though especially the quote A wiki in the hands of a healthy community works. and his example about deleting fake posts on a travelogue wiki. From what I've seen of wikis they work when you have a homogenous community not necessarily a "healthy" one. Examples like the one Clay describes work when you have two things (1) a community of likeminded people who generally agree about what the content should be and (2) very few if any users of the wiki with intentions that are counter to the general will of the community.

Wikipedia is a good example of where wiki works and doesn't work. Most pages are great examples of the kind of high quality collaboration you can get on a wiki then you get to controversial topics like http://www.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Abortion&action=history  or  http://www.wikipedia.org/w/wiki.phtml?title=Euthanasia&action=history which are constantly in a state of flux as various people for or against a certain viewpoint edit the page. As for Clay's example, all it would take is concerted effort by a small number of likeminded souls to make efforts like his in deleting the content on the travelogue site difficult to stop. This is similar to the fakester trend on Friendster. If enough people want to pollute the site with humorous, fake entries then without strict policing it would be difficult to stop.

Message from Dare Obasanjo at

Clay may or may not be aware that his stance of "versioning is essential to wiki" is actually quite controversial.  Many wikis implement no version control at all, some keep only a single back version of each page, some (like MoinMoin) do full versioning.  It has been said that wikis are so easy to write, it is usually easier to write/start your own than to convince a wiki author to change their mind on this issue.

For discussion on this, see

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?VersionControlAppliedToWiki
http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WhyWikiWorks
http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiErase
http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiFailures
http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?VersioningWouldHelpNewbies
http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?ReversibleChange

Posted by Mark at

Dare: I actually find the Abortion entry to be a great example of Wikipedia at its best. If you read the entry (without viewing the history) it really does provide a very good overview of both sides of the argument, without losing it's informative tone and trying to push a certain viewpoint. Sure, there have been revisions in the past when someone has added editorial bias but these are quickly spotted and fixed by the many dedicated Wikipedians who keep an eye on the recent changes list for the site.

Posted by Simon Willison at

sheesh, that page crashed my browser! bad infinite loop (apparently) at line 7. shrug

Posted by jonvon at

Here's some Shirky for you:


There's a great document called "LambdaMOO Takes a New Direction," which is about the wizards ofLambdaMOO, Pavel Curtis's Xerox PARC experiment in building a MUD world. And one day thewizards of LambdaMOO announced "We've gotten this system up and running, and all theseinteresting social effects are happening. Henceforth we wizards will only be involved in technologicalissues. We're not going to get involved in any of that social stuff."

And then, I think about 18 months later -- I don't remember the exact gap of time -- they come back.The wizards come back, extremely cranky. And they say: "What we have learned from you whiningusers is that we can't do what we said we would do. We cannot separate the technological aspectsfrom the social aspects of running a virtual world.

"So we're back, and we're taking wizardly fiat back, and we're going to do things to run the system.We are effectively setting ourselves up as a government, because this place needs a government,because without us, the place was falling apart."

- A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy

Posted by Aaron Swartz at

Process

Clay Shirky (via Sam Ruby): ‘Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. When I was CTO of a web design firm, I noticed in staff meetings that we only ever talked about process when we were avoiding talking about people. “We need...

Excerpt from sisyphean.org at

Clay Shirky: Process is an embedded reaction to prior stupidity. When I was CTO of a web design firm, I noticed in staff meetings that we only ever talked about process when we were avoiding......

Excerpt from Adrian Bateman (VisionTech) at

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