September 29, 2005

A Self-Correcting Community

Posted in Technology at 7:22 pm by antonello


What do wikis work well for?  Where do they fail?  Over at one of my other sites,, we’ve been playing with the idea of implementing a wiki for collaboration. 

Certain work, like encyclopedia entries, software engineering or news articles, seem to lend themselves to this sort of site.   The more people become involved in the process of adding, editing and perfecting content to reach some sort of consensus. 

Whether this translates to other spheres, say, a creative piece, remains to be seen.  Recently I was sent a poem that was done using a wiki.  Personally I found this particular example did not improve through the collaborative process.  The focus is far too disparate, clearly the work of many people.  Rather than an article which tends to become more refined (in the long run, I think, this is hypothetical and anecdotal rather than substantiated – let’s leave it for the moment), the poem lost cohesion.  Also the poem has accrued some strained “poetic” language that sounds symbolic or meaningful but within the context of the poem from so many voices does not end up making sense.  “Will he catch up with his soul?” made sense in the original as a pissed-off, askance comment.  By the last version, it feels sophomoric.

I was also surprised that this poem tended towards a rather positive look at human nature.  The narrator seems to be initially angry but finds some redemption (“Under the doormat in all of us there is some goodness”) or fundamental goodness (“This failed human gesture has not knocked the faith out of me /on this platform full of people.”) in the person who pushed him/her.  A reflection of this group of poets?  The original poem has a bit of this at the end, but overall, is more angry, I think.

I’d be interested to see if wikis might create some interesting creative results.  It seems to me that the hardest thing to do would be create and maintain a throughline.  Wikipedia works because there is some general agreement about the facts in question, at least among the authors who frequent it.  There are some exceptions, take the George W. Bush article, but overall, as the Esquire article shows,  it tends to an equilibrium. 

A focused directive from on high seems like it would be necessary for something creative, but it seems like that may be needed for even wikipedia.  From the article:

Kelly Martin, a Wikipedia user who helped edit Jacobs’ piece, said the experiment worked significantly better than an earlier trial in which a television station tried to get Wikipedians to co-edit an article.

“The directions and guidelines were far less clear (in the case of the TV station’s experiment) and the end result was confused,” Martin said. “This one seemed to do much better. I think the community was more aware of it this time, so we had more resources monitoring the article for inappropriate edits.”

 To be continued…



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