Please, Not Another Wiki

Ironic secret: I don’t really like most wikis, though that’s probably putting it too strongly. Ironic because I love both Wikipedia (and, especially, collabularies), but I grit my teeth pretty much every time I hear somebody suggest we need another wiki.

Putting it tersely: if wikis are so great, why do we need more than one of them?

I think my concern is that wikis appear to depend on either very large or very, very active communities. Critical mass doesn’t come easily, and just because anybody in the world can edit a page, doesn’t mean they will.

Take the World66 Denver travel guide as an example. The site doesn’t have much more than a link to the slightly more informative Wikitravel page for Denver, and even that falls far short of the possibility or promise. Who’s contributing to these things, and why? Who would want to?

Jenny’s thoughts on the argument from Internet Librarian 2005 (yeah, a year ago) address the rather specific issue of Open Internet Librarian Blog and the Internet Librarian Wiki (both now abandoned). Thing is, the real gem in her post was her suggestion that “the tool that ended up working the best in this situation was Technorati. It was the one spot [where] everything was pulled together.”

And that’s where I think Josh Porter’s thoughts fit in: “personal value precedes network value.” That is…

…each person on the network needs to find value for themselves before they can contribute value to the network.

Blogs are intensely personal, wikis less so. Issues of “ownership” and our definition of “personal” all play a larger role online that might have previously been imagined. One of the mistakes of Web 2.0 is the notion that users will generate content for free. Money may not be the issue, but “value” is.

Perhaps the pre-burst notions of the attention economy were correct, or maybe something else is at work. But even without an economic theory to explain it, none of us has ever heard of a “wikier,” even as the world appears overrun by bloggers. (“Wikipedians” are the exception that proves the rule.)

Perhaps I cringe at any suggestion to create a new wiki because I wonder why that content can’t be published on an existing wiki. Perhaps I cringe because I wonder if the proprietary motivation to create a new wiki is itself in conflict with the community nature of wikis. Perhaps anybody can have a blog, but it seems to take a whole community to raise a wiki.