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1. Intro
2. Wikis appropriate here at all?
3. Ruling cabal?
4. Discussion

1. Intro

A wiki whose topic is some field of academia. Examples include the original WikiWikiWeb that originated in the software design pattern community (although it is not strictly academic), IcdnsWiki, ReengineeringWiki, NeuroWiki, AiWiki, WeblogKitchen, IaWiki, and SimpleScienceWiki. WikiPedia is a borderline case.

hmmm, i meant a narrower definition than this; perhaps "a wiki whose topic is some field of academia, discussed at a technical level, and whose membership is in large part composed of academics in that field". i would think such wikis would have special community needs and forces that are not so strongly present in WikiWikiWeb (as described below). this would exclude WikiWikiWeb (majority of membership not academics, it seems to me), and WikiPedia (spans too many different fields). Even NeuroWiki does not yet meet the strict criteria, as the content is not very technical yet. I don't know about ReengineeringWiki

My personal feeling is that some form of stronger AuthorshipCredit needs to be developed for this to work. if a wiki was used to host professional academic discussion, it may be good if author's names were noticably attached to their contributions, because if their contributions were anonomyzed, they may feel that spending a lot of time on the wiki would be counterproductive to the eventual goal of getting enough CommunityRecognition? to achieve tenure (i know i would).

My personal connection to these questions is NeuroWiki, which i have started and am (very slowly) building. there are few other users right now, but perhaps someday it will become used by a least a noticable minority of the computer-savvy neuroscience community. In this case i would of course like some credit for the time i am spending to build the beginnings of the wiki; however, i do not host the wiki on my own machine, and i am not even a phD student in the field yet, so i would expect my influence would rapidly wane once full time professors starting taking part in NeuroWiki.

in my case perhaps the problem is solved simply by noting somewhere that i started the thing. but one has to generalize my problem and look at the case of someone who is not the founder but merely a very helpful wiki citizen. in addition, one would not want each professor in a given field to run off and start their own wiki because it is the only way they will get any credit. -- BayleShanks

this whole credit grab thing is of course very selfish in the first place, which is why, i think, it will be hard to mesh with the wiki framework (i am not sure that AssumeGoodFaith will work in an academic setting as there are such strong incentives for academics to subvert the system). unfortunately, academics are expected to actively accumulate respect and name recognition while they pursue their research. i think getting credit for time spent helping with a wiki is a necessary for academics to be able to justify spending significant time in a wiki. i don't think wikis will take off in academia without some sort of credit framework being in place.

-- BayleShanks

This is probably true, which is why the "credit grab" thing is not really selfish. We invest our personal resources (time, attention, money, etc.) based on our estimate of personal Return on Investment (gratification, improved environment, money, etc.). If the only payoff is personal gratification for narcissists, most content would have a particular (and socially undesirable) character. If you can foment construct a payoff system (monetary, social, intellectual, emotional...) that rewards quality contributions, that's what you'll get. I think that's what we're trying to do. (Which is not to get all Ayn Randian and capitalistic, nor is it to argue that it all comes down to monetary payoffs.) --JonSchull

See SunirShah's presentation at ASIS&T '04. http://sunir.org/meatball/AcademicWiki/asist04.ppt

2. Wikis appropriate here at all?

Here's a stance missing from the discussion: you could just not use a wiki if this is going to be a problem. Doing so many aerobatics to accomplish such a goal should tell you immediately it is the wrong medium for that goal. Academics use conferences and journals for reasons perhaps not compatible with wikis, like say securing intellectual integrity and demonstrating effectiveness per grant dollar. (And maybe why GiftWiki is a bad idea.)

i feel that the primary goal is discovery, for which wikis seem perfect. a secondary goal is to be practical, and these goals conflict in this case. which is why i think a good way to find a solution is to start with what is best for the primary goal (a wiki with standard WikiCulture and little AuthorshipCredit), and then think of modifications to allow satisfaction of the secondary goal.

On the other hand, complicated TechnologySolutions are almost definitely the wrong answer. Why should Dr. Genius lead the wiki? Even academics have directors that are better at managing than academia. To me, giving people the appropriate credit is a softer management problem rather than a harder technical problem. Making it a technical problem would only break the wiki completely because it's designed against ownership, and consequently credit, and consequently singular responsibility. Wiki:CodeOwnership is evil; it may seem cool to cowboy while he's getting all the credit, but it's devastating to TheCollective if he's malfeasant.

Perhaps you can change the technology to suit your goals. Perhaps you can change your goals to suit the technology.

perhaps... one limitation is that the majority of an academic field will not use the wiki or will refer to it infrequently, so one can't count on special wiki community norms to shape their opinions and actions. i agree that the problem is interpersonal rather than technical; maybe the solution will be communal norms bent more towards awarding credit for editing. for example, journals have a changing editorial board; perhaps some analog of that could be a reward in wikis.

I believe that wikis can be very useful in the process of writing scientific papers, at least those with several authors involved. Perhaps for that purpose the discussion about AuthorshipCredit is a minor one, because such wikis will be mostly closed. However, what I am thinking about right now trying to use UseMod for writing a paper, is a WikiToLatex script. That would be really neat. -- DavidAndel

"..because such wikis will be mostly closed". And I think they should be closed if a anything publishable has to emerge out of the collaboration. If wiki needs to become a part of academic and institutional methodologies then it should align with academic practices. The question of technology adopting to goals or goals adopting to technology is debatable. I, for one, would place goals before technology. It is rather interesting to note that many problems perceived of a wiki model are problems that arise due to the internet ecology in which wikis exist. If I start a wiki as a bunch of erasable physical black boards in my backyard, I would not have some many invited and uninvited folks as I would if it was on the internet. The breaking of barriers due to internet is at odds with our communal instincts. A park is a communal place where everyone is invited. But, if travelling is cheap and instantaneous, then all the good parks can no longer be sustained. I am learning and I may think differently later. But, for now, that's pretty much how I see wikis on the internet. -- SelvakumarGanesan

SebPaquet's short essay [Personal knowledge publishing] discusses the advantages (and disadvantages, although he's clearly for it) of publishing one's ideas online in academia.

The suggestions on this page (that is stronger authority etc) look very much like the [Noosphere's Authority Model]. See also the results of this model: [PlanetMath] and [Noosphere Homepage].

3. Ruling cabal?

The desirablility of a ruling cabal also should be discussed. It seems to me that a ruling cabal would take the place of a GodKing on academic wikis, for the simple reason that the host of the wiki may not be one of the top ten most respected members of their field, and hence would not get the same sort of respect as GodKings usually do.

4. Discussion

Note some other pages that touch that topic, UniversityWiki may be a good starting point for them. There seem to be a number of different viewpoints to look at the problem.

-- HelmutLeitner


I wanted to add some comments to a general discussion about wikis and the academy. In many ways, I see wikis as completely antithetical to the academy: wikis are iterative, collaborative collections of shared information. The process is transparent -- all changes and edits and revisions and discussions are tracked for all users to see. Writing research in the academy is different. You are expected to present original research developing out of the larger discourse, one that presents a completely different point of view. I say 'you' because it is meant to be completely individual, and your research is what propels you through the academy job market. Even on a basic level, writing on a wiki is different. The text is impermanent -- I write this knowing it may be erased or edited just a few minutes later. How much may be written will be different -- a wiki article online is usually less text, since it's harder to read alot on one page. And wiki articles require a different structure (of formatting, of links) than a research paper (either a pdf or print copy.)

I think what's really interesting is the threat that the academy is perceiving (at the same time, while many, many academics are embracing and using wikis for classwork, etc.) A lot of the recent press about Wikipedia came from librarians or academics complaining that wikipedia wasn't credentialed, or peer-reviewed, or is terribly inaccurate (despite the Nature article announcing it was nearly as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica.) I think the issue is that it exposes the processes of normalizing information -- being able to read all the revisions subtly teaches the user that any information you may read has been revised, has been edited, and is, first and foremost, comes from a certain historical context and approach -- it has not always existed, and is not necessarily true. That wikis are teaching those critical thinking skills may be even more worthwhile, fundamentally, then the information we are sharing or collecting from wiki information websites.

I write all this because I was working on a research project about wikis and online mobs, and have been trying to explore this ideas by writing them on other wikis (a self-reflexive wikis about wikis). It has been an interesting experiment -- finding wikis with interesting information, finding ways to express the thoughts -- knowing that they may change and change again. (Like our own thought processes). If you're interested, read more at [1].


See also:

CategoryAcademia CategoryEducation


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