[Home]TopicCompetition

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As wikis grow in size, popularity, and number, their scopes have begun to bump up against each other. While earlier on with only a hundred or so wikis, topics were distinct enough to avoid any confusion (HammondWiki vs. PortlandPatternRepository), nowadays things are far less clear. In fact, some wikis are heavily overlapped with each other (e.g. WhyClublet vs. AndStuff, MeatballWiki vs. IAwikiDotNet, SeaPig? vs. PythonWiki). After exercising the RightToFork, some have become in direct competition to each other, such as the InternetEncyclopedia? vs. WikiPedia. While the earlier days were met with feelings of comraderie between the fledgling wikis, with people voluntarily moving content between them as they saw fit, things are changing to be more protective.

To consider this in some more detail, we should note that there are a number of reasons why wikis are no longer able to remain distinct. The first reason is that there are simply a lot more wikis. Google:RecentChanges demonstrates hundreds of thousands of English wikis, possibly a million or more. This cuts the ontological space much, much thinner than when Wiki:WikiClones was the canonical list of wikis. The important question really is, why are there so many wikis?

Certainly wikis have become very popular, especially since publication of TheWikiWay. Previously, people would learn about wikis through interaction with one of the list of core wikis, and that would lead them all inevitably to the centre of all wikidom, WikiWiki. The community was small enough, even if still loosely coupled, to pay attention to each other in some way. Ignoring the TWiki community (as they ignore us), usually there would be at least one member of each wiki community who would know about other wikis around the Internet. Nowadays, there are far too many wikis for far too few people to make this a reasonable proposition.

Certainly most of those wikis are personal information managers, so many people will first interact with a WikiAsPim. Consequently, people may end up wanting to experiment with running their own personal wiki. Wikis in corporate environments (normally TWikis) also similarly encourage a whole other community of wiki usage. Wikis as project journals, wikis as scrapbooks, wikis as toaster ovens all inspire people to use wikis for new personal purposes. However, these personal or semi-private wikis are not salient to the cohesion of the greater WikiCommunity that we so hold dear, even if they may inspire others to use wikis in other, newer contexts.

The wikis we are concerned about are the ones who care about joining the greater wiki community. But even within these wikis, space has become crowded. Certain catch-all wikis may consume a lot of topicspace. BookShelved holds book reviews, but does that mean all book reviews should go there? Other wikis compete for other more specific reasons:

And probably as many reasons as there are pages to describe them.

Topic competition is not unique to wikis. FidoNet echomail groups crowded each other. UseNet newsgroups crowd each other. WebLogs crowd each other. University faculties crowd each other. Corporate departments crowd each other. The problem of competing scopes, interests, resources, and attention is very common in all intellectual fields.

There can be many resolutions to the problem. One can ignore the competing organizations and carry on your merry way. Some may consider this inefficient as two sets of people are tackling the same problem, however market dynamic shows how competition often inspires greater motivation and development amongst the players. Within a larger parent organization, such as a corporation, choices need to be made to decide whether it's valuable to have multiple overlapping teams consider an issue (say for the benefit of considering different angles for different target markets), or whether it's best to terminate the conflict as a waste in resources.

One can end the conflict in a number of ways. The two organizations may consolidate, coordinating and collecting their resources behind one thrust. The organizations may fight to the death, leaving the last man standing (or no man in many cases). The organizations may consider bridge building operations, exchanging any level of cooperation. Sometimes the latter is hostile, as the attempts to merge AOL and Time Warner demonstrated. Sometimes the latter is very cooperative, as the greater wiki community has often proved. Furthermore, the bridging may be explicit, as an organized effort in the case of AOL Time Warner to merge, or tacit such as people moving pages from one wiki to another.

These latter solutions are "internal", requiring some sort of motivated effort by only the organizations involved. Internal solutions are valuable in the sense that they are automatic. The organizations involved will do it anyway because they are forced to do so. Unfortunately, because the big picture is lost on the two organizations, they may go down a less optimal route, such as killing each other in a long drawn out spat. Moreover, if the organizations operate in a domain where conflict interests continually occur out of ignorance, a superior and external organization must be formed to avoid these situations. Think of business name registries as an example. The alternative would be a lot of point-to-point lawsuits, an "internal" solution, and a highly inefficient one.

Creating an authoritative organization is a very expensive affair as well as disputes abound and HardSecurity lurks around the corner. Nonetheless, there may be softer solutions to the problem. A name registry is a good example as well, as not all registries need be enforcers. They could simply be informal noticeboards to warn people not to register competing names. Consider Mark's OneBigWiki as an excellent example of this.

The more process involved, though, the harder it is for the casual consumer to navigate the ontological landscape of the domain. This brings us back to the question at hand. For the greater wiki community, have we reached the point due in part to its growth and in part due to the complicated and not necessarily friendly relationships between the wikis that we cannot rely on shared membership and other IncidentalCollaboration to police the fabric of topicality? And furthermore, for competing wikis, do they really want to encourage the commensurate loss of MindShare?? Or do people have to really care at all, instead perhaps only worrying about their own local communities?

And finally, does TopicCompetition really matter at all? Topicness and scope change over time, and wikis may not want to be hemmed in by others in their search for purpose and meaning. Maybe it's best just to leave things up to the FreeMarket? and see where things end up. Competition is, as we said, a form of HealthyConflict. Nonetheless, rest assured that eventually your wiki will experience TopicCompetition, and this is definitely one of the GreatChallengesToWikis, so you may want to be concerned.


Surely two perspectives are always better than one. That goes for communities as well as individuals. Any "unit" of thinking, whether it's a single brain or a single community of brains, has biases and blind-spots. And discussion with other groups who see things a bit differently. The value of the wiki is the combination of the topics it "owns" plus the individual perspective and wisdom the community brings to those topics.

Also, it seems like there's a worry that there's only a limited number of people in the wider wiki community and wikis competing for topics are also competing for the members. But there are billions of people on this planet, of whom an infinitessimal number are actually involved in wiki. There's so much room for growing that community before worrying about running out. Is it possible? Well compare the wiki community to the blogging community which is increasing rapidly. And which is starting to adopt wiki as a secondary communication channel. I think the pool of wiki contributers is only going to grow.

Maybe compare : http://www.nooranch.com/synaesmedia/wiki/wiki.cgi?WikiPoweredArgument too :-)

-- PhilJones

I think you are right. Our two eyes give depth to our visible images. A dozen different opinions in an online community will give incredible depth to the community process, if these differences are perceived as a value and not as a lack of sympathy, cooperation, loyalty or whatever. I also agree that in the end members will not be a problem. But in the development of an online communities, any weakening of a single community (by a fork or emmigration or creation of new communities = competition in the widest sense) is felt painful. -- HelmutLeitner

Your statement "Our two eyes give depth to our visible images." Strikes a few chords with me.

-- HansWobbe.


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