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Why does Wiki work, when there is no protection against vandalism?

Why use a wiki, when anyone can change or delete anything there? What's to prevent someone from going berserk and wiping the whole site, or secretly changing the meaning of what people say, or clogging everything up with spam? The answer is the part of wikis that newcomers often miss: the community.

Most community web sites rely on technology to restrict the actions of community members. Elaborate schemes have been designed to moderate postings (such as SlashDot and KuroShin) or to establish a trust metric for community members to rate each other (such as AdvoGato).

There are several problems with this:

Wikis work better because they rely on the community, rather than technology, to police itself. Every change made to the site is observable by the active community. If someone comes along and deletes text or posts spam, someone else can just as easily fix the problem. Since an open environment encourages participation and a strong sense of community, the ratio of fixers to breakers tends to be very high, so the wiki stays stable.

There are technological protections, too -- they're just less obtrusive than having to "log in" or "rate" something. Most wikis store old versions of each page for at least a short period of time, allowing damage to be easily recovered. Many wikis provide a means to limit how quickly someone may edit a large number of pages. Most wikis also provide a means to lock out particularly abusive visitors without disturbing other visitors. UseModWiki, the software running MeatballWiki, provides all of these features.

In short, wikis work because of the community. For more background on this, see the following excellent pages: SoftSecurity, CommunitySolution, CommunityExpectation, Wiki:WhyWikiWorks. See also Wiki:WikiMindWipe, Wiki:WikiMindWipeDiscussion, and WikiMindWipeDiscussion for the story of several wiki participants who left -- taking all of their contributions with them.

Perhaps wiki works because you get high value at a low price. There's a lot to win from common reflection processes and from new personal relationships for those who actively participate. Reverting vandalism or spam is easy using page histories. The risk of losses - now - is nil.

The above text is PrimarilyPublicDomain.


Sunir's Law of "Wikis Work Because..."
Nobody agrees, but everyone's right.

Sunir's "Wiki as Mirror" Corollary
Everybody sees what's best about themselves in the way wikis work for them.

Sunir's "Wiki as Cracked Mirror" Corollary
People who think wikis don't work see only their own insecurities.

All of this describes the basic nature of the wiki engine, but with one thing missing: the peculiar links it uses. It seems to me that when minimal use is made of these, or when the style of the link is changed much, then the wiki ends up being fairly diminished (although I hardly count as having much experience). Is the reason for this discussed someplace?

Wiki Content Organization/Site Structure Management

I am new to wikis and wonder how wikis on complex topics can remain navigable enough for people to read them and effectively find the information they are looking for. If a wiki veteran would explain how that can be managed with wikis, I would be a grateful reader. -- Roger

People get annoyed at how unnavigable wikis are. Some wikis like WikiPedia have a natural topology, governed by the vocabulary we use every day. Some wikis like WikiWiki are in a constant pitched battle against chaos. Some wikis like MeatballWiki have zealous bastards like myself who try to keep things organized.

Really, most wikis can't manage with today's state of art. To the novice reader, they are a big ball of meatball spaghetti (hence MeatballWiki), with meaty bits lost in a tangle of slimy links.

Therefore, we invent new IndexingSchemes to help slice through the PageDatabase, but how successful are those? We use CategoriesAndTopics and StartingPoints to build a TableOfContents, more or less, but you can't categorize everything.

It's a fight. It's all part of BarnRaising.

But, getting lost is important. Wikis are an emergent Zen garden. You are not supposed to see everything at once. Wikis flow towards exposing conceptual relationships. Sometimes, if you float from page to page you can find an angle you didn't see before. Sometimes, AccidentalLinking will answer your question, or create three more.

You need both order and chaos. They are more than BalancingForces; they are more like SuperlativeForce?s. You need order to work out an idea in depth, and you need chaos to discover new ideas. From evolutionary theory, that's essentially how an Wiki:IdeaSpaceAsAnEvolutionarySystem works. -- SunirShah

Is there an already established place that not only imagines, but also toys with, the PossibilitiesAndPitfalls of this system?

But see also WikiDisadvantages for ways in which wiki may not work

It might be interesting to document the tendency of wiki advocates, and advocates of other revolutionary technologies, to consider their pet ideas a MagicBullet. Especially for counter-intuitive or counter-cultural ideas, the wonder that the idea works at all can be followed to the extreme of expecting the idea to be perfect and unimpeachable. Another example would be FreeSoftware. The MagicBullet fallacy is related to the phenomenon that when your only tool is a hammer, EverythingLooksLikeANail?. -- EvanProdromou

I certainly have this problem with wikis. I constantly find places where I think they should be applied all over the place. I know this is a sign that I am irrationally over-exuberant, but I can't seem to find the flaws in my arguments for wide application :) -- BayleShanks

As a developer I like to produce useful features. But I constantly observe how long it takes until they are learned and really used (if at all). On the other hand I know that a simple wiki can work wonders in the hands of wiki masters. So my mantra is "Wiki is primarily a social, not a technical phenomenon"; and "People count". -- HelmutLeitner

I spent ten years as a CEO of three substantial groups of companies (several hundred graduate employees, approaching $1bn turnover) and spent a long time working with Knowledge Management and COMs systems like AltaVista?, IRC several of which we had bespoke versions of made to our Spec. But I never saw anything as hot as Wiki then and I am sure it would have been hugely successful if we had used it. But I am afraid I haven't used one yet in anger and you'd have to try that to be sure -- Andrew Cates

Why does wiki work? I think the Big 3 Principles on WhatIsaWiki help us frame this question in three distinct ways, that get a bit muddled by the single title, WhyWikiWorks.

Why does wiki work as a tool for information learning and exchange? Because it is organic: its structure mimics the way we learn. Provided those using it understand its strengths and weaknesses, it teaches those researching via the wiki (the community) just as it teaches those reading the work already done (TheAudience).

Why does wiki work as a way to spawn an interested community? Because it is open: anyone who reads the site and likes it can join the editing community. The only limit on what that new member can do is dictated by the existing community's response to their actions — a very human way of managing a growing community.

Why does wiki work in the face of vandalism, etc.? Because it is observable: the community monitors all changes to the site, and engages in active and rapid PeerReview. Provided the energy of the vandals does not exceed those of the community (see MotivationEnergyAndCommunity), wiki works because of its openness, not in despite of it.

Anyone else think restructuring this page, organizing into these three sections, would be helpful? -- ChrisPurcell

Wiki's must be of a certain critical mass to work! We setup a public Wiki to provide for the rapid gathering of enduser data for our computer game Computer Harpoon. For a long, long time this worked very well. Our new users received the most up to date How To's and FAQ's, Tutorials, and Special Guides. Then came the spammers. At the end the Sysop and I (as owner) were spending over an hour per day cleaning out the crap that the spammers put into Discussion Pages, randomly generated user account pages, and and hidden edits. The problem started small and just cascaded. In the end we were forced to shut down user access to the Wiki and now restrict it to individually authorized users. Our active registered base was only a few hundred with only a dozen or so actually helping out. So before you read this and think Nirvana remember - it is all about numbers. Enough people to contribute, and enough people to enforce.


Why does wiki work for real now?

Slow: The loading time of opening an edit page of a wiki page is painful. I would never enjoy vandalizing at such a slow pace. --IwanGabovitch?


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