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WikiPractices is an initiative to identify and describe best (and worst) *social* practices in the Wiki community. Social practices are those approaches to Wiki stewardship and usership that can't be easily codified as technical (software) solutions, but do have proven, more "touchy-feely", solutions. The initiative was started at WikiSym 2005 by HelmutLeitner, BeatDoebeli, AnneGoldenberg, CrawfordCurrie, MarkDilley and HansWobbe. This started just as a dump of the notes from the initial meeting; we aim to work this up over the next few weeks.


The workgroup found that some work will have to go into developing a common language or WikiPracticesGlossary, that can be used internally for the work. The created texts will probably need translations depending on the groups one want to talk to.

Sources Used

Material to consider: single pages

Material to consider: overview pages

General observations

Wikis do not work by switching them on, they are not technical devices like heaters. Usually there is a single individual that promotes the wiki. Depending on the context you may talk about the founder, initiator, champion, moderator. (often it would be much more desirable to have a group of people doing so, but it seems difficult to fairly divide the responsibilities)

Only a certain percentage of people are natural wiki writers. Targeting a real community - like students, employees or a hospital's physicians - only 5-10% of them will use the wiki out of their own accord. One must create clear advantages for the users or give well-defined tasks to the users to get wiki going in a real community.

WikiPractices at corporations

You need a wiki champion who likes, understands and promotes wiki use.

In a larger user group a UserGallery? helps people to know each other.

This from [Infoconomy:Diana Walker] is what I like to see. I have an story about the two guys I met from the banking corporation, one wanted to bring a wiki in and the other said wouldn't happen because their corporate culture is so blame orientated. Questions will get asked that superiors don't want asked, so no one will answer, then people get in trouble for not answering. He mentioned another part of the company had one. This did little to deter the other though, but I was glad for the observation. MarkDilley

WikiPractices at schools and universities

The teacher must take the role of the wiki champion.

The teacher must define clear tasks.

If there are more than one class in the wiki a UserGallery? will help the students to know each other and to collaborate.

WikiPractices at open online communities

A lot of experience has been gathered in WikiLifeCycle.

WikiPractices in all social communities


HelmutLeitner: In early 2004 I created a closed wiki for my 20 class mates (a wiki application pattern?). It served the preparations of the 30th anniversary of our final examinations. In the end we went to Italy for a weekend with our families. A number of experiences went with this wiki. I didn't suggest any behaviour in the wiki, so it was kind of emergent. People didn't know about signing and naturally chose this "speaker: text" pattern I use in this paragraph. We also had a successful democratic process in deciding for where we went (there was no consensus, 70% voted for Italy). We now use the wiki to share photos, keep phone numbers current, prepare smaller meetings.


I wonder whether good or bad practices can always clearly be separated. Thinking in terms of systems a new pattern - good or bad - may fit a situation or not. For example BenevolentDictator may work well for many projects in initial stage but may cease to work eventually.

Perhaps not, but you are thinking in terms of *roles* and not *practices*. The *practices* of a BenevolentDictator include such things as "making a decision" which can be clearly expressed as a ritual. Example:

Yes, great example. I agree that this is a ritual because it establishes the social situation, strengthening (or risking) the dictator role. If the ritual fails - if someone takes the chance to revolt - it might split the community. How does the distinction of good and bad fit in? How can we put order into this complexity of roles, task, processes, practices, rituals?

Good point; I'm not sure there is such a thing as a "bad" ritual, it's just that some work better in some environments than others. Shades of grey. Example:

Where some users are so insular that they simply don't speak the same language as the others, then 1 may be the right solution. But if you are trying to push them together, then 2 is probably right. 3 would seem to be destructive, but by clearing out disruptive elements you may free up the environment for more constructive people.

At this stage I think the best approach is to start collecting examples from our experience. We can then refactor to extract the common themes.

I thought a while about your use of the word "ritual". Let's forget about it for a while. I once created pages here containing the word ritual and people disliked the word and quickly the pages were renamed, without anyone ever asking me for my agreement.

Yesterday I got to know WolfgangSlany?, a long-term TWiki user (professor teaching XP programming to hundreds of students). He is enthusiastic about TWiki (his main message being "TWiki is suuuper"). He showed his system, the project tracking and the UserGallery? (pictures and links to all homepages) they have. It is implemented as a table, the cells containing name (link to homepage) and a portrait of the students. I see this as a useful pattern or practice. if you agree, how shall we describe it? As a page? How do we cope with potentially thousands of such little helpful hints? How can we group or categorize them so that it's clear when to apply what?

I can't remember what we decided on the technological side of WikiPractices, but I am curious what patterns reside with people who want polls... http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Polls_are_evil -- for example. -- MarkDilley

Mmmh, I don't understand what you mean by decide. In terms of practices or patterns we look empirically at what people do in certain situations and describe that, success or failure. A page like VotingIsEvil is neither a pattern nor a practice, it's an opinion, maybe be condensed experience but never something that holds in general. -- HelmutLeitner

Helmut: Thank you for describing VotingIsEvil as an "opinion" and "never something that holds in general". I have been bothered by the many, frequent assertions that ...isEvil since I can generally find a contrary example (albeit in a different context and perhaps because Wiki:TriteSayingsComeInPairs). Such statements seem to be particularly common at Wiki:WardsWiki and I have often found that such assertions merely detract from the "credibility" of the author, at least to the extent that I feel they have not bothered to think through the implications in other contexts. Your perspective on this finally motivated me to compliment someone on having a broader perspective, rather than simply dismissing the posted statement as yet another example of a limited view.

Mark: I have noticed several motives that are often stated as reasons for wanting a poll. Is this what you are asking about? -- HansWobbe.

I guess what I was thinking, was what is the motivation for people to jump to voting and polling? I have the feeling that is avoidance of doing harder work, like building consensus or it may be a lack of understanding of what to do next. But something along those lines. What WikiPractices encourage collaboration, which do not?

Also, here is a WikiPractice that I have seen happen over and over, in fact since WikiSym, it happened to me, then I perpetrated it on another. ExperiencedInteractionWithInexperience MarkDilley


I tried to clarify the index above a bit, to classify things as "Problems" or "Practices".

Voting isn't evil, it's the people who you vote for who are evil. It's easy to write a ballot paper that gives you a finite set of choices, none of which are actually acceptable to any of the voters (this is what normally happens in our national elections). Careful, open-minded, design of a ballot, on the other hand, can yield really positive results.

This is a good example of what we are looking for here. The "Good Practice" can't be stated as "Voting", it has to be qualified as "Voting, but only if you design the ballot carefully so that the choices are unambiguous and proportionally representative" -- Crawford.

[RecentChangesCamp:WikiPractices] braindump by MarkDilley, from a session co-convened with AnneGoldenberg and BrianKerr?, to be migrated here.

SunirShah goodness:

CategoryWikiPractices CategoryRoadmap


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