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When you start your WikiCommunityBuilding in your WikiLifeCycle, you will induce others to join. Attracting visitors is not a goal in itself. Attracting visitors is a side-effect of quality of what you have on your site. This page has two purposes:

  1. It collects notes on what the reputation of a wiki hinges on, so that future wiki founders will be able to attract a community
  2. It collects hints for future wiki founders on how to set the direction of the wiki while it is still small, thereby influencing the social norms that will emerge. And it discusses how directing the wiki single-handedly will prevent the emergence of a CollectiveIntelligence.

In order to grow, your topic has to be fairly new, or your wiki has to offer a new mode of communication. Usually being the first wiki on some topic will be good enough. Don't start a second wiki on a topic if a wiki on the same topic already exists, unless you cannot make it your own. Starting a wiki on the same topic as an existing forum may work, if you manage to attract a different group of people (or create a complementing situation of communities or systems; for example a forum and a wiki as knowledge base or FAQ system)

The great thing about wikis is that when you find one on a topic that interests you, you can make it your own. This is especially true of wikis that focus on documentation rather than discussion: it becomes a personal chalkboard where you can jot notes down and build up a body of knowledge. Think of places such as the CssDiscussWiki, GrubStreet?, or TolkienWiki.

Wikis fill a gap between technical manuals and ephemeral discussions on UseNet. You need to position your wiki as a user-maintained knowledge repository for this to work. In a way, traditional collections of FrequentlyAskedQuestions? (FAQs) and later FAQ-o-Mat tools that enabled users to maintain FAQs fill a similar niche. If a FAQ for your subject area exists, consider converting the FAQ into a wiki and save some SeedPosting.

To compete against similar proposals based on traditional analysis involving ContentManagementSystem? (CMS) requirements, you need to stress the simplicity of the software requirements. Obviously any community site will require the same amount of CommunityBuilding efforts; but at least the technical efforts will remain minor.

As you attract users beyond the initial few, you will find that some people don't share your style of writing, some people don't invest as much time in categorizing and interlinking pages, and you will have vandals visiting your site. The important thing to do as the wiki goes through this phase is to lead by example. Fix the things that are wrong such that people can learn. Be a RoleModel.

At the same time, take care not to zealously correct every single thing other people post. It might discourage them. A good rule of thumb is to try and leave things for a day (except for vandalism, of course). But most wiki founders have a hard time lettings things rest for so long...


I recognize the false dichotomy I suggest below between "us" of MeatballWiki and the "you" of the authors of the essay, even if they are the same people! Be wary. I cannot see how to extract it at the moment. Perhaps some kind editor might? --ss

The difficulty with the assertion above is that the founder of the wiki, presumably the person most interested in setting the direction of the project, cannot make it her own by setting a style. It begs the question, what is the incentive to starting a wiki instead of making someone else's one's own? In which case, who would make the wiki in the first place?

Moreover, to those who have put a painstaking amount of work into the collective work, it would be rude to enter with your own style inconsiderate of theirs. Not only would it grate on their nerves, but it would confuse the unity of the entire corpus. It's important to respect that if the wiki was strong enough to attract a new author, the existing style must have some merit.

Conversely, the failures of GroupThink and GroupShift? lurk. It's vital to continue to grow and adapt and learn as a society, and that means inviting new people and accepting new ideas. However, the point is to learn as a society; as a CollectiveIntelligence. On a healthy community, everyone must work together, learn together, and teach one another in some way, a la BarnRaising, for the project to achieve a SuperordinateGoal.

Nonetheless, the social structure of a wiki functions as a reflection of the values of the community. For a personal wiki, clearly it would be incredibly rude to invade to set up your own diary entries and observations. The social expectation (not quite a CommunityExpectation) is that readers can comment and even edit the wiki, but the main chord belongs to the owner. For a wiki like WikiPedia, it would be sacreligious and essentially impossible to violate the central tenet of NeutralPointOfView, simply because the pages are meant to be articles in an encyclopedia, not magazine articles. For a wiki like WikiWiki, a continuing experiment in PublicArt, the current social trend is to allow each member to express him or herself completely and then engage each other on a equal yet separate level. This has created a chaotic mess of contradictory pages, but everyone is much happier individually. On a wiki like MeatballWiki, people are free to express any idea they want, but we try to teach each other how to do so as clearly and effectively and consistently as possible. This is much harder, as satisficing [sic] each individual whilst moving forward collectively requires subtlety, but it's much more effective in the long term (at least we think so).

Belying the basic point of the essay is the assertion that the wiki founder's first step is to attract a sufficient number of links. This is not always the case. MeatballWiki continues to live happily in obsequious oblivion to the "cool" digerati of the current day. My outlook when founding this place was to create a project for the LongNow, and I have consistently found it irrelevent just how popular the site is. I still feel that most of us would probably agree that our focus is to create something of lasting value. That means that the first fundamental goal of all editors ought to be to IncreaseClarity?, not to express personal larks (at least outside of our FrontLawns). Indeed, many of us thrash out such ideas in other more transient fora before writing them here.

The Pattern waiting to burst out from here relates to balancing the needs of TheCollective against the needs of the individual. I am tempted to rename this page FreeStyle?, both in the noun form and the imperative verb form as in "to free" style. -- SunirShah

I am not sure about the renaming. At first, the issue we both discuss has very little in common with reputation. On the other hand, gaining more visitors will be on many wiki founder's minds, so it is a topic worth discussing. And therefore we need to go into some of the basic requirements for success just to prevent the most obvious errors. And as soon as we are there, we need to talk about handling new contributors, how to set a style, and what the drawbacks are... I find it difficult to draw a line somewhere and split the page along that line. -- AlexSchroeder

Fair enough that the point of this page is distinct from the style concern. I was mostly responding to the statement "Make it your own." Right now, after campaigning, my rhetorical style is far more combative than what it would normally be for MeatballWiki, so I think I will write a Pattern FreeStyle? to incorporate my text and a significant portion of the above as an exercise not to mention that I think it would be valuable. The focus of this page, though, is simply how to build a reputation, though I wonder if that's quite straightforward. Reputation doesn't demand popularity. -- SunirShah


This is a fairly pollyannahish analysis of WikiReputation. There's some active promotion of the community that needs to be done in order to actually attract visitors.

In addition, attracting visitors is not a side-effect of having quality content. It's the yin to quality content's yang. If you have no visitors, nobody's making quality content. If you have no quality content, visitors don't come (or, if they come, they don't "stick"). These two items -- community and content -- chase each other up (or down) a double-helix stairway.

I know that, for WikiTravel, we can't reach our goals without a large community. The world is really, really big. We can't write a travel guide for it with any degree of detail without a lot of hands helping out.

Some things that I've found somewhat productive for increasing WikiTravel's reputation:

All this depends on having a good SuperordinateGoal that people buy into without a lot of hard-sell. Nobody likes a hard sell, and it's a good way to lose reputation, not gain it. The effort, for me, is in finding and contacting people who would be interested, and presenting them with the idea -- not in shoving it down one or the other person's throat.

It's a delicate dance. I don't pretend to know it well. But I don't think IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome. You have to go find them, and tell them "it" is there, and tell them that they're welcome to come. --EvanProdromou


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