I recently created an internal WikiWiki for my feature team.*  Initially, it consists of an ever-growing list of FAQs.  I (and hopefully some of my teammates;-), are automatically apprised of changes to the FAQ pages via an RSS feed. Thus, if a user posts a source control question but no answer, we will probably provide an answer within a day or two. Wiki-based Q&A isn't as immediate as a newsgroup response but I look forward to digging into its potential as more sustainable, self-supporting, and search friendly alternative to newsgroups and listservs, which require constant attention by a group of really dedicated subject matter experts.  It would seem that with wiki-based Q&A, there's less chance that a contributor's question will get dropped entirely. Also, as facts, conditions, and contexts change, so too can our content.
 
Wikis are an example of the new Web, where user interaction and experimentation is encouraged.  One of the things that bothers practically everyone about wikis is the issue of accountability. After a short introduction, most people grok the potential of the wiki paradigm and can understand the importance of extending unfettered editorial power to all users.*  But this question of accountability is really haunting. How can you ensure that one bad actor doesn't sink the ship or somehow harm the other passengers?  How can you stop a vandal before they do serious or irrevocable harm, bringing down the wiki server by adding thousands of pages, for example?  How can you mitigate the risk of gradual information poisoning?  If your wiki admin software supports per-user, date range rollback, who will administer the features and how?
 
All successful collaborative projects include mechanisms for ensuring personal accountability.  Malicious wiki usage must be deterred, controlled, and its damage mitigated if a wiki is to be useful to a majority of its users.  In lieu of authorization or authentication features, which might be contrary to the underlying philosophy of a wiki (what's your opinion?), how can a public wiki ensure accountability.  The smart folks over at IBM's Collaborative User Experience Research Group have done some research that indicates that there might be a way to spot vandalism on an open WikiWiki like wikipedia using data visualization tools.  VERY interesting.
 
 

*If, like me, you're fortunate enough to have access to the hometown domain of the most incredible corpnet on earth, Microsoft's, you can get a sneak peak at our wiki work in progress and several other ongoing projects at http://wiki.

 

**Why is unfettered editorial power such an important wiki feature? 

Here are my thoughts. Human beings assimilate information (and thus become subject matter experts) most rapidly when we have a chance to deconstruct and reconstruct or--in programmer speak--to refactor. We can sometimes divine how a machine works by simply observing its behavior. We can often do so by listening to a lecture or reading a book.  However, to quickly learn and fully understand how a machine works on a really fundamental level, many of us have take it apart with our own hands and then, if we're lucky, put it back together. 

 

A concept is like a machine. It is a thing with interrelated parts, a specific function, and the ability to interface with other concepts in interesting ways. It follows that concepts that we can deconstruct, word by word and part by part, are the ones that we understand most quickly and thoroughly. On the Web, conceptual deconstruction and reconstruction have traditionally been mental exercises.  Users haven't been able to easily jump into a Web page, tear apart the description of a complex concept, and 'make it their own'.  So does it follow that a revisable concept, like a machine that can be taken apart, is more likely to be widely understood than one that is not?  I think so. On another level of course, it is a basic human impulse to correct errors. When you see a huge technical error on a Web page, what do you do?  If you're conscientous, you might email the Webmaster.  But what if you could just jump in and correct the error yourself, quickly and easily? Would you be more likely to revisit that Web page?  Perhaps.

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