Wikis as content management – meh…?

I had a really great time last week at the NYSAIS conference in New York… People were great and the human contact and feedback on some ideas was really useful for me. Gave me a little focus you might say. I’ve got two or three posts that are clogging up valuable brain space. I think this is the easiest one to get out, as I repeated it in about three different conversations over the course of the conference.

As people work through the possibilities of creating read/write space and getting participation from their users/members the conversation inevitably turns to wikis. Those lovable scamps that allow people to collaboratively write documents, add content in an inevitably democratic way and really decentralize the position of power normally reserved for submarine captains and webmasters.

The question I was asked (and overheard and couldn’t keep my nose out of) was should I use a wiki as a content management system. I want to start an alumni site at my school, or I want to get teachers to come together and collaboratively write curriculum/lesson plans/learning objects or I want to give people an opportunity to come together and post what’s going on in a way that will allow the content to keep up with the times. You know… I want wikipedia. Except I want it for us.

***************** tangential wikipedia interlude ********************

Wikipedia is a false model. It should not have happened (Indeed, according to various things said by Larry Sanger over the years, it was never meant to happen, Nupedia was meant to be the ‘wiki that lived’. Indeed, he’s trying to build it again now.) There are a couple of things that need to be considered when looking to wikipedia. One, there are many things, people driven or automated, that ensure that the formatting is kept consistent. There are people who check wikipedia pages like other people (used to) smoke. Its a passion, something they live and breathe for. There is also a crucial scaling issue with wikipedia. Its membership group is impossibly large. And the ratio of people editing per pages you might access (as if that was a piece of data i had real research for) is probably never going to be reflected in a personal wiki.

Wikipedia is also, in a sense, the second time this has happened. A quick perusal of the Professor and the Madman will show you that the advent of the Oxford English Dictionary went along the same path… if with more stamps. It is the exception that proves the rule and not something that we should look to for guidance. They also have something like 200 servers. Which i think of as obscene. 🙂

****************** end tagential and minimally researched/relevant interlude*******

There are a couple of situations in which a wiki works extraordinarily well. If you and 5 friends (example overheard and stolen from Nancy White) are working on something that you are all very interested in (and can share) than a wiki might be good for you.

If, for limited period of time, you have a collaborative document that many people need to work on, a wiki might be good for you.

If, like the spectroscopy folks, you are a member of a very passionate society that is changing rapidly and has a central core around which you can float, and you need a way to keep documents very, very current for research purposes, a wiki might be right for you.

If you have someone hired to edit and monitor a wiki, you might make it through.

If you are absolutely committed to spending all of your time on one wiki… that could work.

If you are in a multi-member, multi-investment group… or worse, are trying to start a group to get other people involved, expect a few more difficulties. Wiki editing and particularly formatting can be a real impediment. Many teachers have looked back at their school wikis and found difficulties. (Vicky Davis notwithstanding (she is cool, and does cool stuff with kids and wikis)) More importantly as repositories for work done by many people, the work usually falls to the people who were doing it before. Or, worse, a bunch of stuff gets thrown up on a public site and then that person (mentioned here earlier as the one doing the work) has to go back and do twice as much work editing and formatting the stuff they could have done twice as quickly by sending emails for info and posting it themselves.

Does this mean wikis can’t work. No. Of course not. It just means that the commitment to training and monitoring and mentoring and formatting really has to be there. We’ve found, for instance, that a Drupal, with books enabled, allows for alot of freedom but also keeps alot more formatting.

Do use wikis… just tread lightly, I don’t really see them as a gateway drug. It might be easier to get your community started somewhere else.

Wikis are alot of work. And it seems to be difficult to keep people interested in them for the long haul (at least for me). cheers all.

Author: dave

I run this site... among other things.

6 thoughts on “Wikis as content management – meh…?”

  1. Actually, it may surprise you to know that I think wikis are absolutely NOT a content management system for schools. I honestly think that is not a good idea. When you see my wiki home page you see a page built by me with my RSS feeds and for my students to have a central place for my classroom. I oversee formatting, etc. Wikis are a great hub for collaborative projects — but I think that a blog based system that is integrated with a school website via RSS is the best way to go! It is really a great way to do things.

    I think you are right on the money on this wiki analysis. Every technology tool has a purpose and a use, but every technology tool cannot be used for everything. Perhaps I have success because I fit the tool to the intended use and do not try to put a square wiki in an HTML sized hole?

    Great analysis! I’ve heard great things about you from the other WOW2-ers. Now I see why!

  2. Okay, Dave, we have already chatted about this, but it is worth leaving a comment as well. Wikis seem to be the current flavour of the month – and for good reasons. For years, I created my own class websites and webpages for showcasing student projects. I also taught web design to high school students for several years. However, after discovering wikis, I now have a great sense of freedom! No more webpage design (I never believed I was particularly good at it)! The webpages were designed to provide flat content or links (web 1.0??) for information delivery. In order for students to respond to content, a forum or bulletin board (sometimes in a content/learning management system) was used. Now with the discussion feature of wikis, readers can respond to the content within the same page. The history feature makes it easy to keep up with the contributions of the student collaborators.

    Wikis as a content *management* system, though, is another matter. Would we use a flat webpage as a content management system? It simply is not the right tool for the purpose. And with the abundance of online environments from which to choose, there is no excuse to find the appropriate model.

  3. Wikis still have a long way to go before they gain a significant foothold in the schools. As someone who has written more web pages in vi and notepad than any other application, it annoys me to have to use a different markup language for wikis. When they evolve to the point where it’s trivial to modify formatting, work with tables, insert pictures and links, and attach documents of different types, it’ll become a powerful tool. Until then, they’ll just be toys for the technorati and middle school students who haven’t yet discovered that they’re too hard to use 🙂

    If I were a teacher working in a classroom, I would be using WordPress for my class web site. Even with significant technology experience, I use it because it takes the work out of web publishing.

    The teacher’s goal with a web site (at least, a first web site) is to get information online quickly and easily for students and parents. We need to give them the tools with the lowest possible learning curve to get that done in a professional-looking way. They don’t want to be web designers. They want to be teachers. If you throw in the fact that you can build a simple learning community with blog software, there’s plenty there to get them started.

    Once they’ve outgrown WordPress, I’d put them in Moodle. That’s where they get all of the tools they need to do just about anything they can dream up.

    Wikis? They have their place. But as Dave said in the original post, there are limited situations where they’re really going to work well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Creative Commons License
Except where otherwise noted, the content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.