Learning to Collaborate over Wikis

by librarianincognita ~ July 28th, 2011. Filed under: Uncategorized.

(Almost) everyone who is an active user of the internet knows Wikipedia but when I ask non-librarian/ non-geek friends, few know about free wikis like Wikispaces that they can use for collaborative work. I only discovered it because the library board decided to send all librarians for a new media crash course to bring everyone, regardless of age, up to date with the various tools out there that was supposed to aid with our work.

I was delighted to discover wikis!

My husband and I used it to plan our wedding. I used it to plan outings with large groups of friends where everyone, instead of sending 101 emails, just had to update whether they were attending on the page and state what they were going to contribute if we were having picnics. In short, it was great for collaborating where planning an event was concerned.

Then I got to research projects – that was not as straightforward as planning and where Wikipedia succeeds collaboratively, wikis with small groups do not always do as well. Wikipedia has the privilege of a large pool of people editing it simultaneously and independently. When the Sendai earthquake and tsunami happened, it only took 12 hours for the Wikipedia entry to be created and two days later, there were more than 500 updates with almost 150 references. Now that’s remarkable. If the Wisdom of Crowds theory is correct, then Wikipedia does really well precisely because it has a large pool of contributors. It’s a good bet that none of the contributors knew each other and everyone added what they believed was the best available content for the page.

In small group wiki collaborations. There isn’t the benefit of anonymity and often the fear of offending someone by “correcting” that person’s entry gets in the way. Occasionally, discussion about what to include in the wiki happens outside the medium and often through email. Each person usually tries justifies the changes they make so that no one would be offended. While the intent is the same — everyone wanting to contribute what they believe is best — the process is different, diplomacy changes the wiki experience. Contributing to a wiki requires one to relinquish control – each contributor needs to understand that whatever they put out there is going to be changed whether they like it or not. Trust is also required – each contributing member needs to believe that everyone is going to make changes that will only improve the wiki. Without these two things, collaborating on a wiki project will not be as efficient as it can potentially be.

If I had to come up with a wiki collaboration manifesto, it would be this:

1. In the spirit of collaboration, I will not seek to control the outcome of the wiki project but work towards improving it step by step through editing.

2. I will respect the work of those who contribute to the wiki and trust that every change made is made to improve the wiki.

3. I will understand that different people contribute differently, some more, some less and every contribution is valid with equal value.

4. I will not impose my value judgement on the work that others do even if it is different from the way I would have done them and instead, build on their changes to make the wiki better.

5. I will respect the work of people I use and cite them appropriately to acknowledge their part in my creation of content.

and lastly,

6. All content created on the wiki is done with the desire to share information freely.


4 Responses to Learning to Collaborate over Wikis

  1.   Courtney

    I like your manifesto! Wouldn’t such a manifesto be a great way to start a group project? To provide guidelines to ensure a safe and stable place for all? I also think such a manifesto would be a great piece to collaborate on — to bring in everyone’s ideas of how the wiki or space should look.

  2.   librarianincognita

    It came about because of the wiki project. I was thinking how hard it is to give up control over what you have written and the desire to control the outcome. Please feel free to add to it. =)

  3.   kt

    I like how you parse some of the issues surrounding collaborating via wiki. Wiki- diplomacy! What I like the most about what you write is the fact that there needs to be a shared understanding of what small-group collaboration via wiki will be about. That is, I think we all kind of assume that it’ll all work out in some way, as we are used to ftf group projects and so forth. But the nature of the medium- the edit at will idea it affords – does generate a new group experience. And i think it’s one that needs to be discussed ahead of time by the group. I don’t think that in all scenarios, there needs to be the same ‘manifesto’ however. As long as there is one- created by the group- then this is what is of importance.

  4.   Alison Dodd

    I love your manifesto!

    I’m really only speaking for myself here, but one of the most valuable skills I’m picking up here at SLAIS is the ability to just let go of a project and not have to control every bit of it.

    Also, I like that you recognize that different people work differently and can contribute in different (equally valuable) ways; that realization has made my group projects over the past semester run much more smoothly than they would’ve otherwise. It’s great that we’re all different, hey? Makes for better projects than we would’ve been able to complete on our own.

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