Wikis, authorship and collaboration: A question

I have a serious question, particularly for those of you who contribute to or maintain wikis:

Does it violate the “wiki way” for signed content pages–that is, essay contributions with prominent signatures–to be locked against edits (but have open Talk pages)? As a wiki user, would you be offended by such locked pages?

This isn’t a hypothetical. I’m working on a fledgling wiki that should become a major resource. It’s clear that much of the content will consist of signed essays. Some of those essays will be contributed directly to the wiki. Others will be contributed indirectly (by people who’ve already written them or are unwilling to deal with wiki markup). Still others will come from third-party sources and those must be locked (as a general rule).

Every locked page will have an open Talk page, open for contributions by anyone with an account on the wiki. We’ll try to make the Talk content more visible in a number of ways. When people have substantial alternative viewpoints, we’ll link to those content pages from the locked pages.

What do you think?

  • As a writer, if you contribute something that should be (and is) signed–anything in the first person, anything with a strong voice, anything that’s primarily opinion or your own experience–would you prefer that page to be open to edits by others or would you prefer it locked, edited only by the wiki’s editor(s)?
  • As a wiki user and contributor, would you be offended by frequent locked pages when they’re always accompanied by live Talk pages?

Thanks! Comments by December 1 will be most useful, but comments will stay open for the usual 6 to 12 months…

23 Responses to “Wikis, authorship and collaboration: A question”

  1. I’m a little torn. Part of me says that if you contribute to a wiki, you’re implicitly consenting to editing. (I’m also extremely leery of prima donnas who insist that Their Prose Is Not To Be Edited. They create melodrama.) Besides, what’s the alternative? Letting the prose get stale?

    But opinion pieces, as you imply, aren’t out there for public debate… and honestly, for that reason they don’t seem like good wiki fodder to me. What’s a blog for?

    If you don’t have a blog available, frozen wiki page plus talk page seems like a decent compromise to me.

  2. I think a wiki is a tool for collaborative creation/maintanence/collection of content- not a philosophical ideal. Editing access should be set as best suits the wiki’s purpose. I wouldn’t fret about it, as long as the wiki’s editorial policies are made very clear and available from its front page.

  3. At first glance, I agree with Dorothea. If you want to incorporate uneditable articles, wouldn’t it be better to use a blog format? Or a standard website?

    Alternatively, what about editable wiki pages that link out to the uneditable articles?

    Ultimately, though, as a user, if there are good reasons for you to use a wiki, I don’t think I’d be offended by locked pages.

  4. WoW!ter says:

    My first thought was a blog as well. But you don’t indicate anywhere how many unsigned pages you forsee. I think it is a matter of balance, when you have many signed pages then a blog is preferred otherwise a wiki. So in the end I opt for the combination. look for instance at the integration of blog and wiki pages at information wants to be free.

  5. Peter Murray says:

    What you are describing, Walt, is just fine. The Wiki, after all, is just a tool, and although some prominent uses of the tool (e.g. Wikipedia) have certain cultural norms, if you want to use the tool with slightly different cultural norms than I say go ahead. Post the guidelines prominently on the main pages (so that readers know that they typical cultural wiki norms don’t apply to this instance) and let folks have at it on the Talk pages.

  6. As the coordinator for a wiki myself, I see nothing wrong with locking signed articles. If an article is signed, then it represents the work of that particular person. Keeping a talk page open will help fix any problems with signed articles as long as either the author or wiki editor is willing to incorporate fixes.

    My most recent experience also leads me to lean towards limiting editing of any wiki pages to registered users only, at least for wikis with small numbers of regular contributors. For Wikipedia with its millions of people editing, I don’t think that’s needed.

    Otherwise, I agree pretty much with the people who’ve commented here already.

  7. Brenda Chawner says:

    Walt, I tend to agree with the people who say that a wiki is a tool, and it’s up to the community to determine the policies. So if the group who is primarily responsible for the wiki is comfortable with having locked pages with a ‘talk’ page for responses, go ahead with that approach. I can see why some people think that this sounds more like a blog, but using a wiki will give you more flexibility over the overall site architecture.

    I recently had students in a course I was teaching develop a wiki as a shared resource. I was interested that none of them signed their pages, and we ended up deciding to have a page listing everyone who contributed to the wiki instead of attributing specific content to individual authors.

  8. walt says:

    This is off to a good start. I should mention that I’ve also heard from Meredith Farkas and Iris Jastram (before I did the post), so no surprise if neither of these experienced wiki folk show up here…

    I see a disjunction between “wiki as a lightweight content management system” and “wiki as a philosophy.” Maybe the question really boils down to:

    Is it acceptable to use a wiki as a tool even if quite a few pages seem to violate the Wiki Way?

    David, Peter, Daniel (and Meredith and Iris) are tool-oriented: As long as it’s clear what’s what, the combination shouldn’t offend people. Dorothea, Simon and WoW!ter are somewhere in the middle. Here’s the thing: This particular system just won’t work as a blog or a series of blogs (trust me, if I thought it would, I’d propose that). The system needs one core tool, one “portal” if you will. So far, I think the already-established wiki is the best choice for that portal.

    Blogs have a heavy builtin bias toward reverse chronological organization. Wikis have a builtin bias toward web-of-pages categorical organization. Findability argues for having most content within whatever system you’re using, I think.

    So far, this is wonderfully instructive. Keep it up.

  9. Steve Lawson says:

    If you had asked “does it make sense to have a site that is part freely-editable wiki and part stable signed articles” I’d say, “Sure. What a strange question.”

    But I suppose the crux here is that you need to use the same content management tool for both kinds of pages and that tool is a wiki.

    So if it were me, and this was possible, I’d use a different template for the locked pages so they didn’t look like the rest of the wiki. If that wasn’t possible, I’d have a standard thing near the top of the page with some kind of standard logo or title and text to the effect of “This page is one of a series of articles. As such, this page isn’t open for editing, but we invite comments and discussion on the talk page.”

  10. Steve Lawson says:

    …And I’d link “series of articles” to an index page linking to all those articles which might even have a bit more to say about why they aren’t editable like the rest of the site.

  11. walt says:

    Steve: At a minimum, current plans will have the first line of any signed/locked article (immediately below the title) be a byline and publication date. I can certainly add [Locked] to that.

    And, if I do my job right, an invitation and link to the Talk page will appear at the bottom of each such page.

    I could have “[Locked]” be a link to a page that explains why these pages are locked, I suppose.

  12. Jenica says:

    I agree with what Steve says — as a philosophy of content, I have no quibble. But you’re right; there is a Philosophy Of The Wiki, as well. Because of that, I’d do my best to be sure to distinguish between That To Which We Want You To Contribute and That On Which You May Only Comment, Over Here — don’t confuse the semi-savvy user, who may have expectations of what a wiki should be.

    But software’s a tool, a means to an end. I say find your end, and employ the tool in the most transparent way possible in order to get there.

    Good luck!

  13. Peter Murray says:

    Walt: I think what you just described (in the last comment) would work fine and wouldn’t run afoul of anyone’s notion of what a wiki should do. If there are still concerns, you could skin the wiki so it doesn’t look like a traditional wiki. Then you’d just be using the wiki framework more like a content management system.

  14. there are open source content management systems that do both wikis, static pages, and other things… I guess I would go with the not calling it a wiki except where it’s acting like a wiki and call it something else when it’s locked – definitely clear markings.

  15. bowerbird says:

    christina got in right ahead of me with my comment.
    but i’ll second her anyway…

    i think the idea of a mixture of locked and unlocked
    is very appealing. indeed, i’ve kicked around ideas
    about a filtering/ranking mechanism (like slashdot’s)
    to vote up or down certain aspects within each page,
    thus making them more or less impervious to editing,
    and giving to readers an idea about their _certainty_,
    or the degree to which they might be “controversial”…

    but, after having said all that, there _is_ a philosophy
    behind wiki, so there is some _meaning_ to the name,
    and if you are not gonna honor that philosophy, then
    perhaps it’s not really fair to use the label… after all,
    the names that we use for things _are_ important…

    and it seems to me you’d be taking an unnecessary risk
    of being seen as having done a bait-and-switch on users.


    p.s. and no, i don’t think the “talk” pages are a substitute.
    they have a _secondary_ status that cannot be overcome.

  16. ACRL are publishing a hybrid book/wiki under Laura Cohen’s editorship. I contributed to the print part of it and am about to create my pages for the wiki. It is on a Media Wiki platform. I just presumed that the pages would be locked, but didn’t think to ask until a co-author asked about what we’d do about comments.

    The book is a “how we done it good” set of case studies. The wiki is designed as a “what happened after” accompaniment to the print chapter and authors have agreed to maintain it for 5 years.

    To answer your first question – I’d be really annoyed if someone edited the page I wrote. However, I would equally love a “Talk page” where I could be just another part of the conversation about the topic, and other voices may be heard more strongly.

    Not only do I think that locked pages with accompanying publically edited “talk” pages are allowed, I’d say they are actually the most useful format for some works.

    Really echo-chambering the “it’s just a tool that should be used in the best way that suits your purpose” comments. But there are other people are planning a wiki the way you propose.

  17. walt says:

    Kathryn: Thanks. If it’s a MediaWiki wiki, they’ll have to do some work to not have Talk pages attached to each content page (as I understand it), although the pages may be labeled “discussion” in most cases. Same thing, really…and, if they’re there, someone will also have to check for spam every so often, particularly if registration isn’t required to add to Talk pages. (The platform I’m working on certainly won’t be all locked pages; I’ll be delighted if collaborative pages eventually outnumber locked essays.)

    bowerbird: I hear what you’re saying–but I’m not sure I entirely buy it. The platform in question won’t be advertised as a wiki (that’s irrelevant to the task at hand), but it is built on a wiki platform and direct contributors will use MediaWiki syntax (although, with editing icons, they don’t need to learn much of it). Do you call it “bait and switch” if a library has a news or new-title feed that uses blog software but doesn’t have monthly archives or allow comments? (Do you call it bait and switch if a blog doesn’t allow comments?)

    Note: Comments still welcome, but I think we’ve come up with a workable set of structural changes, at least for a first pass–changes based at least in part on what I’ve been reading in this thread. Since I’m sure things will continue changing down the road–I hope not in ways that require complete rebuilds, as the first set will, but certainly in other terms–additional comments will still be helpful.

  18. bowerbird says:


    just to clear things up for the record…

    i didn’t say “bait-and-switch”. what i actually said was
    “it seems to me you’d be taking an unnecessary risk
    of being seen as having done a bait-and-switch on users.”

    accent _unnecessary_, accent _risk_, accent “being seen”.
    i made no charges myself, merely assessed the situation…

    it you use mediawiki software, it’s gonna look like a wiki.
    but it’s not gonna _act_ like one. you were aware of this;
    it’s why you asked the question. i just offered my answer.

    wiki is an interesting philosophy. how does it assert and
    prove itself if people keep eating away at the edges of it?
    i don’t have the answer, but i think it’s a good question…


  19. walt says:

    Parts of it will “act like a wiki.” Parts won’t, for what will be clearly defined reasons. Parts of most wikis aren’t editable, most certainly including the biggest of them all.

    As to “asserting and proving” the wiki philosophy, if a necessary part of that philosophy is that collaborative writing is always better than individual/signed writing, I’d suggest that a hybrid platform is the perfect chance to prove that: If it’s true, then the unsigned pages will consistently be better (more interesting, more readable, more valuable) than the signed ones. I must admit that I find that highly unlikely.

  20. I have absolutely no problem with it…as that’s exactly what myself and the other members of BIGWIG did for the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase wiki. Individual authors had edit rights for their pages (actually, for the whole thing, but there was as small enough membership we could manage it by hand). The public had no edit rights except to the Talk pages.

    The wiki, just like the blog, is a tool. While there are definitely norms, using the tool outside the norm is to be expected.

    Go for it, Walt! Can’t wait to see what you’re up to.

  21. bowerbird says:

    ok, i’m just unsure now why you asked the question, as it
    sounds like you already decided on the answer you want.

    but, as i said, i’ve considered mixed models myself, so i’m
    curious to see what you come up with, and how it works.


  22. walt says:

    Interesting. In fact, the solution we arrived at was influenced by the first dozen (or so) comments received here as well as other comments from library wiki creators elsewhere. I asked the question because I wanted advice. I got advice and acted on it.

  23. bowerbird says:

    walt said:
    > the solution we arrived at was influenced by
    > the first dozen (or so) comments

    looks like i came in at lucky #13 in regard to influence.

    i’ll have to move more swiftly next time… ;+)

    either way, i look forward to what you create.


    p.s. but i will second peter murray’s advice to _skin_
    signed pages so they don’t _look_ like a wiki, so as to
    lead the user away from getting any misimpressions.
    and peter _was_ in your top dozen commenters…