Why Wikis are Smart

The other day, I rambled on about how wikis are stupid. In that post, I touched on cases where using a wiki might not be a dumb idea. And, no, I’m not writing this because I had a backlash from the previous post. I don’t think my three readers care enough about wikis to generate a backlash.

Anyway, there are cases where wikis make perfect sense. The most obvious is a relatively limited community that needs to collaborate on information. In this case, think of a wiki as a shared revision control system for information rather than code. Usually, such a community will have gatekeepers whose purpose is to vet those with edit access to the wiki. How this gatekeeping works depends on the community in question. It may be an open door with after the fact moderation or it may be what the mediawiki documentation calls a “lazy solution”, namely requiring administrative approval to gain edit access.

A small number of contributors to a site may also derive a benefit from using a wiki. In that case, it would almost certainly be a closed system where you need administrative approval to gain edit access. It may even require approval to gain read access, depending on the intended audience.

Where wikis excel is where multiple people need to be able to edit content easily yet the history of the edits is preserved.  As the number of individual pages or number of contributors increases, the utility of a wiki also increases, regardless of how public the result actually is. On the other hand, for one or two people editing a single site which does not need an edit history, a traditional content management system makes more sense.

Just like using a full blown content management and access control system to serve a handful of relatively static pages is overkill (and possibly stupid), using a wiki where its features are not useful or beneficial is also stupid. On the other hand, using a wiki where its features are beneficial or at least useful makes a lot of sense.

To be perfectly clear: I have nothing in particular against wikis, or content management systems, or customer relationship management systems, or <insert software scheme of choice here>. Rather, what I have an issue with is people not considering carefully both what they are trying to accomplish and what that task actually requires and instead grabbing <insert buzzword here> and trying to make that work. No matter what you think you want to use for something, examine what you are trying to accomplish and consider honestly and carefully whether that thing you want to use is really a good fit. Don’t use a large complicated system when a smaller simpler one will do just as well.


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