Jan 052008

It’s no secret that I am very much not a fan of Wikipedia. This has surprised many of my associates who know that I’m an anarchist, but don’t yet truly understand what the term means. They believe that, because I’m an anarchist, and the strongest of free speech proponents (for example, I refuse to have any moderators on the forums that I run, trusting the community to police itself) I should therefore be passionate about the free-wheeling openness of Wikis. The reality is, that I am rather fond of the openness and “frontier” nature of Wikis. My problem is not with the software or the system, but with the wide acceptance of Wikipedia as a valid source document. The very nature of the system prohibits any sort of expert reliability. I can cite a wiki page today and tomorrow it will be completely changed and no longer remotely valid. (BTW, if you’re not familiar with the concept of wikis see what is a wiki.)

The MediaWiki software itself is exactly what I envisioned the internet to develop into back in th early days of 300 baud modems and online bulletin board systems (BBSs). It allows all the world’s information to be collected, sifted, and added to by anyone interested in doing so. In other words, wikis help fulfill a dream of mine in the original hacker vein of ‘information wants to be free’.

Thus, having had the discussion about where I stand on wikis several months ago I, as is my habit, decided to undertake a bit of a wiki-experiment. I created my own wiki site, using the MediaWiki software. Of course, my wiki was much more specialized dealing specifically with the collectible miniatures games created and sold by one particular company. Now, bear in mind that I regularly experiment with new and different software, be it online or directly on my personal computer. I even supported myself for some time as a consultant, beta tester, and bug hunter for various internet, gadget, and software companies both large and small. In other words, although I’m not a computer “expert” by geek standards, I’m certainly not afraid to roll my sleeves up and figure out how to make a chunk of code operate the way it is intended to.

However, setting up a MediaWiki site was a total nightmare. Once I had it up and running, trying to educate my chosen”public” on how they could contribute to it (thus realizing the wiki dream) was even more of a nightmare. The fact of the matter is, the software is arcane and essentially proprietary in practice (though it is open source). What I should have done (and will surely do should I desire another wiki in the future) was sign up with a wiki company like Wetpaint.com. Time magazine named Wetpaint.com one of the “50 Best Websites of 2007”, saying-

The process for adding text, Web links, photos and video to a Wetpaint wiki is highly intuitive, but there are video tutorials just in case. If you’re feeling protective or want a little more control, Wetpaint lets you set different levels of access for different users. You can also restrict access altogether to only those you’ve specifically invited, though anybody will still be able to visit the site. As your wiki evolves and grows, there are tools that track the changes in detail, so you can see who did what and when—and then call them on it before changing it back.

Wetpaint is a 100% free service that will host your wiki for you. They provide a simple three step process for setting up a wiki, community support for both maintainers and contributors to wikis, and essentially anything and everything you could need to create, maintain and grow your own web-based interactive community. In fact, if you’re a blogger who’s hoping to foster a greater sense of community around your website, then a wiki is probably exactly what you’re looking for. If you’re concerned that using a third party wiki solution will come across as unprofessional (as I was) then set those concerns aside: Oracle actually outsourced the development of the Oracle wiki to Wetpaint!

Meanwhile, the wiki I created faltered and stalled out within a matter of weeks. It has not been contributed to since, despite it receiving a decent amount of search engine traffic. So, my experiment was an abject failure, but at least now I know how to improve upon the venture next time.

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