Wikis: more than just collaboration

Definitions of wikis, especially in education, often state that wikis are ‘collaborative’. Most wiki software does support collaboration, but not all applications of wikis need to be collaborative. In fact, collaborative features can be detrimental if we want to publish our own writing and not have it changed or deleted… the reflective thinker may not want to be disturbed!

For example, I maintain a Mediawiki site for my own articles and other resources that I don’t want changed. It used to be an open wiki, but dealing with the spam became too time-consuming. So now the wiki is only open to be read by visitors, not for writing. I no longer feel the need to apologise for this – I don’t let others browse the documents on my hard disk, but I do let others browse (but not edit) the writing on my wiki. And there are plenty of other channels for collaboration out there.

Some wiki purists might say that using a wiki solely for your own writing, without allowing for input of others, is against the wiki philosophy. But I’d argue we should be able to use the tools in ways that best meet our needs, and the best tools provide flexibility in how we use them. And most of us have the need to write in different read-write modes: sometimes it’s private, sometimes it’s public, and sometimes it’s collaborative. The best wiki tools should let us easily write and manage documents in a range of read-write modes.

Ideally, Mediawiki would allow me to easily manage the read-write mode of any article and its associated discussion page. Unfortunately, it’s not that straightforward – permissions are set in the Mediaiwiki configuration file and the documentation warns against relying on the plugins available for finer-grained managing of permissions. So it hasn’t been feasible for me to effectively manage the read-write mode of individual pages on my main wiki.

Recently I’ve been trying out PMWiki, which makes much better allowance for controlling access to the wiki site and to individual pages within it. Any page can have a password for reading and a password for writing, and these can be set relatively simply. That means you have fine-grained control over the read-write mode of any specific page.

That’s just what I need – and I believe that’s what learners need too. Not all learning happens collaboratively: successful learners need to be reflective as well as collaborative. Effective Web 2.0 tools provide for personal reflection as well as more social approaches to learning.

Photo by Matan: Copy of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ at Columbia University

7 thoughts on “Wikis: more than just collaboration

  1. Agathe Buch

    I don’t think making yourself the only editor of a wiki goes against wiki philosophy. A wiki can be a good way to keep things organized yourself. Wikis are made so that a project can be continuous, and often times wikis are limited to keep spammers out, and troublemakers, so if you are the sole person that is maintaining a project, I don’t see why you can’t be the sole wiki editor. . . if all of that makes sense!

    Reply
  2. Paul Left Post author

    Yes, makes a lot of sense to me! A wiki is just a tool that we apply as we see fit depending on the context. And sadly, keeping spammers out is a constant concern.

    Thanks for your contribution, Agathe…

    Reply
  3. Laura

    The MediaWiki issue involving setting custom permissions is one that I’d love to see further refined. I’d love for users who upload images to be able to delete their own images… or to have permissions where people can have their own user pages set so only they can edit them and they can delete their own subpages.

    I don’t have a problem with the whole concept of limited authorship. Depending on the type of content, it almost needs to be done.

    Reply
  4. Paul Left Post author

    Thanks, Laura – I don’t know anything about fandom but your mediawiki site looks like a great project! Your rules are very clear too – if only rules were enough :-)

    Roles and permissions in Moodle are now quite fine-grained and I wish Mediawiki was a bit more like that – as you point out, they’re not as flexible as they could be.

    Reply
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