Monday, February 22, 2016

On Blogs and Wikis

Mike Caulfield argues in an interesting post that Blogs and Wikis have not only a different history, bu also obey different laws. "Wiki and blogs have two different cultures, two different idioms," they embody "different sets of values." Thus "Blogs are, in many ways, the child of BBS culture and mailing lists. They are a unique innovation on that model, allowing each person to control their part of the conversation on their own machine and software while still being tied to a larger conversation through linking, backlinks, tags, and RSS feeds." Whereas "Wiki is perhaps the only web idiom that is not a child of BBS culture. It derives historically from pre-web models of hypertext, with an emphasis on the pre."

Therefore, Caulfield thinks, it is perhaps not surprising that "Wiki values are often polar opposites of blogging values. Personal voice is meant to be minimized. Voices are meant to be merged. Rather than serial presentation, wiki values treating pages as nodes that stand outside of any particular narrative, and attempt to be timeless rather than timebound reactions." Indeed, the believes "Wiki iterates not through the creation of new posts, but through the refactoring of old posts. It shows not a mind in motion, but the clearest and fairest description of what that mind has (or more usually, what those minds have) arrived at. It values reuse over reply, and links are not pointers to related conversations but to related ideas." I do find this point interesting. I think that Caulfield is on to something, even though I think that wiki does not always lead to the approximation of truth. "What the mind has arrived at" in many wikis may just be a consensus of many people with the same prejudices. Nor am I convinced that the wiki experience shows our angelic side. Just look at what is happening over at Wikipedia.

On the other hand, I have actually little interest in public wikis. I may not be able to count my contribution to wikis on one hand, but it certainly amounts to no more than four hands. Therefore, my interest in Caulfield's post about the historical origin and the values embodied in wikis concerns something that is only an aside in his post. He notes that "[t]he immediate ancestor of wiki was a Hypercard stack maintained by Ward Cunningham that attempted to capture community knowledge among programmers. Its philosophical godfather was the dead-tree hypertext A Pattern Language written by Christopher Alexander in the 1970s." I am stuck at the "pre-wiki' level, it seems. In any case, I am almost exclusively interested in what is nowadays called "personal wiki." While I hope this is not a moral shortcoming, I am fairly sure that my personal wiki grows not just through the creation of new entries, but also "through the refactoring of old" entries. Furthermore, it does show a mind in motion to the clearest and fairest description of what this mind can arrive at. It's only my mind interacting with the ideas by others and by myself. I like it that way!

I am thankful for Mike Caulfeld for giving me the occasion to reflect on this fact. I am also thankful for reminding me of A Pattern language. I had never thought of it in connection with wiki, and I will now pursue this idea further.

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