Why Wiki Works

Why use a wiki, when anyone can change or delete anything there? What's to prevent someone from going berserk and wiping the whole site, or secretly changing the meaning of what people say, or clogging everything up with spam? The answer is the part of wikis that newcomers often miss: the community.

Most community web sites rely on technology to restrict the actions of community members. Elaborate schemes have been designed to moderate postings or to establish a trust metric for community members to rate each other. There are several problems with this:

  • Only one person can generally edit what they have already said, regardless of how bad a mistake they have made.
  • Duplicate comments can't be pared down and merged together.
  • Moderation and trust metrics create an atmosphere of distrust by implying that visitors must first earn the trust of the community.
  • For every limitation, there is usually a way around it.

Wikis work better because they rely on community, rather than technology. Every change made to the site is observable by the active community. If someone comes along and maliciously deletes text or posts spam, someone else can just as easily fix the problem. Since an open environment encourages participation and a strong sense of community, the ratio of fixers to breakers tends to be very high, so the wiki stays stable.1


For more about why wiki generates interesting content and why there is not much abuse, see http://communitywiki.org/en/WhyWikiWorks

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