Update spring 2007: Refactoring needed. Some of this page addresses writing practices on the wiki - not how the wiki changes writing so much as techniques for writing the wiki. Refactor those parts by moving them to the appropriate existing or new pages.

Might also want to break out into two pages: Writing as a verb and writing as a noun.

How the Wiki Changes Writing

Writing for print has been, at least for the last couple of hundred years, thought of as a private, individual endeavor. The wiki is a public space, and collective. Writing - even when not publishing - tended to focus on the page, or the document, read from a specified start to a specified end. The wiki is a hypertextual, pan-document space where any topic can be linked to any other and the reader decides reading order.

So, how does the wiki change writing? How doesn't it? What features of the wiki are salient in prompting changes? What stays the same? Even a list of possible changes will help us.

see also HowBloggingChangesWriting

Writings Place and Role in Society

Wikis are decentralized, authorless, supposedly neutral. That said, it is important to note that being authorless does not mean that it does not have authors. Being authorless in this case means that it has multiple authors. And the responsibility for developing, editing, contributing, and maintaining a wiki falls on whomever will take that responsibility. And everyone is invited. PrintLiteracy gives way on a wiki to WikiLiteracy when we look at WikiAsAWritingSpace.

What Makes an Effective Wiki Topic Effective

WikiSupportsTopicalWriting and that changes things.

The wiki topics that work the best, are going to be the ones that are defined clearly, on the one hand, and the ones that work well in a wiki format. For example, a website devoted to art criticism, is not going to do well as a wiki unless it has some sort of "encyclopedic" aspect to it. This is where pages make the transition to document mode. Document mode is where a wiki page ends up if it's actually defining something, when it is encyclopedic. Thread mode is where people toss around ideas. So if the object of a particular node is to discuss the value of a particular painting, it's going to be very difficult to get a document out of it because people are going to disagree about whether or not the painting is actually good.

Many of the best wikis are the ones that are formally open-ended. Employing only threads falls short of the potential of a wiki. A wiki page needs to have a clear objective that focuses the topic. This starts the mental motions that cause people to react in longer, more developed writing that gives the wiki substance. This works on both the general level of a wiki as a whole, and on the specific level of a particular node.

Thread modes good backgrounds for a testing field of ideas whether related or not. They are where the discussion takes place, the disagreements are heard, and consensus are reached. They also are an indication of a good documented topic. This is then TheCollectiveNotebook so-to-speak, where the ideas of many are jotted down with branches and twists, as well as solid content that adds to the document.

Essentially on a given node, the transition between thread mode and document mode is only going to occur (and it will occur spontaneously) if the topic is appropriate for conversion to a document.

The topic itself isn't so much important, as long as the wiki achieves a right balance in the way it presents its information. Between threads & documents.

How People Write on a Wiki

Essentially, all writing in a GroupWiki is about conformity. In order to project ClearAndReasonedThoughts, everyone must adapt to a common theme, style, and mode of conduct when refactoring information. If this doesn't happen, it will cause incomprehensible chaos to the rhetoric, and nothing of value will be obtained.

For example, publishing through a wiki forces contributing writers to conform to the standard of stating their ideas as clearly and concisely as possible, whether they are writing in ThreadMode or DocumentMode, so others who come after them may follow their line of thought and continue to build upon it.

Let us use a parking lot as an analogy to better understand this concept. In the summer, the rules are clear - park between the yellow lines. Everyone understands this, and it makes parking a lot more managable. Now imagine that same parking lot, except this time in the winter with lots and lots of snow. There aren't any yellow lines to guide us, but we still have to park. The best way this problem is solved is to let someone try out a spot and park were they feel is correct. If everyone else "feels" that person is correct, they will park next to them, thus setting the example and the template to conform to. If the majority doesn't feel the ParkingPioneer is correct, then they won't park next to that car.

Then, as each person leaves, the next person to arrive has treds in the snow to follow, and parking has become managable again. It isn't nearly as neat as the summer yellow lines, but it gets the job done.

Another thing to consider when looking at how people write on a wiki is that, in order for a person's contributions to be useful and effective on a wiki, that person has to care about what they write. It may sound simple, but it's very important.

People need to really want to see the ideas and topics discussed on a wiki become more developed, because if they don't, their contributions will likely take the wiki nowhere. People need to believe in the mission of the wiki so that it encourages them to be more purposeful in their writing.

Also, due to the fact that the way people read on the internet is different, and as people look at a wiki page with the intent of editing it, it seems a new trend emerges. The writing becomes much more clipped, precise, and exact. The language itself changes. There's not as much room to wax poetic. It's just going to get edited out, as the node becomes more and more precise.

The same ideas hold on PersonalWikis.

What People Need to Know in Order to Take Part in Wiki Writing

There are two roles people can play when participating on a wiki -- reading and editing. Every literate person can easily take part in the role of a reader. In order to fully participate on a wiki as both reader and editor, though, people need to have some specific skills.

First of all, people need to know how to type. This sounds pretty basic, but it's a skill people are going to need if they want to write on a wiki.

If people want to be able to use some of the features they're used to having on their regular word processors, such as italicizing words and putting them into bold print, and creating headings and bullets, they also need to have formatting knowledge.

Also, people should, but don't have to, know how to create links and WikiWord s.

It's probably also pretty important, but not necessary, for people to understand that wikis are fluid, and that the ideas in people's writing are the focus rather than the writing itself on a wiki. It would probably be a lot easier (and perhaps less painful) for a person to understand prior to writing on a wiki page that their writing will most likely be altered and "played" with. In other words, it would be helpful for someone to be familiar with such basic concepts as ThreadMode, DocumentMode, and RefactoringPages.

In short, in order to edit on a wiki page, people need to have some basic technological skills, such as creating links and putting words into bold and italicized print, and they also should, but don't need to, have some knowledge of the basic characteristics of wikis, such as the fact that they can be refactored from ThreadMode into DocumentMode.

What People Read and How They Read

It is very possible that the internet has matured to a point. More to the point, the people who use the internet have matured. The idea of the internet in people's minds has matured in such a way that wikis are a natural course of action.

What they read and how they read it is almost as drastic as how they think about it. When surfing around the internet, people read differently. When you're trying to find a specific piece of information, and navigate your way to a page, there are people who can give the page a cursory, maybe twenty second scan and determine whether it has what they are looking for. There are visual clues that a person subconsciously utilizes when surfing the internet.

Wikis are very similar. When I browse around on Wikipedia, even within a specific article, I am constantly looking for the most pertinent, relevant, and useful information for the project, the task, that I've given myself. Everything else be damned. The internet puts people in a "fast" frame of mind. Especially now that we're past the days of 9600 Baud modems.

We read only what's going to be useful to us. And we how closely we read depends on how useful and valuable we take the stuff to be.

see also WikiLiteracy
see also ReimaginingWriting

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