Friday, September 22, 2006

Wiki, Wiki everywhere but not a place to write

I've spent most of the latter part of the week searching for a wiki that allows moderation of content before it is published. I've realized I can't find it because moderation is completely anti-wiki; the admin is meant to trust the user both to not need moderation and to moderate other users. A scary proposition, but one which seems to work for Wikipedia, despite media claims to the contrary (although deliberate vandalism is still a major concern).

Certainly Wikipedia's coverage of the July 7, 2005 London transport bombings was incredibly well-done and absolutely up-to-the-minute as events unfolded. (As is the nature of Wikipedia, the most remarkable aspects of that coverage were erased very soon after they were added. In fact, it's that constant updating that made the page so remarkable. For similar responses to current news, try Wikinews.)

Since I like Wikipedia, I was looking forward to seeing what libraries are doing with wikis, I really was. I expected to see full-blown catalog wiki sites with long lists of reader comments and tags on each book. I expected library user comments on various reference sources. I was less than impressed with what I saw.

Wikis are the star of the show when it comes to the read/write web. Read what's there, and if you disagree or think something needs to be added, write it up! Simple.

Library wikis seem to have forgotten the "write" part. For example, the OCLC has apparently decided to call the OpenWorldCat a "wiki" because they accept user-written reviews. (Which, of course, Amazon has done for years.) Similarly, the Princeton Public Library wiki has some great book reviews written by patrons, but ... That's it. No responses to the reviews, no comments, no tags. (The reviews are so well-done I hope they continue the project now that summer reading is over, BTW.)

I honestly can't see what makes the University of South Carolina Aiken library site a wiki except that it happens to be run off PmWiki software. The Bull Run library site adds some RSS feeds by being a wiki, but again I don't see any "write" elements except the ability to add favorite books to the library's LibraryThing list, "an experiment in opening up this wiki to external input (Seeing that Recommend a Book didn't result in many recommendations)." If there's another "write" component, I can't find it. The Beth Page Public Library Wiki seems to be just one static page, but calls itself a wiki.

According to the University of Calgary wiki, a wiki is characterized as "an open, collaborative website that allows anyone to add and edit pages." I suspect that while library staff see these websites as wikis, the public sees them as typical websites.

As I said, I was disappointed. I was hoping for something created by both a library and its users.

I know that for libraries the wikis I've mentioned are baby steps, that getting staff to use a wiki is hard enough, that most libraries aren't philosophically ready to surrender control of content to the users. (Some library organizations, like LISWiki, are brave enough to allow library-connected users to post to their pages and have gotten some terrific results.) Maybe a nice transitional step is to convert the PLCMC intranet to a wiki?

As we move towards real wikis, we should all read the Cluetrain Manifesto's 95 Theses at least once a week to remind us where we are trying to go and why. And if it's any consolation, private industry is struggling with wikis as well.

Interesting fact: Most of the library wikis are run off PB Wiki. Hmm. Wonder if they are using the paid version?

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