Wisdom in wiki production/Target groups of wikis
Different user groups will have different objectives and uses for their wikis. In this section, we will briefly discuss the benefits of wikis for different target groups, focusing on issues that may be critical from the points of view of various groups; such issues should receive particular attention when the use of wikis is considered.
Wiki readers and wiki producers
We can think of wiki users as forming two large groups, wiki readers and wiki producers, with many users somewhere between these groups. In the field of social media, we talk of the one per cent rule and its variations: the rule states that one percent of all users are active content producers, 9% are sporadic producers, and the rest are passive readers. The reader/producer distribution might naturally be different in individual wikis. It is worth noting that producing wikis is always more difficult than reading and making use of them. Experimentation with a wiki should not be regarded as failed if the number of active producers is smaller than the number of readers.
Jakob Nielsen refers to this phenomenon as "participation inequality". In his view, the unequal distribution of readers and producers cannot be made even, but he believes that there are means to involve more people in contributing.
Various organisations such as libraries, schools, associations and enterprises can make use of wikis. Typically, the functions of wikis include supporting formal activities, communicating about them and soliciting participation. Wikis can be organisation-internal or targeted for the use of external parties.
If an organisation implements an intranet on a wiki platform in order to improve communication, it is essential to have all staff members participate in updating it. In these cases, all staff members should understand the importance of their input for the reaching of the common goal (please see the one-percent rule and Nielsen's tips).
Local wikis are natural means for public libraries to conduct local heritage work, which is one of the basic functions of Finnish libraries. Local community wikis may contain information and stories about the area; this encourages citizens to participate in a common effort. Library-specific wikis are a good means of teaching citizens some basic social media skills, web writing, making their voices heard in the web, and also cooperative work. Wikis can be used for discussing media literacy, copyright issues, privacy of information, and the use of references, all of which are in the realm of basic library expertise.
Professional groups, fields and duties
We can study the use of wikis from the points of view of different professional groups, professional fields and the duties within them. The humanities and the technical fields may have different requirements and needs regarding the manner of presentation and type of information in their wikis. For example, the presentation of mathematical formulae may require macro packages in text editors (such as TeX).
Some professions are very practical, some operate with abstract concepts. These facts have direct impacts on how wikis can be made use of in these fields and what the appropriate wiki uses are.
Where work is conducted is significant for the use of wikis. If workers do their work outside, far from their offices and computers, they may use their mobile devices to access the organisation wikis that contain the instructions they need. Similarly, they might take pictures of particularly interesting objects far from their offices, using their mobile devices, and insert them either immediately or later in the appropriate wikis so that others may benefit from them.
Citizens and hobby groups
All citizens can make use of wikis. One of the most widely used wikis is Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia, the use of which is familiar to almost everyone. Wikipedia, with a large group of people contributing to attain the common goal, is a good example of strength obtained through common action. Through wikis, citizens can perhaps be made more involved in civic matters.
Instructions and guidance for the use of wikis is available in the web — there are guide materials for the use and production of them. There are also great amounts of videoed instructions available if instructions in the text form do not feel right for someone (e.g. Youtube will bring up a great number of instructions in English if the search words 'wiki' and 'tutorial' are given). Anne Rongas has compiled a good set of Wikispaces wiki instructions and made it available in the web (only in Finnish). We used this wiki to collect easy and extensive instructions for even novice users to be able to get started with their wikis.
Some citizens use wikis diligently for a multitude of purposes, writing them on wiki platforms that they can use free of charge. For example, hobby groups can create their own wikis and produce collective materials if collaborative writing seems the best way for them to generate materials and communicate about the activities of the group. Wikis can be made use of in creating websites that several people can update — edit permissions can be restricted to smaller groups while everyone can read the wiki.
A good example of a wiki created for the use of citizens is the freely modifiable database about the Kanta-Häme region, Häme-Wiki. Citizens write their stories in Häme-Wiki, in which the stories are stored to form documentation concerning the local history. As there are many producers, this wiki has the potential of becoming a rich collection of local history. The party maintaining Häme-Wiki is the Hämeenlinna City Library that also teaches wiki-writing to those who are interested in acquiring the skill.
Learners and teachers
Wikis function in many study-related contexts. Students can use wikis independently to support themselves and their peer groups; on the other hand, educational institutions can construct wikis for teaching and studying. This new information production culture may be challenging for students, and they should be allowed enough time to learn it. In addition, students may need guidance in how to use wikis within this operative mode — it is not necessarily enough to introduce a wiki to support materials production. Teachers need to explain clearly how students are expected to work with wikis; Michele Notari, for example, has created a pedagogical scenario of the use of wikis in education in order to support this type of work.
Wikis can be used for information acquisition. The use of e.g. Wikipedia as a source of information in studies has been the subject of rather heated discussion. We should remember that Wikipedia is, specifically, an encyclopedia. Labeling it automatically as unreliable will not solve any problems of media literacy education; rather, we should try to understand what sort of information we are searching for and how Wikipedia should be used in our case. Some reliability issues relating to Wikipedia have been discussed elsewhere in this material.
Learners can produce their collective materials in wikis. The use of a wiki may help students if they have to write a joint report while they are physically distant from one another; they are not obligated to send reports back and forth as email attachments, causing version control problems for themselves. Wikis may bring the problem of simultaneous edits, but there are wiki-specific solutions to these issues. For example, MediaWiki, the platform of this particular wiki, requires the contents to be subdivided into smaller sections that are edited separately. This reduces the probability of the same spot being edited simultaneously by several people at any one point in time.
There is a specific subsection in our material about wikis in education. It can be found under Different uses of wikis, where it provides a rather extensive view of the most critical factors relating to wikis in education and their target groups.
- Nielsen, J. Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Contribute. Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox. http://www.useit.com/alertbox/participation_inequality.html
- Notari, M. 2006. How to Use a Wiki in Education: 'Wiki based Effective Constructive Learning'. Proceedings of the 2006 International Symposium on Wikis, 131-132. ACM Press. http://www.wikisym.org/ws2006/proceedings/p131.pdf