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The Wiki Way

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Many of the principles underpinning Ward Cunningham's original wiki (created to house the Portland Pattern Repository) should be kept in mind when trying to facilitate effective collaborative editing in a community setting.


Collaborative editing can get bogged down in conversational mode and when contributors become too attached to their own individual contributions this can impede the development of the collaborative document.


Use this pattern when providing an interface for collaborative editing.


Encourage anonymous editing, use version control, enable refactoring of document content by contributors.

Here are the original principles Ward Cunningham cited when recalling the design principles that underpinned the first wiki:

  • Open - Should a page be found to be incomplete or poorly organized, any reader can edit it as they see fit.
  • Incremental - Pages can cite other pages, including pages that have not been written yet.
  • Organic - The structure and text content of the site are open to editing and evolution.
  • Mundane - A small number of (irregular) text conventions will provide access to the most useful page markup.
  • Universal - The mechanisms of editing and organizing are the same as those of writing, so that any writer is automatically an editor and organizer.
  • Overt - The formatted (and printed) output will suggest the input required to reproduce it.
  • Unified - Page names will be drawn from a flat space so that no additional context is required to interpret them.
  • Precise - Pages will be titled with sufficient precision to avoid most name clashes, typically by forming noun phrases.
  • Tolerant - Interpretable (even if undesirable) behavior is preferred to error messages.
  • Observable - Activity within the site can be watched and reviewed by any other visitor to the site.
  • Convergent - Duplication can be discouraged or removed by finding and citing similar or related content.
There are many Wiki authors and implementers. Here are some additional principles that guide them, but were not of primary concern to me.
  • Trust - This is the most important thing in a wiki. Trust the people, trust the process, enable trust-building. Everyone controls and checks the content. Wiki relies on the assumption that most readers have good intentions. But see: AssumeGoodFaithLimitations
  • Fun - Everybody can contribute; nobody has to.
  • Sharing - of information, knowledge, experience, ideas, views...


The wiki approach has unleashed a torrent of creativity on the web and seems to have captured in its principles the fundamental grain of digital, electronic web-enabled collaboration.

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