Get our free book on rainwater now - To Catch the Rain.
How to make a successful new wiki
It's easy to set up a bare-bones wiki installation on a web site. It's very hard - much more difficult than most people imagine - to turn that into a successful wiki.
Making a successful new wiki is hard
- Protecting from spam and vandalism
- Continuing to develop the site
- Finding content
- Creating community. This is the central challenge - a huge job that takes hard work and persistence. The online communities page lists very valuable resources for building online communities. Wikis are even more challenging for building a community, as the platform is designed with knowledge sharing as the focus, rather than community. While issues such as resolving disagreements among participants can be handled, with patience, other key ingredients such as engagement and communication need more structured efforts on a wiki than on a simple forum. Additional tools may be useful, such as a forum or a mailing list - but be aware that while community members are using the other tools, they're not on the wiki. (A wiki-based forum such as DPLforum may be a good choice for this reason.)
- Managing the content for quality and structure. This takes commitment - it's not an easy job, and it's not the kind of thing most people do for fun. As the wiki grows, this will become an enormous job, so you probably can't rely simply on paying people to do this work (unless you have very substantial funding... and of course you mightn't have any funding at all).
- Building the infrastructure: templates,W categories,W help pages,W policy/guideline/procedure pages, etc. to foster productive collaboration. Beware of instruction creep though - keep things simple and intuitive as far as possible.
These tasks take a huge amount of collective skilled work.
It is a rare community that has even one obsessive wiki admin/contributor, let alone the half dozen or more that are needed to make a successful wiki. Building up the community and participation needed will take a serious commitment.
For a very sobering example, see the green wikis page: One commercial site has been set up by a leader in wikis who has contacts with global sustainability leaders. It is run by a company that manages many active wikis, with (at times) an employee working on the site and with the community, and was launched with media fanfare by a well known figure, yet has not achieved critical mass in public attention or in attracting editors, and is less active than several other green wikis. (This is not to criticize the effort - just to emphasize that the goal is a difficult one and the right team makes the difference.)
If we build it will they come?
Having built it several times, I have realised that even if you do built it, they usually won’t come. Are we suffering from confirmation bias? Wikipedia is absolutely successful but given the colossally high failure rate of other wiki-based projects... we may well find that it is the exception... rather than the rule itself.
— Paul Currion, comment on his own blog post, Do you think it’s time for a humanitarian wiki?, humanitarian.info
If they come, will they edit?
- It is possible to get editors - e.g. Appropedia and Greenlivingpedia have had a large number of contributions. Appropedia has had 392,352 edits since May 2006 (increasing over time) and many millions of page views.
- Appropedia has had 129 views per edit; Greenlivingpedia has had 157. On the English Wikipedia about 0.02% of the unique visitors actually edit, and yet it is extremely active and comprehensive. With these figures, a community-wide or a global wiki clearly has a much better chance. A locally based wiki will at best be moderately successful, and that only if there is someone very committed to editing the wiki.
- The large comparison table of wikis at Green wikis and development wikis shows a profusion of wikis, but a high proportion of them are inactive. Only a very small number have grown to a useful resource, mainly thanks to the dedication of a small, committed group of people - sometimes it is just one committed person, which is enough to create something useful but it is often not very visible, and does not contribute to encouraging broader collaboration by the viewers (to be precise, that tiny proportion of a large number of viewers).
Conclusion: Your wiki needs to engage with a very large number of people to get a significant absolute number of contributors. This is a classic manifestation of the Pareto principle,W also known as the law of the vital few.
How successful wikis started
- Wikipedia started as a commercial effort, only later being made a non-profit.Wplease expand
- wikiHow is commercially operated, with paid staff.
- Appropedia has a core of a number of people who work on the site daily, and academics who have their students (a large number in total) engaged with creating content on Appropedia (see Appropedia:Learning institutions on Appropedia). It hasn't been anywhere near as successful as the Wikimedia sites or wikiHow (in amount of content and page views) but it's the largest and most active green wiki. Factors include a small number of very active members, and a large amount of work done by university students and interns, along with their instructors.
- Fan wikis seem able to draw on the enthusiasm of their fans. Those on "geeky" themes such as science fiction, anime and comic book characters seem to be most active, with those targeting a relatively young audience also doing well. Examples include Battlestar Wiki, Wookieepedia, with more examples at Wikia:Entertainment (note also the Entertainment menu at top for more specific examples).
Think globally - collaborate don't compete
Collaboration and competition are both powerful creative forces in nature and society. They each have their place - but the nature of wikis is radical collaboration.
Advice from Jimmy Wales
- Mechanisms for effective collaboration (wiki software provides revision control, ability to revert unconstructive edits; but there must be a dedicated community of users to continuously monitor a wiki).
- Online identities (pseudo-identities are fine as long as they are stable).
- Shared vision. The community of participants must share the same vision of what they are trying to build.
- Flat hierarchies, with the fewest possible barriers to participation.
- Speed. People must be able to see results from their work with the least administrative delay.
- Wiki synergy
- Yet another wiki
- Ingredients of a successful commons
- User:Teratornis/Template porting: theory and practice
- For Appropedia statistics see Special:Statistics; for Greenlivingpedia see Greenlivingpedia:Special:Statistics; and for Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects see meta:User:Stu/comScore data on Wikimedia (the figures are obtained in a different way since the Wikimedia view counters are turned off).
- The initial comparison was carried out as part of a study for Akvo and UNESCO-IHE, on collaboration in appropriate technology and related areas.
- Lynch, C.G. (2007-06-28). "Five Things Wikipedia's Founder Has Learned About Online Collaboration". CIO. Archived from the original on 2011-03-06. http://www.webcitation.org/5wzXxnacl. Retrieved 2008-10-14.
- Online community Coalition of the Willing. Lists essential reading for building online communities.
- Factors for a successful wiki, an edited version of an enlightening discussion on the Mediawiki-L list November 2006.
- A Tale of Two Wikis: Techniques for building, managing and promoting collaborative communities, written version of a talk from Wikimania 2006.
- How to make a successful wiki - EditThis.info - brief tips.
- GettingYourWikiAdopted - extended advice on getting a wiki adopted. Focused on in-company wikis, but most is relevant to any wiki.
- 6 Tips for a Successful Wiki Pilot, ThoughtFarmer - tips for a business intranet wiki.