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Wiki of Trust

I had a question for those who use and promote wikis. But then, I just did a search for "trust" and "wiki" and seemed to find an answer:
The Question: What stops unpolite individuals from just deleting whole bunches of pages? Can they be restored?
The Answer: There's always the previous version of a page available, and edits from a single IP are rolled into a single change, so one person from one IP can't by themselves irretrievably delete material. There are also backups, which are very rarely necessary. This subject is discussed all over the place on the wiki, so you can find more details elsewhere.
I'm far from being a wiki expert -- in fact, I'll be the first to admit that I really don't know enough about them to form a educated opinion. My big question for all you wiki proponents out there: How can wikis thrive on a less-than-Utopian Web? And can we really trust our visitors and readers?
14 Comments
Joi Ito said:
February 19, 2003 11:33 PM

Wiki's with access control. Wiki's are cool if you are among friends because they are topic focused and extremely easy to do collaboration on. We are doing the Emergent Democracy stuff on a Wiki and it seems to be working quite well. We all have ID's and passwords and you can see a log of all of the people who have made changes so I can see who added any specific thing. It's my first time to Wiki, but it's fun. Check out http://www.socialtext.com/workspace/index.cgi?Emergent%20Democracy

I'll email you the id/password.

kellan said:
February 19, 2003 11:48 PM

I remember seeing Ward Cunningham at the p2p conference and he answered a couple of questions of mine, this was one of them.

His take was that its too easy. There is no thrill in "hacking" a wiki. There very dynamic of making absolutely no attempt to lock it down, with the ability to easily revert damage makes defacing wikis no fun. He also mentioned that at the PPR they've had long philosophical debates about whether you should revert when someone has delete large amounts of content. But that was getting a little strange and pure for me.

And lastly, wikis are only good for certain types of communication. They make a lousy forum to have conversations about highly polarized emotional issues. (with the possible exception what Joi Ito is doing)

Boz said:
February 20, 2003 5:40 AM

I would think it's fairly easy to get issued a new IP address, go back and delete some more.

codepoet said:
February 20, 2003 7:41 AM

So you delete two sessions instead of one...

Seb said:
February 20, 2003 10:32 AM

There are a few wikis out there that seem to work fine in a non-utopian world. I'm thinking especially of IAWiki (information architecture), MeatballWiki (online communities), susning.nu, nd Wikipedia. I think the reason they work is that on each there are several people (gardeners?) who care enough about the wiki's theme and content that they will make an effort to keep it tidy.

A wiki without a cohesive community and with a theme that is no longer interesting will get the shantytown look pretty quickly.

stevenf said:
February 20, 2003 11:56 AM

As kellan said, wikis aren't a compelling target for crackers and vandals because there isn't any challenge. If you can just click "edit" and type "u r 0wn3d", where's the fun in that? No firewalls to bypass, no buffer overflows to exploit...

That said, I have had a few page deletions in my day (not many), so having a good backup strategy or versioning system for your wiki is fairly important.

I am personally not a fan of wikis you have to log into. It's one extra tiny bit of hassle that just might turn a potential contributor away.

February 20, 2003 1:36 PM

My site's not on the A-List or anything amongst bloggers, but it gets enough traffic that, by now, I would have expected some grafitti on my wiki. I mean, it's right there. All you gotta do is edit it. And it's so highly visible, since nearly every blog entry I make now has one or more WikiWord links into it.

But, the first exploit or bit of vandalism I ever got in all this time? Someone hacked my photo gallery. Since then, I've been thinking of moving the photos into the wiki.

In fact, the wiki's been pretty nice to me, as more often than not a passerby comes through and adds some information, or corrects something. They get a thank you, if I can identify the contributor. Anyone who damages something gets to see their damage disappear shortly without remark. Not very rewarding, I'd think.

But granted, decafbad.com isn't slashdot.org, and I don't have a Winerian level of flow.

geKow said:
February 21, 2003 12:14 PM

Hi,

we are running the documentation (manuals) for our project (GeoShell, a replacement shell for win) as a wiki and that works quite well. I just miss a kind of index, but we are working on it. The wiki, btw is not protected, but as someone said before, we are a quite focused group of people, and people looking for help shouldnt destroy, IMHO

Oh, you might have a look: http://docs.geoshell.com
Greetings

Merlin said:
February 24, 2003 10:04 AM

I've been playing with PhpWiki for a couple weeks and really dig the functionality. Like a lot of people (who haven't spent a lot of time with Wikis, natch), I had the same concerns as Mena about vandalism. While "rolling back" is easy enough, it still requires vigilant management to avoid any treachery or defacement (let alone just Type-A reformatting etc.).

I guess I wish there were a) easier account creation/verification ("Yes, as administrator, I agree that 'MenaTrott' is and always will be 'Mena Trott'"); and b) more sophisticated "permissions" ala the nuke programs (e.g. "'MenaTrott' can add comments and create pages, but she can't edit pages in FooCategory section).

Peek at how this guy has been hacking at PhpWiki (http://thebigone.caltech.edu/~mvandam/phpwiki2/). I'd love to see some of his stuff in the next release, esp. the variables and permissions stuff.

sam said:
February 24, 2003 9:33 PM

Wikis operate on mutual trust and 'soft security'. The wiki is the purest form of web community expression. Wiki's develop culture, and rely on the effectiveness of human intuition to form a web of relevant data. Frankly, they are a very cool phenomenon. Here are some select links you should take the time to read.

http://usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?SoftSecurity

http://www.usemod.com/cgi-bin/mb.pl?PrincipleOfFirstTrust

Basically, soft security is the principle of protecting things by providing things like easy backtracking, no locked doors, etc. This would be in contrast to 'hard security' like you find in traditional web message environments.

Also, to abstract a bit, wiki is a zen thing. It takes a 'water' approach to security, where a traditional web-board takes a 'rock' approach. Rock is stronger, and harder to break. But when rock breaks, it shatters. Water yields to the slightest pressure, but any holes are instantly filled back in. Water doesn't offer a satisfying 'thwack' when you try to break it either. Water flows around obstacles, and rivers (of thought?) break apart, only to join again as the water flows further along.

Another aspect of wiki-success is the 'wiki gnome', which is a creature that goes around silently pruning, forking conversations into new pages, reorganizing content into sections, reformatting for ease of viewing, etc. Wiki gnomes are seldom seen, but might come from unique places. You or I might display gnome tendencies at times. Wiki gnomes aren't always the people who set up the wiki, its usually just random folks.

Why do they do it? Why do they bother?

With a wiki, you are saying "I trust you." to your visitors. When you tell someone you trust them, you are making a statement about inclusion, about community. When someone trusts you, you are less likely to try to hurt them. In fact, you are likely to want to help them. This is human nature. People are basically good. When I see that someone has placed their trust in me, I want to help, I feel like a part of the community, so I contribute, I listen, I gnome. I've done some serious gnoming on sites that aren't mine, just because I enjoyed what I read there, and wanted to help.

So in short, wikis work because they make a statement that we aren't used to seeing on the web. A statement of trust. If you have a topic that needs to have a body of knowledge and discussion created, and it doesn't need to be in a linear threaded format, then a wiki is a great way to involve everyone in a small community of knowledge sharing.

Peace,
Sam

nobi said:
February 25, 2003 12:19 PM

Mena,

I had the exact same skepticism as you did, but still there are some information that I would like to share in that shared outline manner.
So I am planning to implement some variation of Wiki and implement it as part of my MT blog.

Has any one seen any smart (and seamless) integration of MT and Wiki?
Also does anyone know a good Wiki variation that supports UTF-8?

I am Japanese and most of my contents is in Japanese and to do a seamless search, I believe UTF-8 support is something I cannot compromise.

Nobi

Mena said:
February 25, 2003 11:21 PM

Thank you all for taking the time to write up your comments and impressions. The principles behind Wikis really appeals to my "I want to trust" side -- a side that, in all honesty, could use some nurturing.

I'm definitely going to keep track of these links and consider if or how the wiki philosophy can be applied to weblogging.

misuba said:
February 27, 2003 5:43 PM

I look forward to what you come up with - the major problem with Wikis in my book is their primordial soup nature. They have no structure, or no structure that makes sense, unless all users cooperate to give it one. Whereas an MT site has pretty much exactly one structure, and if you want to push the boundaries just a bit, it can be difficult.

I've been hoping to see someone apply a little judicious user-interface and user-goals thinking to Wikis for a long while. I bet you guys will come up with something interesting if you go down that road.

Arsalias said:
June 19, 2003 3:35 PM

Unpolite individuals - or malicious, to be blunt, seem to me little comparison with my recent notice of Google results opening editing pages of wikis. Front Pages, yet!

What do unsuspecting and unfamiliar visitors know of the impact of playing and experimenting with the text areas of wikis with the save and preview buttons introduced by a link from Google?

Perhaps I'm making too much of this. I have only recently discovered it, but I have seen no direct reference to this search engine practice. I fear an increase in interest in wiki due to wililog and bliki type convergence may create a need for dialog boxes and such to protect wikis at the doors.

And I've never encountered a strange blog editing window open in searches? Something wiki needs to import from blogdom?

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