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Peter Thoeny
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Voice-Enabled Wikis
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Roles People Play in a Wiki
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Wiki Spam on Public Wikis
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Wiki Applications and The Long Tail
What is a Structured Wiki?
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Roles People Play in a Wiki

To understand how plain wikis and structured wikis are used, it is helpful to point out the different roles people play. Starting at the source, one can identify these roles:

  1. Wiki vendors
  2. Extension builders
  3. Wiki administrators
  4. Wiki champions
  5. Contributors - aka writers
  6. Consumers - aka readers

Vendors provide open source or closed source software; they also provide support for wiki admistrators.

Extension builders are programmers who enhance the functionality of wikis by creating plugins, add-ons and skins. Extensions may be provided by the wiki vendor, by a third party (such as system integrators and consultants), or may be built by an engineering team in-house. Extensions create value for the whole project. For example, Confluence has 150 extensions, TWiki has over 300 extensions (plugins, skins, add-ons, contribs). Extensions scale a wiki into vertical markets that one would never anticipate. Extensions are canned applications; wiki administrators can install them for its user base.

A Wiki administrator installs, configures and manages a wiki. Teams typically deploy their own wiki in a grassroot manner. One person in the team plays the wiki administrator role. Once the grassroot wikis get at the radar screen of CTOs and CIOs they tend to get consolidated into a cental wiki, typically managed by the IT department. The administrator is concerned about software updates, backups and system availability, but does not manage the content.

A wiki champion is a person who both understands the process of the work for a given project or business (the domain), and how to use a wiki (best practices in collaboration). The wiki champion is primarily concerned about the content; structure the content to make it easy for the users to navigate and find relevant content. In a structured wiki, this champion also creates lightweight wiki applications. TWiki and Jotspot are structured wikis; both have a database within the wiki where users can create wiki application simply by using wiki markup, e.g. no programming skills are required to create customized trackers, inventory lists and vertical applications of all sorts. Structured wikis are in the long tail of implementing business processes. The wiki champions help automate business processes.

Contributors - or writers - use the wiki as a whiteboard. They also use applications, which can be canned applications or in the case of a structured wiki, tailored wiki applications. A whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper can be intimidating; an application reduces the choices, e.g. it makes it easier to participate. Both, whiteboard use and application use of a wiki is valuable. It is important to start as a whiteboard, and to add structure only as needed (iteratively, in bazaar-style.)

Consumers - or readers - are primarily concerned about finding content they need for their daily work. Bulletin boards and wikis at the workplace have a typical write/read ratio of between 1/10 and 1/20. On public sites, the ratio can be much larger. For example, has a ratio of 1/150.

Naturally a person is taking more than one role in a wiki:

  • In open source wikis such as TWiki and MediaWiki, vendor and extension builder can be one and the same.
  • In a grassroot wiki, one and the same person plays the role of administrator and wiki champion.
  • A wiki champion is also a contributor and a consumer.
  • Contributors are typically also consumers.
  • Consumers might just be readers. People not familiar with wikis use web pages as reference material; even though there is an edit button, it can be intimidating to click that button. The wiki champion plays an important role in converting the readers into writers. A writable web comes with a paradigm shift, people need to get used to the idea that it is OK to edit content written by other people.

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