The Trouble With Wikis
Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 20 December 2006
UKOLN hosted a workshop on “Exploring The Potential Of Wikis” in Birmingham on 3 November 2006. A summary of the workshop evaluation is now available; the comments on the workshop, the talks and the discussion groups give an indication of the interest there is in the institutional provision of Wikis.
However as usage of Wiki software grows, some of the limitations become more apparent. Here are some of the issues which I have identified, which may not have been discussed at the workshop:
- Navigibility: What does a Home button mean on a Wiki? Is it the home of the Wiki service (which could be a service for the entire institution)? Is it the home for an individual, who may have multiple sub-Wikis? Or is it the home page for a sub-Wiki area?
- URI structure: Remember when institutions provided guidelines on URI naming conventions, such as UKOLN’s URI Naming Conventions For Your Project Web Site briefing document? Such guidelines addressed issues such as having a consistent approach to the capitalisation of words in URIs and conventions for separating words in URIs (with a ‘-’ often being preferred to an ‘_’ or a space). With Wikis you may find that the Wiki software imposes a URI structure, which may conflict with institutional guidelines.
- Web site structure: A hierarchical URI structure can be useful for defining self-contained areas of a Web site. This structure can be exploited by tools such as off-line browsers. However the flat structure which many Wikis provide means that such benefits may be lost.
- Standards: Do Wikis ensure that Web sites comply with HTML and CSS standards? A danger is that some may not.
- Accessibility: Do Wikis allow authors to provide the structure and tagging needed to ensure that people with disabilities can access content held in Wikis using assistive technologies?
- Device independence: Are Wikis which provide a rich user experience to authors and readers through use of AJAX technologies usable on platforms such as the Apple Macintosh? One Macintosh users at the workshop reported that the workshop’s WetPaint Wiki required use of a (non-existent) right mouse button in order to edit pages on the Wiki.
Are these show-stoppers? Should we put on hold our plans to deploy Wiki software until such issues have been addressed? Are there other significant problems with Wikis? Or can such limitations be outweighed by the benefits which Wikis can provide?