Can Blogs and Wiki Be Merged?

I’ve been thinking lately about the architecture underlying blogs and wiki, how different these architectural choices are (RSS, revision histories, title-as-slug, etc), and whether it’s worthwhile to imagine a world where data flows seamlessly across them. It might not be. They are very different things, with different needs.

Wiki and blogs have two different cultures, two different idioms, two different sets of values.

Blogs are, in many ways, the child of BBS culture and mailing lists. They are a unique innovation on that model, allowing each person to control their part of the conversation on their own machine and software while still being tied to a larger conversation through linking, backlinks, tags, and RSS feeds.

Blogs value a separation of voices, the development of personalities, new posts over revision of old posts. They are read serially, and the larger meaning is created out of a narrative that expands and elaborates themes over time, becoming much more than the sum of its parts to the daily reader.

Through reading a good blogger on a regular basis, one is able to watch someone of talent think through issues, to the point that one is able to reconstruct the mental model of a blogger as a mini Turing machine in one’s head. I have been reading people like Jim Groom, Josh Marshall, Digby, Atrios, and Stephen Downes for years, watching how they process new information, events, and results. And when thinking through an issue, I can, at this point, conjure up a rough facsimile of how they would go about analyzing a thing.

Wiki is perhaps the only web idiom that is not a child of BBS culture. It derives historically from pre-web models of hypertext, with an emphasis on the pre. The immediate ancestor of wiki was a Hypercard stack maintained by Ward Cunningham that attempted to capture community knowledge among programmers. Its philosophical godfather was the dead-tree hypertext A Pattern Language written by Christopher Alexander in the 1970s.

alexander

Alexander’s A Pattern Language used bolded, numbered in-text links to connect “patterns” that were related ideas. The sections were formed around these patterns and written to be approached from many different directions.

What wiki brought to these models, which were personal to start with, was collaboration. Wiki values are often polar opposites of blogging values. Personal voice is meant to be minimized. Voices are meant to be merged. Rather than serial presentation, wiki values treating pages as nodes that stand outside of any particular narrative, and attempt to be timeless rather than timebound reactions.

Wiki iterates not through the creation of new posts, but through the refactoring of old posts. It shows not a mind in motion, but the clearest and fairest description of what that mind has (or more usually, what those minds have) arrived at. It values reuse over reply, and links are not pointers to related conversations but to related ideas.

These are, in many ways, as different as two technologies can be.

Yet, the recent work of Ward Cunningham to create federated wiki communities moves wiki a bit more towards blogging. Voices are still minimized in his new conception, but control is not shared or even negotiated. I write something, you make a copy, and from that point on I control my copy and you control yours. In Federated Wiki (the current coding project) what you fork can be anything: data, code, calculations, and yes, text too.

As I’ve been working on Wikity (my own federated wiki inspired project) I’ve been struggling with this question: to what extent is there value in breaking down the wall between blogging and wiki, and to what extent are these two technologies best left to do what they do best?

The questions aren’t purely theoretical. Ward has designed a data model perfectly suited for wiki use, which represents the nature and necessities of multiple, iterative authorship. Should Wikity adopt that as the model it consumes from other sites?

Or should Wikity tap into the existing community of bloggers and consume a souped up version of RSS, even though blog posts make lousy wiki pages?

Should Wikity follow the wiki tradition of supplying editable source to collaborators? Or the web syndication model of supplying encoded content. (Here, actually, I come down rather firmly on the source side of the equation — encoded content is a model suited for readers, not co-authors).

These are just two of many things that come up, and I don’t really have a great answer to these questions. In most cases I’d say it makes sense for these to remain two conceptually distinct projects, except for the big looming issue which is with the open web shrinking it might helpful for these communities to join common cause and solve some of the problems that have plagued both blogging and wiki in their attempt to compete with proprietary platforms.

Again, no firm answers here. Just wanted to share the interesting view I’ve found at the intersection of these two forms.

19 thoughts on “Can Blogs and Wiki Be Merged?

  1. When I’m maintaining my own notes I find that tags help blur the distinction between blogs and wikis. Most of the time I write stream-of-conscious notes in chronological order. Every now and then I notice that I keep coming back to some them. So I pick a tag and start labeling every such post with that tag. After a while of doing this I feel the need to organize all my thoughts with that tag, and I end up creating a page for it where I can slap all the posts and then start editing them and making them a single coherent exegesis.

    Now, not all tags go through this trajectory. There’s leakage at every stage of the funnel. But it seems very useful to retain the option to go through to the end if the spirit so moves me.

    • This is a great point! Yes, I think tags are one of the things that blur the boundary. They are, in a way, a conceptual overlay on a conversation that serves some of the same purposes as wiki, and as you say, they sometimes push you back into refactoring old posts.

  2. Pingback: wither blogs and wiki? | The Daybook

  3. I believe
    * thinking is best mirrored by a bushy hypertext where you can switch between divergent and convergent modes at will: blogs, even with tags, are weak for this
    * personal sense-making needs lots of individual Voice/PointOfView

    Therefore I think it makes more sense to have Wikity sites
    * focus on individual wiki-like spaces (though with a process of allowing date-specific entries as a stepping-off-point)
    * easy discovery of matching-pages across spaces (TwinPages).

    http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/WikiWeb

    • Explaining for a friend my first bullet:
      * I think our mind is a swirling cloud of thoughts/ideas/beliefs/wants
      * those “nodes” aren’t organized in a pretty hierarchy but rather by relatively noisy Association/linking http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/AssociatIve
      * we’re often spinning off variations of nodes or seemingly-disconnected new nodes, both intentionally/consciously and not (divergence)
      * the nodes we remember tend to be Associated with other sticky nodes
      * the sum total of these nodes could be thought of as a not-coherent WorldView – model of the universe http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/WorldView
      * SenseMaking/DecisionMaking/ActionTaking typically involves simplifying that mess into a more-coherent sub-model (convergence) http://webseitz.fluxent.com/wiki/ConvergEnce
      * therefore I believe a ThinkingTool needs to embrace that process of association, divergence, and convergence.

  4. It’s weird to think of blogs and wikis being merged because they both have such different characteristics that make them unique. I believe that there is the option to create a format that is similar to both platforms but the creator would have to decide what aspects to keep and what to change. The biggest difference, in my opinion, is the content that is posted on each site. For blogs, posts normally are based around a certain topic that interests that person, such as cooking or makeup, which aren’t common subjects for wikis. There’s also the fact that wikis are used to store information that can be edited at a later time by a third party, which is something that blogs cannot do. I just find the combination of the two to be an odd concept.

  5. I think the most valuable element that Wiki’s can take from blogging is communication. I have limited experience with both, but I’ve noticed that conversation between users in these forms manifest differently. With blog posts, users more or less present their own ideas which provokes a discussion like we’re having in the comments section here. I’d say that comments are valued more highly in blogging than in Wikis, because if a Wiki contributor has time to contribute ideas to a page, it is generally more productive to simply change the page. Wiki pages can act like blog posts where one individual lays down ideas, but the conversation is eventually discarded.

    I like Ward’s idea of distributing ownership in a federated wiki, and I think the form has the potential create really interesting communities that exchange and build on ideas.

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  7. I really think the idea of combining wikis and blogs is a unique concept, and I think marrying them together would result in an end product that has the best aspects of both wikis and blogs. I think one of the things that I really appreciate about blogs is the sense of personality that their authors infuse in their writing over time. On the other hand, the thing I appreciate most about wikis is the collaboration that occurs when multiple people work on the same article. Mixing the two together would be awesome in my opinion: Personality and the individual preferences of each author can be shown on an “about me” page, and each article he or she contributes can be moved and edited as need be while still giving the author credit.

    I oftentimes wish wikis had more personality. I also oftentimes wish blogs had the element of collaboration and co-writing that wikis represent. And while I think that blogs and wikis by themselves have unique benefits that can’t be overlooked, experimenting by marrying the best features of both – personality and simple collaboration – might bright about something greater than blogs and wikis as separate entities could ever achieve.

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  9. Theoretically, I’m sure the love child between wikis and blogs could do good things. In the best-case scenario, there would be the best aspects of both in the new medium; however, I am still not sure, even if it could be potentially beneficial, that they should be merged in the fashion suggested. Perhaps my response is marred or sullied by my distaste for wikis in comparison to blogs, but as you said, they are, “in many ways, as different as any two technologies can be.” It is important to value that observation because I believe it holds valuable insight into the question of whether or not they should be combined. Personally, I really value the personal aspect of blogs, and even in your federated wiki communities, “voices are still limited.” I suppose that is my major turn off to the idea. One of the best parts of blogging is the intimacy one develops with their blog. I know I don’t feel that with my wiki page, and I don’t think I would enjoy something else where, again, the expression would be stamped on. Again, I admit I am biased for blogs, but I do see the importance and utility in wikis. Overall, both technologies are valuable in their own respects, but that is just it, they differ greatly. They have their own aspects, and that I think would best be left separate. I like blogs the way they are. They encourage communication garner forms of expression that I believe we need in a world full of quiet and not so quiet repression.

  10. Pingback: Can Blogs and Wiki’s Be Merged? – Galactic GLaDOS

  11. Pingback: Can Blogs and Wiki Be Merged?: Response | Twisted Tendencies

  12. To merge or not to merge…
    Blogs and wikis have fundamentally different functions. I am new to both blogs and wikis and like them both for each of their unique attributes. Many complain that wikis are ‘ugly’ and shy away from them. Blog readers are engaged by the pleasing layout of a blog, chosen by the bloggers, as much as they are engaged by the content of the blog. The bloggers are making a specific choice about what information to include on their blog so they are giving a current representation of themselves involving the chosen topic. Comments can be made by readers, involving them on a secondary level.
    Wikis on the other hand allow readers to become involved on a primary level because wikis are used for a different purpose than blogs. Wikis are intended to be used more as a drop-box for information and perspectives or ideas about that information. Readers are allowed, in fact encouraged, to add their two cents worth to the topic to make it better for future readers. Wikis are developed to keep in time with our ever-changing, fast-paced world of immediate gratification.
    I saw a demonstration of how the combined blog/wiki works and it looks to me like it would get confusing after forking from page page and adding it to your own and then someone else can go and fork what you wrote and so on and so on… It seems like after a while there would be so many pages about the same information it would make it nearly impossible to know which information is the most current and up-to-date.
    I like the idea of merging the two together. When blogging, I often wish I could put a link out to a new page to invite others to write on. And when working on a wiki, I miss the comment section to leave a response or to invite responses to be made. This issue is kind of addressed on wiki by the differences in ThreadMode versus DocumentMode, but it’s just not quite the same. And if one uses a blog to write about ideas and perspectives about a topic, that is essentially what a wiki is used for. So they really are one in the same in those aspects already, just that one is jazzed up with pretty formatting while the other is quite blah if advanced formatting is shied away from to ease refactoring.
    I don’t know if I gave any good answers here or not, but I like the idea of blending the two together to make it the best of both worlds, as long as the pages don’t get too overused and overwhelming.

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