Comments: Using Wikis

I feel the same way about wikis. The theory is great (basically a blog that everyone can share), but the problem with any that I've tried is the interface. And although it seems like a minor point, most of the ones I've seen are terribly ugly. Until they become brain-dead easy to use, and stop looking like some programmer's DOS experiment, they'll never take off properly. But you've gotta think that it wouldn't be hard to make them work (and look) slightly better...

Posted by Jeremy at June 24, 2004 05:43 PM

"The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason." --John Cage

"It's very very cool to be able to do 'ridiculously easy' collaborative document editing," writes Elizabeth Lane Lawley (http://www.corante.com/many/20030401.shtml#31542). "But, let's face it. They're ugly." She argues that anybody can spot a wiki page, from a mile away, since they all look exactly like the pages that my students used to turn out in basic HTML classes back in 1995. All they're missing are the rainbow-colored bars to replace the ubiquitous horizontal rules."

Lawley has a point. Not only does the wide-open, anything-goes spirit of wikis evoke the original spirit of the internet, all too often the interface does as well. Wiki inventor Ward Cunningham sees the lack of aesthetic appeal in his WikiWikiWeb as a functional advantage. "People look at it and say, 'hmm, this looks boring,' and go away. The quality is deep, not at the surface," he says (http://gorjuss.com/luvly/20040406-wardcunningham.html).

It's true that many wikis tend toward plainness, but there?s no reason that more pleasing fonts, colours and layouts can?t be accommodated through the judicious application of Cascading Style Sheets. Matt Haughey, for one, has done an exemplary job of demonstrating the power of CSS to tailor the look and feel of his wiki-driven site (http://haughey.com/matt/home).

We just used a wiki (with style sheet) to support a live conference event:

http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/smallpieces

More UBC applications:

http://careo.elearning.ubc.ca/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?WikiOnWiki/ApplicationsUBC

Posted by Brian Lamb at June 29, 2004 12:57 AM

Wikis are strange things, odd, scary, and unfamiliar. Most people who are crtitical have never really done more than dabble in them. They are most certainly NOT weblogs (IMHO).

I would agree that most wikis are butt ugly, but they are not necessarily supposed to be pretty things- they are shared social spaces, and you might as well gripe because your local pub does not look like some magzine photo of a Manhattan penthouse. I'd rather have the tacky art, bad lighting, crappy sound system of my favorite boisterous hangout because it is a social space.

Wikis work well for brainstorming, group writing outlines for papers/projects, developing shared resource collections, to name a few ways I have used and am trying to get our folks out of their PowerPoint/Word/CMS boxes to look at.

We are starting September with some new project wikis, and ahve taken time to try and make them a bit more pretty than Ward's white pages (note that links on all of our pages for "How to Wiki":
http://graphite.mcli.dist.maricopa.edu/objects/wiki

Posted by Alan Levine at July 18, 2004 05:53 AM
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