Thursday, 6 May 2010

Wiki as a more serious documentation tool

Wikis are great for creating documents collaboratively. They are easy and quick to edit by anyone and there is no overhead like you usually have with normal documentation.

But they have one fatal flaw when it comes to using them to document something: you have no way of evaluating a certain version. Because anyone can write anything, the version could simply have false information, knowlingly or unknowlingly written. This is the reason why project documentation is reviewed, people make mistakes.

This got me thinking of how to combine the best of both worlds and I quickly iterated my initial thought to something much more useful.

Initially I thought that each document could have different, per wiki selectable phases like
- "Draft": the latest version)
- "Proposed": someone thinks this is a good version and
- "Accepted": someone with the authority to say that a version is correct has done so.

Users could then choose which version of the pages they want to see. When implementing something, for instance, they might only want to look at Accepted pages.

This is advantageous, but not collaboration in the sense wikis are meant to be. Why not let the users decide which are good versions?

So my second idea was that users could vote for the correctness of each version and you could set per wiki when a document is deemed "accepted", say five votes.

This would already be a lot better idea, but why make it so strict? How about not having states at all, rather just show how many (and possibly who) has thought this version is good and letting users select their own standards of what is acceptable?

Or, better yet, combine all these and let the Wiki admins (e.g. project members) decide how to use it. Some projects might still like that certain persons check the pages because they understand the system best, i.e. democracy doesn't necessarily work while some would prefer to decide how many votes are regarded as "Accepted" and lastly some might just want to know the number of up (or down) votes.

There is still the problem of how to tell something is not right. With a normal wiki, you change the errors, but in this case you would "lose" the votes. On the other hand, this would maybe be exactly what we want - obviously the page was incorrect so people voting for it were in a sense wrong. Having down votes would still necessitate fixing the errors, so instead of voting a page down the users should just fix them.

I don't know of any wikis that have this sort of system. It would be interesting to know if someone else has had the same idea.

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