why i still hate wikis

| 24 Comments | 4 TrackBacks


I'm not posting this on Many-to-Many, despite the fact that it's really a follow up to my other posts there. I don't want to stir the pot and start a debate right now. I just want to express my extreme frustration with trying to use a wiki, before I explode.

Tonight Dorothea and I started talking about the architecture for the syndication project wiki (pie/echo/atom/whatever). I figured it made all kinds of sense to create wiki pages for our discussion, so I created one for our thoughts on topical organization, and one for our thoughts on audience-focused organization. The file names both included FirstDraft at the end, because I'm accustomed to keeping drafts separate from "production" files.

After I'd edited them a bit, though, I realized that given the nature of the wiki, it made more sense to simply name them with the topics, and let the drafts evolve into the finished products. But it turns out there's no way to rename a wiki page. Once you've picked a name, you're stuck with it. And while the documentation refers to a DeletePage action, I'll be damned if I can figure out how to implement it (and I resent having to do so, anyways, since I don't want to delete it, I want to rename it).

I spent a good hour going through the docs for MoinMoin, which are about as well organized as every other wiki I've ever dealt with. No luck. No way to rename, no help on how to delete. I give up. The pages will probably join hundreds of other orphans on the site. Blech.

It seems to me that wikis are designed for people who don't really care whether their informtion is organized or accessible. People who want to throw stuff out and not worry about what it's called or what its context is. This is so not how I like dealing with content. I think names matter. I think structured information has value. And I think clear, well-organized documentation is essential.

It's easy for me to consider using blogs in a class--I can implement them in a way that I'm relatively sure will cause minimal frustration and confusion for my students. But wikis are another story. I can't see subjecting my students to this level of frustration--with formatting, with renaming, with organizing, with finding information.


4 TrackBacks

why i still hate wikis from anil dash's daily links on August 25, 2003 1:28 PM

http://mamamusings.net/archives/2003/08/24/why_i_still_hate_wikis.php... Read More

Why Liz Hates Wikis... Read More

NeuroWiki is yet another example of how wikis are transforming how humans collaborate and share information. Wikis are being used for everything, including: music, gmail, business and education. While wikipedia is perhaps the best public example of the... Read More

NeuroWiki from Brain Waves on August 4, 2004 8:06 PM

NeuroWiki is yet another example of how wikis are transforming how humans collaborate and share information. Wikis are being used for everything, including: music, gmail, business and education. While wikipedia is perhaps the best public example of the... Read More


Wikis rule!

OTOH, maybe it would be just as easy to create a couple of multi-author (group) blogs and interlink them, and include comments utilities on them and a couple of hard coded IRC buttons and just knock yourself out! Or perhaps a phone call or two?

What you're describing is the ease of use in setup, vs the ease of use for ongoing use and information retrieval. I'm willing to put a lot of time and effort into setup of a site, if I believe that on an ongoing basis the users of that resource won't have to work too hard.

I'm a pretty savvy technology user, and am willing to work reasonably hard to master a tool. I've run into few if any problems in doing that with blogging tools and other web-based CMS tools. Every time I've tried to use a wiki, however, I've been stymied--unable to get the pages to format the way I'd like, unable to organize the information the way I'd like.

Most people who don't like a tool just don't use it, so you end up only hearing from those who do like it. I'm bucking that trend by explaining exactly what it is that I don't like about wikis.

But the interesting thing about wikis is how polarizing they are. People who like them love them. People who don't like them hate them. There seems to be little middle ground there. When I criticize wikis, I get strong emotional responses. Not surprising, really, since my criticisms are equally emotionally slanted.


Just as "the default way to delete a page is via the shell on the host system," I imagine the default way to rename a page is also via the shell. Of course, it may be more accurate to say, "it works, but isn't really supported." It won't update any of your WikiName links, you'll lose your revision history, and you'll still end up with stray files. All these problems are pretty fixed from the shell, but I agree, there should be better provisions for renaming. (And it's not like every Wiki user has or should have shell access to Sam's wiki directory.)

In a Socialtext wiki you replace the title with a new one and click save to create a new page, links to the old page are easily discovered and replaced.

Can't speak for other wikis particularly, but the same general approach should work.

If you aren't certain someone hasn't linked to the old page, on the old page, make a note and link to the new one. In general, deleting pages is bad. Somebody else might prefer for the old page to exist, or accidentally link to the old one and find something of use.

Oh, and finding things can be made simple.

Following up on Ross Mayfield, here is how I "rename" pages in MoinMoin: open one browser window to edit the original page and one to edit the new page. Copy and paste the contents of the old page to the new page. Replace the text on the old page with a comment that links to the new page. No deletion or moving of pages necessary, just move their contents. Maybe we could suggest to the MoinMoin people to include this procedure in their docs.

The problem with that approach, Jorrit, is that you end up with orphan pages. It just feels messy to me. :)

Ross, I understand the problem with deleting, but there ought to be a way to rename something without leaving the obsolete page behind.

I have been using a tiki - no idea about how it is set up, but it let me change wiki names very easily. It even kept track of the name of the page and changed that name on all the places where I pointed to the page as well. The technology is out there...

I think I'd agree with your assessment, though I don't actually hate wikis. What I them as is basically rather like a web-published listserv--it's a quick, easy way for a loosely organized group to slap up information that is then publically available, but will necessarily remain hard to navigate.

I'm part of a faculty seminar this coming year that wants a web-based place to dump information. Our IT people want us to use Blackboard. I hate Blackboard, and so do several other participants. The participants have varying degrees of comfort with IT. So a Wiki seems like a pretty good solution, because we're not building something that's going to last, as far as I know.

If someone can think of something that requires as little top-down organization and is as relatively open to diverse, unorganized contributions from a group, I guess I'd push for that instead.

But I don't think of wikis as the great magic open source super-democratic solution to all problems. For the kind of content provision where permanence and ease of use and portability of information is important, they seem like a bad idea to me.

My sense is that wikis work better when they're set up with an information architecture already in place, and information can be added into that environment. My problem with wikis like the Pie/Echo/Atom environment is that they become unmanageable very quickly. Dorothea and I are trying to make sense of the site, but are blocked because there's no easy way to distinguish between orphaned pages (something that's been renamed, or mostly shifted elsewhere) and active pages.

I guess I'm just too hierarchical a thinker to be able to effectively work in an environment where the information is completely "flat"--no sense of relationships between components. For facilitating access to information, I _like_ top-down organization.

We should have a new blog set up by tomorrow for discussion of this "making sense of the syndication project" process we're going through, at which point I'll move the discussion there.

I have been using a wiki site for some time now, and haven't been bothered by disorganization, mainly because I am the main editor of the 2 subsites. The site is not particularly flooded by new pages that have to be managed. When you are using a wiki with a small group, organizing should be no problem.

BTW, I use TWiki (twiki.org) as wiki tool, and this supports renaming and deletion of pages.

What I did find necessary is to create a more usable skin on top of the default one, for one because I like hierarchical organization too. See the result at: http://www.visiblearea.com/patterns/

Liz, isn't the wiki way to just make a new page and on the old page put a message or redirect the new one?

BTW, if I can help out with the IA effort, I'd like to. I have some chops in that area. One thing I'd like to see to sort out the info would be a complete content inventory of the wiki as-is (or snapshot, since it's constantly changing).

Arthur, I like the look and feel of your site, a lot.

I think that if a wiki starts out from the very beginning with someone who's vested in keeping it organized, it's far more usable for the long term. The pie/echo/atom wiki doesn't have that, and trying to architect that structure after the fact, when there are 700+ pages in various stages of completion or abandonment, is a headache. :)

It's increasingly clear to me, too, that the specific wiki implementation used makes a big difference. I know socialtext has addressed some of the problems I'm talking about, and it sounds as though Twiki may have done so, as well.

So perhaps this rant is the equivalent of me damning blogging based on a bad encounter with blosxom... :)

Jorritt is correct on the technique of "renaming" a page, just move the contents to the new page. Also, replace the old content with:

#redirect NewPage

We've discussed this in the WikiGardening chats and decided that these type of orphaned pages will be removed from the wiki altogether (replaced with web server redirects if they're found to have been linked from off-site).

Please, feel free to drop by #echo if you'd like quick feedback on questions or topics.

:-) Summer fun turns into revelation on using things..... :-) I haven't had the courage ot burst certain people's WikiBubbles, but I knew that it was a self fulfilling prophecy. Only certain types are gonna grok the "openness" of a Wiki. It's pretty obtuse to the naked eye/mind - so you GOTTA wanna do it - real bad, before you can get into teh right mindset.

Wikis can be made hierarchical with sub pages, triggered by a link that /LooksLikeThis.

I have found that people who don't like wikis miss this nested structure we've taken for granted in web sites. To my mind however, a networked website is fine, I just use the search box and the recent changes to get around, just like I use Google and Blogdex, Blogrolling and othertools to do the same with weblogs.

I'd think this would be obvious...

But most wikis aren't based on any sort of database. Deleting/Renaming a page would involve searching every page on the wiki and updating links--something that isn't exactly trivial unless the wiki enforces strict xhtml.

Deleting/Renaming pages also goes against the spirit of the Wiki. The correct thing to do would simply to have created a link to the new 'production' page without the 'FirstDraft' appended. Some wikis also allow for a #pragma redirect action. Now this might seem horrifying to some but this is really the point. Wikis are supposed to be messy. They're not supposed to be neat, ordered categories.

Also the idea that blogs are more searchable than wikis is backwards. For the same reason Google ultimately works better than Yahoo, large Wikis (as a set of of highly interlinked pages) will always be more searchable than blogs where the author has tried in vain to impose some sort of structure on the tons blog posts.

I would like to comment on Bo's erroneous post.

_something that isn�t exactly trivial unless the wiki enforces strict xhtml_

The wiki just has to look for the changed WikiWord on all pages and update these.

_Deleting/Renaming pages also goes against the spirit of the Wiki_
_Wikis are supposed to be messy_

A wiki is supposed to get refactored. Part of this is to remove drifted-off discussions, pages that are doubling discussion, redirecting and renaming pages. The ultimate goal of a wiki is to support knowledge. This cannot be done in a messy environment.

_Also the idea that blogs are more searchable than wikis is backwards_

A wiki will soon exist of many more pages that a weblog. This means more possible search results with every search. More results means more noise. The perfect search engine still doesn't exist - no, its not Google.

Wikis drive me nuts. I refuse to use them.

My first exposure to wikis was several years ago, when I was writing some chapters for a Que book. The idea was very new then and it drove me nuts because the implementation was so horrible. Then it looked as if wikis were going to go away completely because the business model behind the leading proponent(s) was so bad. But the idea survived, the implementation is still very very messy, and they still give me headaches as a user and I am sure they would make my life as an administrator a nightmare.

Sorry, I am staying with weblogs and web pages until something better comes along.

We can't really rename blog posts, either. It breaks the URL like with renaming a wiki page.

But, like Ken MacLeod said, just copy the text of the old page, and put this line in its place:
#redirect NewPage
Then paste the text in the new page.

I'm working on a wiki for educational technology issues at

I welcome any ideas or suggestions!

Some wikis allow renaming. In other cases, leaving an orphan page that just says "see NewPage" isn't a horrible problem. And it's friendlier toward external links to the original URL.

Leaving an orphan page still filled with text would certainly be a bad thing. A virtually-empty orphan doesn't seem like that big a deal.

Zwiki creates something of a hierarchy, though it's not visible until a user turns on that view via the UserOptions page. (I intend to change that default on my sites.) But I would say that wiki actually supports a refactorable hierarchy better than pretty much any alternative.

Renaming blog posts only breaks the URL if the use the blog-post title in your URL scheme. (I do.)

Less breakable is the method of using a keyword that's been promoted around the 'sphere lately.

Another thing to do with the obsolete page is to insert a marker (ie. a link) to a page which collects all the obsolete pages.

CategoryObsolete is a good one.

Later, one could use the backlinks from that page to find all the pages which are obsolete, and do some administrative house cleaning.

Wikis are like cardboard houses, easy to build, just the right size for childen-at-heart and fun to play inside. For 'adults' to enter, they have to 'bend' themselves to enter and stay bent. Uncomfortable indeed.

Note that I am not implying Wiki users are immature nor Wiki-haters are stuffy. Wiki is a playground of sort with its own rules. Turning it into a business tool is not just hard, it's a long journey yet to be made.

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