Sunday, June 1, 2008

The problem with wikis

Original post date: 9/17/07

I have a problem with wikis. They don't allow for concurrent multiple points of view on one subject. Wiki pages essentially are trying to achieve the objective/collective and don't leave room for the subjective/individual. (Now, by controversial, I mean *within* the context of the topic. Not whether or not the idea itself is accepted. We're presuming an apriori acceptance of the topic to begin with)

Let's say you've got a controversial topic about which many people have differing opinions. Jungian psychology is a good example. There are varying interpretations of the works of Jung. Jung wrote in Turn of the Century Swiss German, and most modern English speaking Jungians today are using a singular translation of Jung's works as the basis of their studies. It's many degrees removed from the original primary text, so there's bound to be different versions of what Jung meant. If I were to create a Jung wiki, the collective editorship would be forced to agree on one definition of Introverted Thinking. Why isn't there a "Gospel of Jung according to Beebe" and "Gospel of Jung according to Pastor" ability?

And speaking of Gospels, let's talk about the Big Gospel - the Gospel of Jesus. The Gospels show different versions of the life of Jesus, and they don't all necessarily mesh. The Gospel According to Judas is a good example of a wiki contribution that was edited out by the collective editorship. What if wikis allowed for multiple viewpoints to stand side-by-side?

Software developers have a fear of 'forking' when it comes to software development. I think that attitude has overcome other forms of scholarship, to the detriment of many voices. It's time for the Triumph of the Subjective, yet again.

Tags have reputations too

Original post date: 9/8/07

Tags, or labels, have finally come to the forefront of memetic space, but there's still a problem.

Until recently, we've been stuck with folders, a hierarchical way of organizing all of our information. It's essentially meant that we've been stuck in two dimensions, a Flatland perspective of semantic space. Tags have the potential to turn everything into N dimensional space, or in database terms, truly relational.

One presumed aspect to tags so far has been the attitude that all tags are created equal, and they're not. This is especially true given that tags have synonyms, that words fade in popularity, and that connotation beats out denotation every time (triumph of the subjective in each of these cases).

Remember when card catalogs were the way we looked for books in the library? Remember looking for a subject using one word, and finding a card that said "See " or "See also ?" Turns out there isn't some objective method that catalogers use to decide which term will be the Primary term to list books under said subjects. Yes, there is a vast thesaurus librarians use, but which term they use in the end is completely subjective. Well, people do the same thing:

Is it
Web 2.0?
Social Web?
Dynamic Web?
Platform Web?

Heres another example, and one that will seem controversial and offensive to some (apologies ahead of time to those who think some of these words should never be uttered again), but it's invaluable as an example


Of Color


Now tell me all of the above don't have their own reputations, and *that they're different for everyone*. Another important aspect to consider- there's a good chance that if you rank a certain tag high, that your close peers will as well. If you're a bigot, so will probably be your friends. Theres also a pretty good chance that youre not going to want to publish your personal ranking of tags too, but that you'll share them with your peers. Pretty damn difficult for a central database like Delicious to handle if you ask me (an objective solution to a subjective problem).

So why ask them too? Tags, like friends and peers, should be private, ranked, personal and rewarded for subjectivity. There will NEVER be a central Rogets Thesaurus for Tags, and we should give up trying to create one. Reward the subjective and the objective will eventually come.

How do we enable this? Allow users to create a personal thesaurus, for one. If I come a cross a blog that is labeled African-American and I want to actually label it Afro-American (for whatever reason), it should allow for it and do it automatically for me. Secondly, allow someone to apply a value to a tag (that way high ranking tags will more likely bring you relevant information).

Allow for labeling tags as parts of speech, so that we can manipulate them further.

Allow tags and folders to be interchangeable. If I tag something with a few tags, allow me to rank the tags in order of importance (for that item, or in general), and then allow me to designate if the top ranked tag is the Broader term (top level folder) or the Narrower term (the deepest folder). This allows for parallel folder structures and virtual folder views. It's a helluva lot easier to move things around too.