Friday, February 18, 2005


Hacknot has a new article titled Wikiphilia - The New Illness. Given my work on FlexWiki, you might think that I would violently disagree with his take on wikis. Well, I don't. In fact, I largely agree with him: people tend to apply wikis to way too many problems. A classic example of this is the so-called “thread mode”, where people use a wiki page to host a discussion. It sucks - mailing lists are about 10,000 times better at this particular task. The same goes for a bunch of other tasks, like formal documentation, blogs, and anything where images are important.

Really, it's the classic circle of (software) life. When you first see a cool technology, you think it's great at everything. Later, as you internalize the concepts, you realize that there are inherent tradeoffs, and that therefore the software has limitations. Or at least, hopefully you get that far. Sadly, some never do, clinging loyally but irrationally to claims of  “it's a dessert topping and a floor wax!”

That said, I think that while Hacknot correctly identifies Wikiphilia as a condition that needs correcting, the overall tone of the article is disappointing. First of all, it's too dismissive, poo-pooing wikis in general, despite the fact that they are enormously useful for the things they're good at, like helping a team of people to quickly create lots of informal documentation. Informal documentation is quite often worlds better than none at all, and having an easy way to create it is a massive boon to just about every software project I've ever been on.

But I find the Hacknot article disappointing in a more general sense, too. Previously, he's applied the concepts of scientific skepticism to deflate the hype around things like XP - which is great. Enthusiasm unbacked by evidence should be questioned. But in this case he's just made a series of unscientific observations that offer no proof of his assertions. Which to me just makes him sound like a cranky old man. Here's hoping he does better in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree - Wiki's suck for conversations, but are great for knowledge accumulation.

    It's interesting to watch where the commercial implementations of Wiki's (like JotSpot) are going - layering structure on the Wiki model so you can do more interesting things with it. I think of traditional Wiki as just part of a community site, along with discussion groups, blogs, etc. Wiki would be a nice addition to something like CommunityServer, for example.