The social technology for non-profits superstar Beth Kanter asked on twitter today for thoughts around social process for wiki projects. While I think there's a distinct possibility she DM'd me by accident(she didn't), this did not stop me from responding. The response got long enough that I decided to blog it. Aside from the impulsive wikipedia edit, I have experience noodling on a couple different wikis. There always seems to be a lot of social process in wiki communities, but it's all organic and mostly undocumented. Keep in mind that WikipediaIsNotTypical. Here's a couple thoughts that pop to mind:

  • Biggest challenge, as with all social media projects, is getting participation. Social process, whether formally declared or emergent, should address this as the primary objective.
  • Mentor/guide program. I find the best wiki communities provide only initial documented guidance with lots of emphasis on 'be bold'. The critical period is the first few weeks that a noob pokes out of lurk and publicly expresses interest in contributing. At this point, it's hugely valuable to have a guide swoop in and attach themselves to this person for a bit... send them emails, be willing to publicly encourage and correct them where others shouldn't or won't, etc.
  • Agree on objectives. Revisit frequently. Lots of projects go awry here over subtleties in what people thought they were trying to accomplish.
  • Marry conversation with "page building". Media wiki isn't very good at conversation, but conversation is great for getting participation and working through theories - especially if you have a relatively small group. Both wikis I've been involved in spend a lot of time on trying to encourage effective page building through social process.
  • Probably the most documented topic on wikis that I hang around in is around how technology and design work in tandem with social process - how they reinforce each other - how good tools are simple but use affordances to leverage human social tendencies and behavior towards desired outcomes. E.g. point systems and leader boards.
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