Wikis and process

Clay Shirky contends that wikis are effective because they dispense with process.

A wiki in the hands of a healthy community works. A wiki in the hands of an indifferent community fails. The software makes no attempt to add ‘process’ in order to keep people from doing stupid things. Instead, it provides more flexibility, a crazy amount of flexibility, and intoxicating amount of flexibility, allowing massive amounts of stupidity and intentional damage to be done, at will, by roving and anonymous posters. And it provides rollback.

Process, contents Clay, is a destructive immune response that tries to protect a group from damage before it occurs. Wikis replace this with the healthy immune response that quickly fixes damage when it happens. “It takes longer to set fire to the building than put it out, it takes longer to grafitti the wall than clean it, it takes longer to damage the page than restore it.”
Ben Hyde, responding to Clay, sees wikis as the embodiment of a set of process assumptions that are different from the typical bureaucratic model.

Wikis are another example of a process framework for solving a class of organizational problems where you have a huge pool of hands and eyes and you want to leverage that resource to make something good…

  • Create a large binding surface, i.e. lots of options, call it modularity, pages, plug-in whatever; but ship options preference to product.
  • Let the many hands self select what options to exercise; this lower’s coordination costs, and moves you closer to the customer/audience.
  • Undo is good, it let’s people experiment at much lower risk.
    Stream changes past many eyes to capture free QA

  • Very very lightly sort your community and give more power to people closer to the core
  • Strive to lower barriers to entry on all community boundries
  • Strive for open: a little ownership of turf is good, a little more isn’t, a lot is toxic.
  • Bias for action where ever possible
  • Ship early – real users trump designers almost everytime.
  • Labor to reduce the distinction between audience and creators
  • Look for the network effects, nurture them.
  • Tone is important – it will drive what you define as “good”
  • Know that working with infinite tiny options and infinite tiny resources is very different than working on systems with scarce expensive resources.

Good insights all around. Whether you see the form as resistance to process or alternative process, the conclusion remains: there are effective alternatives to systems that depend on fixed hierarchy and inflexible rules.

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