The wiki approach replaces the few centralized expert eyes of old with all the eyes of a community online. While there's still plenty of room for individual initiative, contribution, and creativity, it's probably closer to a wisdom-of-crowds approach, than a bottleneck-of-experts approach. There's still a vital role for experts and editors, but on a reactive, as-needed basis, rather than a preemptive, as-if-always-needed basis.
The result of the open, small "d" democratic approach of the wiki can be a simply revolutionary liberation of broad creativity among the users of a content system. Get the experts to step back from the role of gatekeepers to the role of monitors (as well as co-contributors) and it turns out that in many (perhaps most?) communities there is a wealth of unofficial expertise open to contributing.
The world has seen this revolution in the form of Wikipedia, which transformed from a stalled top-down attempt to create an online encyclopedia to a phenomenal multi-million-article open resource.
On a smaller scale, we've seen a similar kind of opening up at ArchitectureWeek. just for example: while two or three or dozen somewhat-paid people have worked to create the traditionally-edited content of the magazine itself over last year (the magazine's seventh year), more than a hundred dozen have contributed as volunteers to the interlinked Archiplanet wiki over the same year (the wiki's first year).
So the wiki phenomenon may be cool, and potentially important, but what does the wiki mean for architecture, building design, and construction? Much remains to be invented, discovered, and worked out. We think the question is interesting enough already that we'll be exploring it in some depth, over the course of a series of articles in ArchitectureWeek.
And because the wiki is inherently a live and participatory kind of World-Wide Web technology, instead of philosophizing for weeks on end, we'd like to ask you soon to roll up your sleeves and try it out - right from the beginning - at least vicariously.
Roadmap for a Conversation
To help ease swimmers into the big pool of wikis, our thought is to start with the example of creating a building case study online, presented in a tutorial format to walks through the basics of the Archiplanet wiki (broadly applicable to any MediaWiki site).
We hope using the familiar example of creating a building case study, or precedent study, will resonate for seasoned practitioners by illustrating how the well-known aspects of a familiar task can be manifested in this new medium, while it can also offer a direct leg-up for current students and instructors.
Following an introductory case study tutorial, we might address the use of Archiplanet for publishing information about a firm and its projects. From there, we'd love to discuss use of internal wikis within design and building firms - a significant and, from our experience here, an extremely fertile topic in its own right. If your firm is already making use of a wiki internally, we'd especially love to hear from you by email at "email@example.com".
Please let us know what you think. Have you used a wiki yet? Have you edited or otherwise contributed to a wiki web site? Is your firm or school using a wiki, and how is that going so far?
What do you think of this outline for the discussion? Does a building case study tutorial sound like good starting place, or do you have a better idea for us? Overall, does this sound like a useful, interesting topic for us to explore in depth in the ArchitectureWeek digital design tools and media department?
We look forward to hearing from you about wikis and architecture. Reach us either directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or in the public realm of our discussion forum online.
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Kevin Matthews is Editor in Chief of ArchitectureWeek.