Friday, March 03, 2006

Wiki Woes

In a recent post to the ATTW listserv, Stephen Bernhardt nicely summarized some of the problems of using wikis for collaborative writing:
I coauthored an article on the rhetoric of clinical trial reports with two coauthors this past fall. We used a wiki that one of us ran off a home server to provide writing and commenting space and to control versions. It worked reasonably well, except for having to get used to missing Word tools--track changes, comments--and Word features, such as the stylesheet. It all had to be exported from the wiki and formatted according to editorial guidelines. I think the lack of format controls and markup language in the wiki was the primary limitation.
His comments show a nice awareness of the tradeoffs of various technologies. It sounds like his writing group encountered no major problems, but I've heard of writers new to wikis can be uncomfortable with having others edit their words. While this is often true of new collaborative writers in general, I believe wikis -- because the authority to edit is built into the software -- automate the subtle permission-getting that happens in face-to-face or pass-the-draft-around collaboration. To be comfortable with wikis, I suspect writers need to be comfortable with collaborative writing more generally and be aware of wiki protocol.

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