A wiki is a series of searchable web pages that many people can edit. This works well for Wikipedia because people will search for a particular topic in an encyclopedia. This also works for Wiktionary because people search for definitions of words, but what about other Wikimedia projects such as Wikibooks? Is a wiki the appropriate software for these projects? Are these projects doomed to fail?
Having worked on Wikipedia, I decided to take the plunge and make a Wikibook. OK maybe it's a bit arrogant of me to think that I could write anything so comprehensive as a book, but I figured that since it's a wiki, I can get help if I need it, right?
So I began to write. As I wrote my book, it acquired more and more of my personality. I began to feel a certain possessiveness toward it. Not to say that I wanted to revoke the open license. What I meant was that I was afraid that someone else would come in and change the style of the book. Wikipedia has content guidelines that require neutrality which for the most part means "make it boring". Boring is good in an encyclopedia article where you want "Just the facts, Maam"; but boring books are not fun to read.
The next thing that I had a problem with is navigation. A book is something that has a definite order. You read one page, then the next, then the next. A wiki can be read in any order. The recommended wikibook structure has navigation that starts and ends at the table of contents. But do you read a book by reading a chapter and then going back to a table of contents to figure out what other chapters to read? No! that ruins the flow of the book.
Now you can add navigation arrows as long as they are text arrows like this ">". You can't use images as arrows, because in Wikimedia, an image always points to its contribution page. (The better to understand the license it is under.) This makes many of the HTML tricks that you are used to using with webpages not work.
Even if you add arrows, you have to add all of the links yourself from each page to the next, and if you insert new pages, you need to change the links to point to these new pages, or no one will see them. You may say, "but you have to do that with HTML too, don't you?", and that is true; but there are lots of content management programs that automatically change links for you when you insert new information. And this makes me think, is wiki software what you should use for free content books? It seems that the kind of books made by this software will be entirely different from the kind of free licensed book carried by other open projects such as Project Gutenburg. Is this good or bad?
So when I look at the empire that is wikimedia I begin to wonder if some of their energy is misplaced. Just because Wikipedia was successful, does that mean that everything should be made into a wiki? For example, there is a new project to put documents into a wiki. This is called Wikisource. Scans of old books and documents are placed online and people can improve on the OCR software by personally checking the texts when they have time. This is a great idea, and I absolutely love it having thought up something similar years ago, but should Wikisource be a wiki?Once you have the data typed in, you don't want to change it. It isn't appropriate to edit the document once it is faithfully transcribed. The text should be fixed into something permanent. It is history, and should not be altered arbitrarily. Is a wiki the right software to use to store finished documents?
And this makes me wonder about other Wikimedia projects. Will a wiki make good educational software? (Wikiversity) or a good news server (Wikinews) or a good media database (Wikimedia commons)? What is a wiki really good for?
But to be fair, there are a diversity of wikis on the web being used for all sorts of purposes. Who can say what will succeed. Only time will tell.
(Post the web address of your favorite wiki here. Show me what wikis are good for.)