Confessions of a first-time wiki contributor

Alf Stewart
‘Strewth mate, talk about a lazy stereotype…’

This week I was contributing to a wiki for the first time. Here are some things you might like to know about wikis:

– wiki comes from a Hawaiian word meaning ‘fast’
– there are over 300,000 educational workspaces on PBworks, one of the net’s largest wiki platforms
– to a first-time contributor, they’re a total minefield in terms of online etiquette.

There are parts of working collaboratively on an educational wiki that are really quite awkward, especially when you don’t know the other contributors particularly well. As we grappled with the format, all sorts of questions came up. Will we all just write a rough draft and see how it looks, or will we divide the work up to sub-teams or individuals? Should we make notes and ask questions in the main text field? And do we put our names next to our contributions?

This last idea of attaching our individual names to the things we write seems a particularly hard one to let go of – particularly if you’re writing as part of a group project or assessment.

Ideas of originality and singular authorship go right to the heart of what we consider reading and writing to be:

The reader assumes that the text derives wholly or mainly from the author’s ideational effort and that the author has distinguished himself or herself from the work carried out by others, even if he or she cannot disregard the existence of texts by others. (Simone 1996, p. 242)

Our main tutors this semester, both Aussies, recommend that when it comes to wiki etiquette we should all embrace our inner Australians: i.e. relax, don’t worry about offending anyone, and be brutally direct in your comments.

Unfortunately my inner Australian seems to be Alf Stewart, from Home and Away. So next week my co-collaborators had better brace themselves for some ‘stone the crows’, ‘ya flamin galahs’, etc.*


Simone, R. (1996) ‘The Body of the Text’, in G. Nunberg (ed.), The Future of the Book. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, pp. 239-251.

*Apologies for the extremely lazy national stereotyping. Feel free to call me a tight-fisted, dour Scotsman on Twitter if you like.



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