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Wikis are better than email

Wikis are, I believe, better than mailing lists to facilitate online asynchronous discussion and collaboration. Here's why.

Push me, pull you

Wikis are pull technologies; email is push tech.

  • Even so, it is possible to visually simulate threaded or dated maillist-style discussions completely in an appropriate wiki.

Some people just don't like pull technologies.

  • This may be a personal characteristic, or it may be a result of dependence on email.
    • If the reason is the latter, then they should unlearn their dependence.
    • If the reason is the former – well, c'est la vie!

Permanent errors

An archived email posting containing an error makes the error permanent.

  • Though subsequent postings can address the error, there's no way to mark the original error so as to note it and direct people to the corrected version.
  • Users may end up propagating the error further.

In a wiki, any error can be directly fixed, noted, and leave a trace allowing interested users to see both the error and correction.

  • Revision control preserves a record of all changes to correct errors.

Dereferenced references

In mailing lists, one can at best link to an obscure URL manually to relate one posting to another.

  • Only threads can be meaningfully captured, but not other relationships.

In wikis, any contributor can directly and easily link to other topics and sources of information – more easily than can be done in mailing lists.

  • This makes it easier for readers to get the proper context of information and other sources of information.

Difficult searches

It is hard to search email archives because they are not easily categorised or indexed or marked up to facilitate browsing or searching by future users.

Wikis are far more easily categorised, indexed, and marked up for search/browse purposes.

Lost in the archives

How many people actually look through the archives of mailing lists for useful information?

How many refer back to email archives for background material before posting a message?

How many people search archives for reference and research purposes?

Email archives are infrequently used, even though they can have lots of great information.

  • This is because email archives are rarely presented in a usable way.

Wikis allow for refactoring discussions into documents so that important information – once developed via collaborative discussion – can be preserved in a narrative form better suited to use by third-party readers.

Emailing faster than thought

Email-based discussions can sometimes be pushed so fast that people do not have time to respond.

  • As email messages to a list become dated, readers lose interest in participating.
  • Pushing email discussions too fast can also make threads evolve too quickly to allow deep exploration of issues leading to more fruitful contributions.

In a wiki, every contribution is permanent and always “present”.

  • No contribution ever becomes out of date, and even after some delay, the discussion can be added to by anyone requiring more time to consider matters.
  • Discussions can addressed repeatedly.

Facilitate collation of "research requests"

A popular practice on email lists is to post a request for information, which the requester will then summarise and report to the list.

  • Sometimes, reports are never made.
  • Other times they are made only after the list membership has lost interest in the topic.
  • In any event, the requester must do substantial unnecessary work to compose the report from diverse sources.

In a wiki, a request can be made as simply as creating a new topic for the request.

  • Contributors then add their content directly to the page.
  • Discussion happens during data gathering, while interest in the topic is still fresh.
  • Contributors are able to better ensure their contributions are well represented.
  • The requester collates and refactors interactively, but because all contributions are in a wiki page and in the page's conventions, there is far less editing to do.
wiki/wikis_are_better_than_email.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)