There ought to be some yodelin' in this post

A few weeks ago I was stuffed in the back of a cab in Philly with an old friend of mine and, screeching a little bit for effect, said "I've got wikis on my fingers!"

Wiki, wiki, wiki:Those are listed in the order of creation, by the way. The oldest dates to May of this year. I created the most recent while writing this post.

Most of those -- all but the last -- use MediaWiki, which I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, because Wikipedia is hosted on MediaWiki, and Wikipedia is really popular, lots and lots of people (including me!) know how to use MediaWiki. On the other hand, because MediaWiki is optimized toward encyclopedia making, and the interface subtley pushes users in the direction of encyclopedia making, and Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, and Wikipedia is really popular, MediaWiki encourages the temptation to think that every wiki must be an encyclopedia. Or at least encyclopedic.

I've heard MarkDilley call Wikipedia "the 800 pound Gorilla of the wiki world." It's something big, all right, but I like to think of Wikipedia in terms of the shadow it casts.

The thing that's too easy to miss about the project that is Wikipedia is the saliance of the fact that the project is itself made possible by a distributed community of users who have chosen to collaboratively produce the work. The engine of Wikipedia is that collaborative community, not the content of the work or even the kind of thing that the work is. In point of fact, a similarly constituted community could act collectively toward a wide variety of ends.

Which, you know, aside from being cool in a Philosophy of Action kind of way is also cool because there's a really nice synergy between the collectivist grassroots ethos of, among other things, progressive politics and the open architecture of wiki based projects.

Here's a f'rinstance. Suppose that you were, say, The Detroit Federation of Teachers, and say that you were on strike. Walking out is enough to shut the schools down, but you have to worry about the possibility that the decisionmakers you're negotiating your contract with will dislike a closed school less than you dislike not getting a paycheck. Realizing that those decionmakers don't have a financial interest in the success of the school, you would have to face the sobering fact that all of the economic penalties rest on your side's ledger.

But you might also realize that those same decionmakers have economic interest in other things, and that you could hit those interests by casting your net widely. For example, it might happen that one of the members of the school board is heavily invested in a local Donut franchise. If you could figure out how to organize a pickets at those franchises, you might be able to force the school board to agree to your terms. The only problem is that your leadership has its hands full managing pickets at each school.

What to do? Well, if there were a wiki then anybody could take it upon themselves to organize a campaign against those stores. For example, somebody might scout out their delivery schedule and post it for the use of roving picket squads. Somebody else might compile a list of catering clients. Somebody else might put together a card drive among the chain's employees. None of this would have to be controlled or organized by the leadership -- the donut campaign could be a grassroots project of the membership, undertaken in between picket shifts at the job site.

Here's the most beautiful thing. Even if relatively few people participate in the campaign -- even if all that happens on the ground is an occasional picket -- an online strategy guide for screwing with a school board member's business is going to freak that board member out. Really and for true.

It won't happen, of course, not in Detroit. And not just because the leadership of the DFT (or really, the leadership of most any union) is unlikely to trust the members enough to set them loose like that. All I'm saying is that this is the sort of thing you could do with a wiki and, if this sort of thing started happening a lot then, well, that'd be at least as cool as Wikipedia.

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