I heart wikis. No, seriously, I think they are amazing. It does help that I spend most of my day working with wikis, trying to push their adoption across an enterprise. So, here is a new series that will explain why wikis are rad:
Interactive Text. This is a digital medium, so there is no reason not to have all important words as links to other relevant topics, articles, or definitions. Yet almost every article from a newspaper, blog topic, and website has a link ratio of around 100:1 (100 words for every 1 link). If you take a look at almost any wikipedia page, you will find that ratio much better, on average being 100:10.
So, what’s the big deal? Well, interactive text creates a much richer experience for the user. Test it our for yourself, go into the Quantum Mechanics page in Wikipedia. Notice all of the links. Every time you come across a heady concept, unfamiliar word, or even just an interesting topic, notice the link to more information. Us wiki-fanatics call that deep-dive research. You can go from almost no knowledge to a strong cursory knowledge of any topic within minutes.
Many newspapers are starting to do this. Some, like the nytimes, do it very well, but adoption is very slow. We seem to be locked into a previous paradigm. Meaning that most webpages still try to mimic a basic word document (some even mimic a typewriter look). Another lock for us is that we still tend to think serially, i.e. one thing at a time. When reading an article we like to finish the article before moving on to the next one. This is a one foot in front of the other method.
Well, you can bet that our kids are not learning this way. They are doing several things at once. I myself am getting to be that way too. In wiki world my focus is not on completing a narrative, but understanding. I read and click on through several pages until I understand or accomplish my objective. Some would say this leads to a deterioration of focus, I would say it cuts out the fluff.
Fluff or deterioration, wikis are bringing a whole new way of learning to our fingertips. Personally, I love it and I think it is rad. You may need to decide for yourself. If you want to do so, I would recommend finding a great article on the web. Try reading it with all of this in mind. How many words, terms, and phrases have an ambiguous meaning to you. How many factual statements are made with a footnote or no reference at all. How many people are mentioned. All of these things could be links to enrich your experience, give you a deeper understanding, and/or improve the readability.
My recommendation: As China Roars, Polution Reaches Deadly Extremes (nytimes) vs. Environment of China (wikipedia)
Remember, if you can pick-up what I’m saying but this still seems foreign to you, that is okay. The future of our world are the kids, and which way will they prefer…
P.S. Skeptics may be wondering what makes this is wiki specialty? Wikis are a database of many, many pages. The system makes linking those pages together very simple. Often as little as 4 characters are needed to make a link. And, since the database is interactive, you can build the link right on the page and you can also make links to non-existent pages. With many people doing this in one wiki database, the work can snowball itself leading to fairly complete series of links off a page.