Oakland Wiki: Participation, Activity & Social Infrastructure

Oakland Wiki was established in 2012, so it's a pretty new initiative with a growing community. According to the Oakland Wiki's dashboard, there are now 318 registered users, though, these metrics do not quantify the participation frequency with precision or detail. However, based on the very basic graphs, the participation for average edits per registered user peaked between March 2013 and April 2013, though there's no indication for the upsurge. Now, from May 2013 onward, the average edits per registered user seems to be leveling off at a consistent rate.

As previously mentioned in other blog posts, the wiki is everything historical, cultural, and happenings within Oakland. It's a lot of content. Since I am really familiar with parts of Oakland, like Rockridge, I've tasked myself with editing all the business pages on the Oakland Wiki for now. And, oh man, it's not easy! When I first approached these pages, there were several issues: 1). tone of voice is inconsistent, 2). headers and key business information are missing, 3). street addresses, state abbreviations, telephone numbers, hours of business vary stylistically. Before jumping into them, I looked to see if the wiki had a Style Guide. It does, but it's not fleshed out, nor does it address any of the concerns I am facing while editing.

At the moment, I am implementing a consistent style based on how I've done it in the past for other organizations. I emailed the community, asking:

"Hi there,

I am a new editor, and I went through a bunch of business pages, trying to add in a little information about them where it was missing. Throughout the process, I found a ton of inconsistency in format, even as far as addresses, hours of business, etc. I found the Style Guide, but there's not much there on this type of style. If I add in a style I've been using, is there a formal process of voting or some other procedure to implement it site wide. Is there a benevolent dictator who approves this type of issue or is it consensus based? These little style inconsistencies are something I am working toward fixing, and would love to flesh out the style guide a bit more than it is right now.

Please let me know!

Thanks, Christine"

The response was directed, though, nothing was firm. Instead it was a personal opinion, and no one is calling the shots thus far. Julio, from the community, responded, saying:

"We [OW volunteers] have various (sometimes conflicting) ideas and philosophies about format.
Therefore, we don't generally moderate format. We don't really moderate much unless there's obvious vandalism or legal/safety issues involved.

I don't know how others feel about it, but I look at format inconsistencies [esthetic grievances] as general page quality issues, like incorrect grammar or missing/unclear information. You, or anyone who has the time, can improve the quality of any page, which may or may not include format changes. In general, though, most of us don't have the time to do that since we're all volunteers. My general feeling about it is that, if the content is clear and correct (where "correct" applies; e.g. business hours), I'm not going to change the format, unless I'm doing a large rework of a page for other reasons. Perhaps, my only exception is that I've been trying to rid pages of HTML tables used for purely formatting purposes. I (and others) used tables for formatting early on, but we've decided it was a mistake because it's difficult to maintain as changes happen. I don't know anyone who disagrees with the basic concept that tables should be avoided whenever possible, so that may be one of the few style concepts we have some agreement on.

You can feel free to change the format of pages, as anyone can, but changes may get reverted if some don't agree with your style decisions. In general, I don't think we should use headings (1,2, or 3) for basic information (address, phone, hours, etc) because it forces the information to appear below the map, which is not generally how I want my pages to behave. There are costs and benefits to any style decision, as you can see from the Style Guide, and the decisions users make are highly subjective, which is probably why we have a lot of inconsistency between pages, so I personally think spending time on improving content is more important than trying to standardize on format, a task which I don't think can ever be "complete". Also, we can discuss at one of our Thursday meetings, if you can make it some time."

I am also concerned by working on it without having any hard guidance makes it difficult for me to want to invest time, considering the content may be changed AGAIN and for some highly subjective reason. I think largely because there are no standards yet, it makes it difficult to "complete" anything, and makes me feel like I am working in circles under people who want to do things based on a feeling or a whim.

Aside, from what I can tell, Marina somewhat runs the show, along with a few other people, or they just have strong opinions. For example, there was a great conversation occurring about categorizing data on the site. Many people had opinions on trying to create a classification system, and some vouched for it, and others said no, and others had the mind set to only fix it when it presents itself. To me, there was no voting or benevolent dictator who said, "We need to do X as far as classification." It was instead a very fluid conversation, but in the end, there was no direction, and seemed structureless similar to the concept talked about in "The Tyranny of Structurelessness." The authors, says, "Those who do not know the rules and are not chosen for initiation must remain in confusion, or suffer from paranoid delusions that something is happening of which they are not quite aware." Right now, I am definitely feeling on the out, and I am confused about what the rules are and what they aren't. I guess with time, I will be initiated into the group and gain the tacit knowledge needed to make these calls. It seems like the weekly meetings might be a good event to partake in to obtain this information.

added Comments Thomas 11/6/2013 (see commit description)