"This is a manual in the making for anyone or any group wanting to pitch in and help build the wiki. Our themes are breakthroughs ... advice .... and powerful ideas." - Champaign-Urbana Wiki
Advice for new folks:
- Just start!
- Make what you like!
- Anything is in bounds - we get to make this wiki what we want
Advice for others who are starting LocalWikis:
- How do you get more people using the wiki? Create useful, interesting things that don't exist yet.
- Focus on creating content and finding others who want to create content
- There's no need to duplicate efforts - link out!
- Building a LocalWiki is about collaboration!
- Don't worry about the things that don't work - just try other things (and when in doubt, focus on adding more content!)
- Categories/structure - don't sweat it.
- Not everyone will be into the idea. That's okay.
You have an idea for something to add but you're not quite sure of the right wording, maybe you don't know exactly what to write, you maybe need to do more research, you're not sure what format or structure to take...etc etc etc... Don't worry about it - just add what you know. We're informal folks, just people sharing interesting things with other people. You can add a tiny bit and say "more to come later - stay tuned!" You can add something else and say "I'm not sure of this part here, but maybe someone else knows?" It's not necessary to write the most perfectly-crafted thing ever. Just get something down and it'll get cleaned up later (either by you or by someone else). The important part is to overcome the little voice inside that says "should I?" and just answer "YES!"
Lesson learned: I figured this out because I noticed that I kept having great ideas for things that should be on the wiki, but somehow never got around to actually doing them. I realized that feeling like I had to wait until I knew more about something or had something more "sensible" to say was preventing me from ever getting to anything.
Powerful idea: Many of us are taught that we have to have our writing completely perfect before sharing it with the world (because what if someone thinks it's "bad"!). Banish that notion. Even the tiniest scrap of information is a useful contribution that other people might benefit from, and on top of that, when you add even a tiny scrap of information, maybe someone else will be intrigued and will add further.
What do you love about Oakland? What do you want to share with the world? Add that! There are so many things about Oakland that no one knows - we get a chance to share them!
Lesson learned: When we first started the wiki, I felt a lot of pressure to fill in things that I thought ought to be on any self-respecting site about Oakland - things about famous buildings, neighborhoods, etc. But I didn't know that much about those things and could somehow never work up the motivation to work on them. When I relaxed and just focused on sharing what interesting things that people might want to know about Oakland, I started to have a lot more fun (and made entries about keeping ducks in Oakland - people need to know that it's not that hard!).
Powerful idea: Contributing to Oakland Wiki is an act of love, of sharing your love with other people. If there's something that you want to share, go ahead and add it.
What belongs on here? We get to decide. This site isn't like Wikipedia. We can add whatever we think is useful knowledge about Oakland. Whether it's about the Oakland gnomes, how to identify helicopters, instances of police misconduct, ideas for how city council meetings can be better, notes from lectures, your personal story, or pieces of internet culture, there's room for it all.
Lesson learned: Figured this one out early! Maybe other folks would like to share when they learned this lesson.
Powerful idea: It can be difficult to break free of the ideas that we've been told about what "official knowledge" is. Many of us think that concrete information about buildings, history, etc., are the only kinds of "legitimate" knowledge, but we can write about history even if we don't know all the details yet (that's what the wiki is for - so that we can figure it out together!), and we get to define what's important and useful to know about our community. It's autonomy!
It can get lonely to be the only one working building a LocalWiki. You can easily get overwhelmed, hit a block where you don't know what to do next, and get demotivated. This is why it helps to have at least one other person who is just as into the project as you are (whether the project is building the LocalWiki or working on a particular topic on the LocalWiki).
Something that we've learned as the project has filled out more of the basic details is that it's not just about having an entry for every thing but about how people surf the wiki. If you've ever been down a Wikipedia rabbit hole, following links to one thing after another, you'll know the pleasures of this kind of experience.
Lesson learned: Someone asked me recently "This entry about the Domain Awareness Center is great, but how would I found out about it?" LINK. Link between things to help people find content.
Powerful idea: The wiki is not a series of separate entries. It is the external community brain and memory that comes to life when novel connections are formed between pieces of information. Don't forget that a new user has no idea whatsoever what might be on this site. Make it easy for someone to land on a page (any page that someone might arrive at via google) and be able to start learning other things on the wiki. You never know what entry might make it big (hello, DAC) and provide a portal from the outside world into the wiki. If you want people to use the wiki beyond a single entry, make it easy for them to discover and follow rabbit trails.
Advice for others who are starting LocalWikis
1. How do you get more people using the wiki? Create useful, interesting things that don't exist yet.
The best way to get more folks to use the wiki is to create useful, interesting content, especially on topics where there isn't a lot of information already out there.
Lesson learned: Figured this out after spending a lot of time showing an empty wiki to people and wondering why no one wanted to contribute! Once we built a large base of useful content, people would find the wiki by searching for things that they were already wondering about Oakland. The more times their searches lead them to Oakland Wiki, the more people see it as a useful resource overall, see the wide variety of information that can go here, see that it's not a corporate trick (we really ARE community run! and you really CAN be a part of it!), see that it's the kind of place where they can add content as well, the more they gain a sense of ownership over it. People defend what they love. If people value the content on the wiki, they will tell other people about it and make sure that it stays up-to-date.
Powerful idea: Many people (especially those of us who've worked in social change type areas) are used to the idea of telling people about a thing and if you tell it convincingly enough, other people will support your cause. This is not necessarily true with a new website. People have questions about things like "who runs this site? (will they sell me out like the corporate sites?)", "will anyone use it?" "will it die in a few months?" and fundamentally "why should I contribute to your site and not to another site?" The best way to address these concerns is to create useful and interesting content and be a good-faith member of the community. If someone doesn't get how contributing to a LocalWiki in their community might be a worthwhile thing to do, that's okay. Demonstrate its use value by creating a useful and interesting site. For further reading, check out this article on organizational change (it's about change in a company's culture, but can be broadly applied).
Starting a LocalWiki is not a PR effort (ie, it's not about letting people know about this great resource) but a useful-knowledge-commons-building effort. The most effective use of time in the early stages is to create content and to identify others who will create content. It can be hard for people to see the potential value of an empty site, but some folks are passionate about local issues and have been waiting for something like a LocalWiki to come along. They are bursting at the seams with things they want to share and know exactly what to do when given the opportunity to share content. Create content yourself and look for the other sharers! They will be your early adopters and collaborators. You have no idea who they might be or where you might find them. Maybe it'll be some of your friends, but maybe it'll be people in a local community group or people you find by connecting on twitter, etc.
Copypasta does not a useful wiki make (people can spot canned text and marketing-speak a mile away) - this kind of information is really not useful for anyone. Even if you have a two-line entry, link out to some other content if it has loads of useful information.
Lesson learned: It's ok if our entry about Occupy Oakland is just a few lines. We link out! Similarly, check out these sweet, excellently-worded pieces of advice from the CUWiki wikiguide (that inspired this guide):
Advice to new wikians:
- Don’t be afraid to start. Create a stub page, start making mistakes. Ruin the formatting of a page, and revert it all back. The beauty of wiki: mistakes can be edited. It never hurts to start.
- Don’t be afraid to engage: whether that’s speaking to someone you’ve never spoken to, interacting with communities that you’ve never been to, or doing something you’ve never done—don’t’ be afraid to engage in Wiki. You have to lean into the process to get anything out of it.
- Don’t be afraid to explore—see new things in your city. Click around your wiki and learn from others.
- Don’t be afraid to push. Push back on community members who tell you it’s silly. Tell them another cool benefit of a wiki. If they’re still not receptive, cut your losses and move on, but give an initial big push to each person you talk to.
- Don’t be afraid to change. Change your mind on how you’ve set up a page, change your outlook on the community you’re interacting with, change your location to find out more
If someone's done it the right way already and if the content is licensed in a usable format, go ahead and make use of it. No wheels need be reinvented.
Powerful idea: It's the internet - we can make use of things that have already been done.
That network of California skateboarders created an environment where people who liked skateboarding could get better at it together. a sense of membership, of belonging to a group that is animated by a shared vision or project, can spark a feedback loop in which autonomy and competence improve as well. people who are part of a network where they become better at something they love tend to stay. As the group’s ability to learn and work together gets stronger, it attracts more participants. the newcomers who don’t become part of the core group often take the ideas out to the wider world. the z-boys’ style of skating didn’t become global because everyone became a z-boy; rather, peripheral members of the group became ambassadors for those ideas.
So it is with the wiki. There may be communities of enthusiasts about all kinds of things in your community that have never really had a place before where they could collaborate on creating new knowledge and helping each other learn more and get better at what they're interested in. I call them "sub-groups" - they're groups of people who don't yet know that they're a group. It could be all the local surfing enthusiasts or all the people who are really into local murals. They are all into these things individually, but maybe had no idea that there were other people who were interested in those things in their community. They are all out there using the internet to learn more about the thing that they're interested in and maybe if you are interested in local crocheting groups, if you create an entry about local crocheting groups other people who are also looking for local crocheting groups will find your entry and then you'll get to meet other people who are into crocheting!
Lesson learned: Recent changes addiction is where it's at. Here at Oakland Wiki, we see people working on something in Recent Changes...we want to see what they added, and then we add a bit more to it if we have something to contribute. It's more fun to work with someone else to build something together and to see other people build on what you've created, than to work alone. Contribute to other people's work and be generous and easygoing with your contributions.
Powerful idea: I just love the idea that this is an environment where people who love Oakland get better at loving Oakland together.
5. Don't worry about the things that don't work - just try other things (and when in doubt, focus on adding more content!)
It can be lonely to work on a budding LocalWiki, but adding content is always productive because once the content is there, it'll always be there, continuing to be useful for many people in the future. If you've tried to do outreach or to get other people involved and no one seems to be interested, that can be disheartening, but don't worry, you're playing a long game. In Davis, it took five years before the Davis Wiki really caught on in that community. Don't worry if it's been six months and not that many people seem to be interested. It's okay. Reach out to other LocalWikians and keep going. And it really helps to have at least one partner.
Some folks get hung up on what the structure or categorization of something should be. All of these things can be figured out later once the content is there. Just add the content (in as messy a format as you like) and we can re-categorize, re-organize, and put things in order later (we have all the time in the world once the content is there). We have a hard time knowing ahead of time what the most useful categories will be and we can waste a lot of time trying to agree on correct taxonomies - time that could be spent creating content. Focus on creating content and let the categories emerge from the content that gets created.
Lesson learned: Would anyone like to share a story about learning this lesson?
Powerful idea: Jorge Luis Borges wrote a wonderful story that nails the arbitrary nature of most top-down classification systems. Many of us here in the West want to put things into categories, but often we have no way to know what categories might be useful to others. Plus we have tagging to allow us to create interesting and unique categories as we go!
You love Oakland Wiki. You think that it's the best thing since sliced bread. Oakland Wiki will take over the world one day. But not everyone sees that future as clearly as you do. There will be folks who say they're down and never contribute a thing. There will be folks who are skeptical of the entire idea (even if it's something that they would completely benefit from!). There are folks who act suuuuper competitive and see you as a rival (even though Oakland Wiki is vast and contains multitudes. There is room in it for all kinds of things - that's the whole idea..we get to make it what we want it to be.). The main thing to do in these situations is to not take it personally, take it easy, and keep doing what we're doing (making content, working with our people, and looking for people who want to collaborate).
Over time one gets a sense for this kind of thing. There may be folks who are very knowledgeable about your community, but they may not be very collaboration-minded. So sometimes folks with a column in the local paper or a prominent website/blog will NOT turn out to be good contributors - even if it would make soooo much sense for them to participate. One reason why this might be the case is because they have invested in developing what is in effect a broadcast medium and an identity as a person of note in the local community. They may not want to sacrifice this position to contribute to a collaborative effort. It helps to be chill about the reality of this and to not sweat it when someone who you would consider a valuable contributor doesn't seem interested in collaborating. It's okay. They'll figure out the benefits of contributing soon enough (even if it takes a really long time!). Let the water slide off your back and keep doing your thing. Work with anyone and everyone who will work with you and keep moving forward. Just keep building. The beauty of open, collaborative things is that the bigger they get, the more useful and excellent they become. Soon they will take over the world.
Lesson learned: this has happened too many times to count. At first I got hurt and bitter, but now I've learned that there's no point to feel bad and instead focus on building our thing here together and making it more awesome for everyone.
Powerful idea: The real dividing line is being open to collaboration - do we keep doing our separate things and take a competitive and exclusionary perspective, or do we all help build open, participatory things? I know which side we stand on because we've seen the benefits of contributing to knowledge commons. But not everyone gets that, and that's okay. You can help them see the benefits of collaboration, but ultimately they have to make the decision to collaborate or not collaborate themselves. This isn't a "conform with the borg or face extermination" kind of thing. We are all taking different approaches to solving really big problems in our communities, and we'll see which approaches are helpful/productive. Maybe the open approach blows! We'll find out!