Wiki is better than email

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The wiki works better than email for content (examples, issues, brainstorms etc.) for numerous reasons.

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wikis in plain english

Here is a short video explaining how wikis work much better than email for collaboration, even for something as simple as planning a camping trip.

default.jpgYouTube: Wikis in Plain English


Here are some reasons why wikis work better than email for microformats in particular, and in fact, for any kind of open standards development.

additional documentation


what is the best way to capture and resolve issues

What is the best way to capture and resolve issues through broad consensus?

  1. First check the relevant *-issues page, and if available, the corresponding *-issues-resolved page.
  2. IRC can be useful for quickly discovering whether something is an issue or not.
  3. If you cannot find the answer to an issue by searching, and asking in IRC, then ask a short message on the microformats-discuss list, and mention specifically the relevant *-issues wiki page where you didn't find the issue.
  4. If it appears you have a new issue, capture it on the appropriate *-issues page.
  5. If you have an opinion about an existing issue, add a nested list item to the existing issue and a "+1" or "0" or "-1" signifying your approval/ambivalence/disapproval, sign your name with ~~~~, and optionally provide reasons for your opinion.

The wiki, being on the Web and much more easily discoverable, reaches far more people than any email list or the IRC channel. Wiki pages are also much more readable as a summary of opinions, than having to wade through email threads trying to determine who is for/neutral/against any particular issue.

Thus the wiki is the best choice for documenting a range of opinions, and archiving discussions that lead to consensus.

should we only capture consensus on the wiki

Should we first discuss on IRC/e-mail, form a consensus of some kind, and then record that consensus on the wiki?

No. It is important to capture more than just consensus on the wiki (in appropriately structured ways).

what if I cannot find issues on the wiki

What should I do if I cannot find issues on the wiki?

I find it difficult to understand the arguments behind a large number of the items on the Microformats wiki. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

why do IRC and email lists repeat conversations

Why do IRC channels and email lists repeat conversations, e.g. conversations about wikis and emails?

The very mediums of IRC and email tend to cause forgetting the past (preferring brief summary statements to actual search/citation) and thus inevitably repeating conversations, including repeating errant statements (see: every email list), unless briefly (and repeatedly) corrected with URLs to answers (like this one).

how do wikis reduce duplication of discussions

How can we, and why do we use the wiki to reduce duplication of discussions?

If a community uses only or primarily email for discussions, then discussions are duplicated/repeated over and over because new folks show up and are unable to search/find previous discussions. Or sometimes even folks on a list for a long time will repeat themselves because they'll forget the past.

By putting substantial content (problem statements, use-cases, research, discussions thereabout) on the wiki, we can reduce and hopefully minimize duplication by using URLs to the wiki instead.

Even if content is first sent or found in email, by copying / simplifying it to a place on the wiki, citing it by URL provides a much more discoverable (and updateable) place for discussion and avoids (or at least reduces) subsequent duplication of discussions.

will anyone see stuff on the wiki

Will anyone see stuff on the wiki?

The short answer is yes, people will see stuff on the wiki because:

Problems with other methods:

Sometimes this FAQ is rephrased as an errant assertion: "nobody will ever see stuff on the wiki", perhaps said in an attempt to support a process of "step 1 is mailing list". See the next FAQ.

when is it better to IRC or email first

Is it ever better to IRC or email first?

Literally no. You should do a web search first.

However, once you've tried to do a web search to answer whatever question you have, IRC and email are good for asking questions. In particular, they're good for questions of were/are there any existing discussions of a use-case / topic / feature (since humans can still often find things better conceptually than search engines).

Thus it may be better to first ask a short question in IRC or email (e.g. regarding a specific desired feature or format), before starting a wiki page.

If your question is long, simplify it first.

why is IRC better than email

Why is IRC okay, but e-mail not okay? ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

  1. People can easily choose to be on IRC or not when it is convenient for them to participate in discussions or not and that aspect of easy in/out control is very important. Email on the other hand, is much more cumbersome to subscribe/unsubscribe when you have time to handle discussions or don't.
  2. In IRC, if a participant has a misconception, others in the channel can quickly correct that participant, rather than the participant waste a lot of time with writing something up that is based on that misconception. In email OTOH, a mistaken assumption in the start of an email can lead to the author wasting time writing paragraphs upon paragraphs dependent on that bad assumption.

what if I do not have time to be on IRC

What if I don't have time to be on IRC?

I do not have the time to sit around in an IRC channel. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

I need an asynchronous method of communication and IRC doesn't work for me. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

what if I prefer to do my communication in batches

What if I prefer to do my communication in batches?

I do my communication in batches because that is most efficient for me. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

how do I make sure I do not miss something in IRC

How do I make sure that I don't miss something in IRC?

I can shut off my e-mail client and not worry that I've missed something, I can't necessarily do the same with IRC. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

what if someone starts an edit war on an issue

What if someone starts an edit war on an issue?

Edit wars lead to subsequent banning of individuals, as this community has experienced. -- ManuSporny 03:22, 28 February 2009 (UTC)

If someone:

Please contact one or more of the admins either on IRC (preferably) or via email, alerting them and providing URL(s) to the problematic edits on the wiki.

The admins will follow-up by correcting the wiki.

Such behavior that is disruptive to the community will not be tolerated.

If the individual persists in an edit war, especially after one of the admins have stepped in, the admins will warn and then ban the individual for progressively longer ban times as necessary.

  • On Wikipedia, there is a principle called the BOLD, revert, discuss cycle (or "BRD" for short). The idea is that you initially make a bold change to a page without having to have a lot of discussion up-front, and thus avoiding the feeling that one must seek permission from the "owner" of the page. If others disagree with the change, they then revert the change, and then a discussion is conducted to seek consensus. The point of the BRD cycle is to encourage people to engage in reasoned and evidence-based discussion about their disagreements rather than rather than starting an edit war. —Tom Morris 17:43, 23 July 2014 (UTC)

how is the wiki better for controversial issues

How is the wiki better for controversial issues?

how is the microformats community different from previous standards communities

How is the microformats community different from previous standards communities?

As Paul Graham wrote:

There's a sort of Gresham's Law of trolls: trolls are willing to use a forum with a lot of thoughtful people in it, but thoughtful people aren't willing to use a forum with a lot of trolls in it. Which means that once trolling takes hold, it tends to become the dominant culture.

how can the wiki improve objectivity and friendliness

How can the wiki improve objectivity and friendliness?'

  • The wiki is a vital documentation tool, and we should strive that it be written as a quality piece of documentation of issues and specs. --BenWard 23:32, 28 February 2009 (UTC)
    • +1 Tantek 21:23, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
  • In forcing discussion into this format, discussion is blunted, becomes harsh and naturally gravitates toward polarized discussion. This is important for documenting the issue; to distill issues to their core, but this is bad for building friendly, amicable relationships between people trying to work together on microformats. --BenWard 23:32, 28 February 2009 (UTC)
    • We should encourage neutral/objective documentation of issues, and editing of issues to remove emotional content that could be interpreted as hostile or unfriendly. Tantek 21:23, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
    • In addition, as admins we should act quickly to warn and ban individuals who are abusive on the wiki (see above about edit wars). Tantek 21:23, 15 June 2009 (UTC)
    • On the side of friendliness, we should reach out to and contact new editors over IRC and email as necessary to help familiarize them with how-to-play and the mailing-list guidelines. Tantek 21:23, 15 June 2009 (UTC)

historical note

  • historical note: microformats have always been developed via public IRC + wiki since 2004 when Kevin Marks and Tantek Çelik first started researching/brainstorming/drafting microformats such as rel-license, vote-links, XOXO, hCard, hCalendar on the public Technorati Developer's Wiki and the Freenode IRC network. Brian Suda somehow discovered the Technorati Developer's wiki page for hCard, started editing it, and that's how he and Tantek Çelik met. The mailing-lists were not created until the site was launched in mid 2005 and have always been considered secondary to the wiki and IRC channel.
    • exception: hAudio was developed almost entirely through e-mail and wiki edits. -- ManuSporny 03:37, 28 February 2009 (UTC)
      • In retrospect, allowing that was probably a mistake, as there were far too many emails on the subject of hAudio for I and many others to keep up with, and many issues were resolved with little breadth of discussion (only 1-2 participants, typically Manu and Martin). In the future as a community we should insist that all issues be captured on the wiki, and that all opinions on specific issues be captured on the wiki, so that this information is not lost in email.Tantek 21:23, 15 June 2009 (UTC)


see also

Wiki is better than email was last modified: Wednesday, June 8th, 2016