I've been looking at wikis — lots of wikis — in order to find a few of the most interesting to present at a hands-off technology workshop next week. (Won't you please join us?) Of course interest is highly subjective, but I hope you find these projects intriguing, stimulating, and otherwise though-provoking.
First let me mention the elephant in the room. In my opinion, Wikipedia is one of the most interesting projects in the history of humanity. But we all know about Wikipedia. My goal here is to show that Wikipedia is not the only wiki on the planet. Onward!
- What if Hitler won World War II? That's one of the most common scenarios when imagining alternate histories. The Alternate History Wiki goes much further, with contributors speculating on thousands of other possible timelines that might have unfolded. What if Robert Kennedy had not been assassinated? What if a virus had devastated the Mayans in the 9th century? What if the earth was tilted 90º so the North Pole was off the coast of Africa? (In a similar speculative-imaginative vein, see also Galaxiki, which bills itself as a fictional galaxy anyone can edit.)
- As the name suggests, Appropedia is structured much like an encyclopedia. Because wikis can be sprawling in their scope, this is a common and sensible form. Appropedia is notable not merely for its admirable focus (on sustainability, appropriate technology and poverty reduction) but also for the quality of its engagement, which includes a substantial service learning component.
- There's a type of wiki known as a "city wiki," focusing on a single urban locality. Examples abound, but one of the weirdest and most wonderful is surely Davis Wiki, dedicated to the city of Davis, California. What makes this one stand out, besides its prodigious size, is that it's not as serious and straight-laced as many others. The wiki provides a wealth of serious content where appropriate, but also has room for a listing of the bathrooms at UC Davis — ranked by cleanliness or lack thereof.
- The Internet Movie Firearms Database is dedicated to figuring out just what guns were used in every scene of every movie ever made. As you can imagine, that's a lot of guns. I'm not a gun nut, but to me this is an intriguing proof-of-concept, demonstrating how a data-set can be developed with collaborative tools.
- The most interesting wiki I discovered was undoubtedly TV Tropes. A trope is a commonly recurring device or motif, not necessarily cliché, found in writing of all sorts. This site aims to catalog such tropes, initially stating with television (and apparently involving more than a few script writers) and eventually branching out to other forms such as film, radio, comics, theater, literature and more. Note that this analysis is very different from the encyclopedic approach. According to the site itself, you "can probably gain more info on the what of (for example) Star Trek from [Wikipedia] than you can from actually watching the show, and that's nice. Here? Here, you can get a glimmering of why the show is like that." Fascinating stuff — to me, anyhow. Your mileage may vary.
In recognition of the fact that interests vary, I've compiled a further listing of wikis that may be interesting to other people — perhaps one of them will be interesting to you.
- For those who are interested in the U.S. political process, OpenCongress Wiki, Ballotpedia & Judgepedia may be worth a look.
- SourceWatch, run by the Center for Media and Democracy, "aims to produce a directory of public relations firms, think tanks, industry-funded organizations and industry-friendly experts that work to influence public opinion and public policy on behalf of corporations, governments and special interest groups." (See also CoalSwarm, a sub-project.)
- I hesitate to post a link to Metapedia. It's a multilingual white nationalist and white supremacist, extreme right-wing encyclopedia. The perspective represented here is morally repugnant to me personally, and I expect to the Xavier community as well. And yet, I think access to this site presents obvious educational possibilities for creative teachers interested in history, politics, race relations, ethics and morality — to say nothing of critical thinking.
- Given Xavier's stake in the life sciences, the following may be useful: MedPedia is an open access online medical wiki encyclopedia, and MetaBase is a user-contributed database of biological databases.
- NotePub is an online notepad. You can write private, public, and shared notes. Extremely simple, easy-to-use and possibly quite handy.
- OpenStreetMap is quite impressive. Compare to Google Maps, but note this is published under the Open Database License. I think this is more of a tool for web developers to build upon but the potential is inspiring.
- Scholarpedia is kind of like an open access online journal in a wiki format. The articles are written by invited expert authors and are subject to peer review.
- Uncyclopedia & Encyclopedia Dramatica are satirical. The former is a direct parody of Wikipedia and feels a bit safe, while the latter is focused more on net culture and is not for the faint of heart.
- Wikitravel is a travel guide. Nuff said.
- Sensei's Library is a wiki about the game Go. It may be the most extensive Go resource on the web.
- Wookieepedia is an example of a fannish wiki. It's all about Star Wars, not just the movie but every aspect of the franchise. Any popular culture phenomenon with a dedicated cult is likely fodder for a wiki. I cite Wookieepedia because it's one of the biggest and most popular of such wikis, and provides an excellent example of the form.
- If you don't find any of the above even vaguely interesting, then Meatball Wiki is surely not for you. It's a wiki about wikis. Not a mere list of extant wikis, it "contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design. Yet it also philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity, not to mention detailing user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution."
If you're interested in learning more about using wikis, let me know. I'm happy to work with you. And don't forget to come to our workshop.