If you’re working to make sense of the world (“TheoryBuilding”) with other people, there’s no better tool (today) than wiki.
But the tool alone doesn’t get you there. You could have a hammer, but use it to beat nails from the side. To do it “right,” you’ve got to hit the nail with the hammer in a certain way.
It’s the same with wiki.
We collect here a list of “best practices,” for TheoryBuilding. And we collect here some of the common mistakes people make, as they explore the use of wiki.
… rough draft – still lots to fill in here …
Why is wiki the best tool for TheoryBuilding? – The explanation can be found in the reasoning of critical rationalism: theories talk about the world in the sense of “trial and error”. We can never be sure that a theory is true, we can only check them, compare their statements to observations and put them under critical discussion. We can compare theories and selct the currently best. Wiki is the best tool because it allows to structure and rework complex content and combines that with maximum openness for outside contributions, discussions and criticism.
Short wiki page titles. As opposed to long wiki page titles, which includes “questions as titles”, “polarized link language”, “statements that most people disagree with as titles”, etc.
When building a theory using a wiki, certain topics or ideas turn up again and again.
Sometimes we try to explain it after-the-fact, something like “The particular ideas are the ideas relevant to the topic of the wiki has a whole, which is different for every wiki”.
But in reality, it’s just that the people who write on the wiki don’t always write completely novel and unique text every time. Sometimes they refer to stuff they wrote before, or stuff other writers of that wiki wrote before. Some topics are only mentioned once, some are mentioned a few times, and some mentioned more often. There is always some things that are the most-frequently mentioned. Those topics are (de-facto) what the wiki is “really” about.
In spoken language, we naturally allude to those ideas and topics with some phrase.
Many books write an entire chapter about an idea – chapters with titles that are either questions (“What is a dephlogistonated sprite?”) or titles that are a complete sentence in answer to a question “Dephlogistinated sprites must be destroyed”).
But we never refer to that idea with that sort of title. We say things like
When growing a wiki with the natural, bottom-up process, the best way to pick names is to see what phrases people are already using for an idea in the text of the wiki, and turn that exact phrase into the wiki page title.
Typically people use several slightly different phrases – try to pick out a wiki page title that is “included” in all these phrases (which naturally leads to a very short page name). For example, if people have already mentioned
then the common phrase included in them all is
and so that (singular) name is the best page name for the wiki page about (plural) dephlogistinated sprites.
That makes it very easy for editors to go back to text elsewhere on the wiki that already mentions that idea and convert each phrase mentioning it to a link to the new wiki page.
With a book, you expect that people reading a book will eventually come to a chapter in the middle and read it. Writing a book, you know what order people will read it, so you can define a term before you use that term. Wiki are different. If no one links to a wiki page, then no one will read it. You never know what order people will read a wiki, so you must either re-define a term on every page you use it, or else link to one central definition of that term.
p.s.: Please don’t misunderstand this as saying “Don’t ever do …”. Too often people, after years of reading books and newspaper articles that start with a title or headline, and then go on with the text, are tricked into thinking that’s how they should write – first write the title, and then write the text.
Real book authors and real newspaper article writers never write the title first. In fact, after the main text is written, usually a completely different person decides on a title – and often when “the same” text is printed in multiple places, it is given different titles (for example, “Philosopher’s Stone” vs. “Sorcerer’s Stone”).
So: Feel free to write a rough draft of the text first – either on a fresh new wiki page under a “rough title”, even if it is in the form of a question – or on some pre-existing wiki page. Later move text to a wiki page with a better name. (Perhaps after that, move the text to a wiki page with an even better name).
I wanted to go to sleep, but I thought, “No, … I need to start that page…”
Now I can go to sleep.