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A Measure of Wiki Success

What does success look like? In contemplating this question, I was rather stunned by the realization that I have very little professional experience to inform my answer. In theory I “collaborate� with others everyday yet neither my teammates nor clients rarely—if ever—pose that question. Given my inexperience, I found the ideas presented in this week’s readings very helpful. The way Brown et al. structure the question of defining success is very constructive. Morville and Rosenfeld offer many specific indicators of quality and pose important ethical questions. Together, they comprise an effective framework with which to measure the success of collaborative projects like the wiki we’re creating for this class.

In their book, Managing Virtual Teams, Brown et al., frame the issue of success by asking “Why are you doing this project?� and “What will be different when you finish the project successfully (Managing 2007 pg. 99)?� Both these questions ask about the purpose of our project: to provide the public with a comprehensive, informative site that focuses on scientific and technical aspects of the bridge collapse. (Thank you Krista for providing the purpose statement!) In addition, everyone probably has academic or personal reasons for taking this class that are also important measures of success but which can be evaluated individually. In my case, for example, I am taking this class to advance my career.

While the first question is more general, the second question leads to specific answers and terms of success. Applied to our class project, my answers would be:
• there will be a new, and hopefully unique, wiki about the scientific and technical aspects of the bridge collapse;
• the wiki will meet our stated goal of being a media-rich site containing original, well-researched text, and direct links to primary resources and media.
Academically and personally, I will have learned about emerging technology by using Web 2.0 applications to participate in the class, write about our reading, and collaborate on the creation of a wiki.

These answers include broad, qualitative terms such as “comprehensive,� “well-researched,� and “media-rich� that are easier to evaluate when they are redefined in more precise and measurable terms. Some of this work is already done:
• “Comprehensive� refers to the breadth of the wiki’s content. The content of our wiki will include the twelve topics we will research individually.
• “Well-researched� could be defined by the same general standards applicable to all University writing and research.
• “Media-rich� implies a mixture of content in various media including video, audio, still images as well as text.

“Informative� is another qualitative aspect that Morville and Rosenfeld suggest many specific ways to define and measure. Applying their principles of good information architecture to our wiki will lay the foundation for an informative site. They discuss various methods of organizing content but argue that good information systems have a cohesive organizational scheme and a structure that enables the user to form a quick “mental map� of the site (Information 2007 pg. 69).

The authors argue that organizational schemes based on topics are most cohesive. Logic is the primary advantage of topical organizational schemes. Topical organization “ … defines the shared characteristics of content items and suggests logical groupings of items (Information 2007 pg. 58).� Topical schemes also define the “universe of content� encompassed by a site, giving users a good idea of what they will find there (Information 2007 pg. 63).

Morville and Rosenfeld recommend top-down organizational structures because they aid users in forming a mental map of a site. Top-down structures anticipate the most likely questions of users including: where am I, what’s important and unique about this site, how do I get around this site, how do I search for what I want, what’s available on this site, what’s happening on this site, and where is the contact information (Information 2007 pg. 44). The top-down structure has the additional advantage of being more familiar to users and simpler to use than systems structured from the bottom-up.

Other characteristics of good organizational structure identified by Morville and Rosenfeld involve taxonomy design and labeling. In their view, the most effective taxonomies are hierarchically structured with content organized in discrete or mutually exclusive categories (Information 2007 pg. 70). Well-designed taxonomies also strike a good balance between exclusivity and inclusivity, the amount of cross-referencing and the breadth and depth of the site (Information 2007 pg. 70). Good labeling systems have the following important characteristics:
• representative of the content they link to or precede
• consistent style, syntax, specificity, comprehensiveness, presentation
• differentiating
• user-centric
• contextual, i.e., meets the user’s expectations not personal associations
• narrow in scope (Information 2007 pg. 98–100)

Finally, I think another important measure of success involves addressing several ethical issues. First, we need to make our site accessible to people with differing physical abilities. Secondly, although our content will not focus on social aspects, I think that in general, our treatment of the subject must be dignified out of respect for those who were injured physically and emotionally by the bridge collapse.

This seems like a daunting list! At the same time, breaking success down into specific indicators makes success seem by far more attainable than lofty-sounding but vague goals. I look forward to applying these new ideas to both the wiki project and my own job.


Sources
Brown, Katherine M., Huettner, Brenda, James-Tanny, Char. Managing Virtual Teams: Getting the Most from Wikis, Blogs, and Other Collaborative Tools. Wordware Publishing, 2007.

Morville, Peter and Rosenfeld, Louis. Information Architecture for the World Wide Web. O’Reilly, 2007.

Comments

Sara, for someone who told me they were not very adept at this stuff sure knows what they are talking about. Maybe the Graphic Arts degree was a good start, you sure do seem to be catching on pretty darn fast. The Wiki thing is still a little fresh for me. I think I will read it again, but what you said about it will help me focus on certain aspects, I appreciate that. I also think informative is a good classification. Anyway, keep your tail wagging and I might just do that video yet.

Hello Sara, thanks for the comment on my post. With your post, you totally used "it words" such as:
"comprehensive"
"well-researched"
"media-rich"
"informative"

When I say "it words", I totally mean words that are it--not sure how to explain--but how about with a "Yes! Yes! Yes!" Those words are plain everyday words but totally hit the spot with what our website should be: comprehensive, well-researched, media-rich, and informative.