NotesTowardsARhetoricOfWikis > Introduction

New writing spaces require new rhetorics. This presentation is a set of notes (based on rather staid and conventional contemporary rhetoric) sketching out what a rhetoric of wiki might address. Think of it as a ToDo list.

It's an attempt to be practical, and so grows from observation of practice - my own, by writers on wikis I've used in teaching writing, and (for a great portion) the writers of the original wiki, known as the Portland Pattern Repository or WardsWiki?, or c2. []. The front-line wiki writers / designers on WardsWiki? have developed conceptions, means, and conventions for writing on wiki, and they continue to debate issues about writing and about the place of wikis of interest to teachers and rhetoricians.
Writing in a wiki means revisiting the processes and decisions and choices we make writing for paper. Writers need to unlearn, relearn, or adapt hard won practices from paper. This presentation is a look at a start of this change, focused on the composing process as it has been adapted to wiki.

Starting points

By virtue of being open and on the Web, and by virtue of the design as "the simplest database that can be implemented" (Leuf and Cunningham), wikis encourage and support a dialogical, collaborative, essayistic or associative rhetoric over a monological, thesis/support rhetoric. The openness of the wiki makes it difficult to lock it down to a final, authorative, complete, single-voiced version.

topical - that is, written and structured by /TopicalWriting? spaces (Bolter)
Writing on a wiki is linked topical writing. That is, writers have to create topics - named spaces in which to write - which are linked together or otherwise structured, and structured more ways than linear order. On a wiki, we don't write in just words, sentences, paragraph, parts, but collect those units into topics and arrange those topics in various ways. The topic - the node, the space, the lexia - that's created when a writer creates a WikiWord? is not the same as any other unit of compostion. /TopicNaming? begins to address the rhetorical and compositional issues.

dialogic / dialectical - and so structured to essay, for counterpoint, for heteroglossia, for rhetorical dialogue: for collaboration

collaborative - open to multiple, returning contributers, and so written to invite collaboration and /SupportingCollaboration

in flux - the state of the text, the state of knowledge, by its nature of being online and being so easy to work with.
Wiki writing - by its nature of being online and being so easy to work with - is always in flux. We used to make this claim about writing with word processors. But word processed text typcially led to fixity in paper; so while the text was in flux on the way to print, writers aimed at fixity. The wiki changes that.
public - inviting all comers, and taking place in a public space

webbed - that is, part of the larger web of pages and sites
But that a wiki supports dialogic, collaborative, essayistic writing doesn't mean that it directs writing that way, or that it provides any control of it. Direction and control come from the writers.

And so the need for a rhetoric of wiki: to provide ways of thinking about writing a wiki, and to guide practices. At its most general level,
A rhetoric of wiki will address how to use the resources and constraints of the wiki to support composition.

this presenation

This presentation is a first move in this direction: a set of observations and reiterations from a comp/rhet perspective on how wiki seems to be written.

My main interest at the moment unapologetically pragmatic. I'm working with students who are learning to write on a wiki, so I'm asking myself

a main theme: rhetoric from within

Curiously enough (but who would have expected otherwise?) part of the wiki is set aside to address the rhetoric of the wiki. Writers on the wiki create or develop style and page guides, and how to proceed is discussed on the wiki itself. Wiki goes meta - almost naturally. I address this more when I discuss /ComposingProcessesEvolveFromInside.

another main theme: the states of knowledge

As I worked through these notes, the changing state of knowledge on the wiki piqued my interest. Knowledge on a wiki (at least WardsWiki?) is created by consensus via refactoring. What I discovered (on this first pass) is that wiki writers develop means of stabilizing knowledge on wiki pages (by refactoring, by placing it above and below the double line), while at the same time keeping knowledge open to further development and evolution.
A rhetoric of wiki will help writers control this movement, providing strategies for both stabilizing and destabilizing as writers move toward consensus.

source: Ward's Wiki

My main source for examples and review come from [ The Portland Pattern Repository] also known as WardsWiki?. This is, apparently, the first wiki, designed and implimented by Ward Cunningham in 1995.
Wiki is a composition system, a discussion medium, a repository, a mail system, and a chat room; it's a tool for collaboration. In fact we don't really know what it is, but try it and explore some links - it's a fun way to communicate! The concept may seem quite weird at first, but you will get to love it.

I also draw from [what was at the time, ed] the only book on wikis, The Wiki Way, by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham, Addison-Wesley, 2001.

drawing on Berthoff

As I compiled these notes, I found myself recalling Ann Berthoff's work in Forming / Thinking / Writing. I occasional draw implicitly and explicitly on her model of composing (moving from chaos > order), her terminology, her work on schemata and guides, sentence patterns, listing and classifying; on seeing and seeing again, naming and opposing, specifying and substantiating, opposing and defining.

I see in the rhetorical and compositional difficulties that wiki writers encounter solutions in Berthoff's work.

and Bolter and Storyspace and Tinderbox, and the rest

I offer these notes as a supplement to the rhetorics of hypertext that have developed over the years: rhetorics of linking, typed links, and so on.

Much of the consideration on topics and topical writing many will recognize as originating with Jay Bolter in Writing Space.

I have used Storyspace and Tinderbox to write, and still do. I use a variety of electronic notebooks and outliners. I keep a weblog. I have written much of a book chapter on a Palm. I keep looking for the perfect writing tool - even more pressing as my handwriting is failing.

But I find that I prefer writing with wiki technology (the WikiWord? node and link creation, the minimalist coding, the minimalist page layout, the need to create navigation...). The wiki script I use - UseMod? - is one of the most minimal. I find this technology heuristic without getting in the way of generating and revising prose.

I would differentiate wiki rhetoric from [ Blog Rhetoric]. Both are electronic writing spaces, but they engage very different rhetorics. They are so different that designers and writers discuss synthesizing the two spaces. See [ Wiki and Blog]
[ What is a wiki] [ Virtues of Wiki: Singing the praise electric]
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