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<entry-title>Wiki is better than email</entry-title>

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

short URL

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.

  • signal-to-noise scaling. Not everyone is interested in every issue on every format (feature, topic, etc.).
  • efficiency: reading current state vs deltas. You can read one wiki page to get the status/thread of an issue whereas with emails you often have to read thru numerous emails (and threads) and apply them like deltas/diffs in your head to understand where an issue etc. ended up.
  • search/discoverability. search for the web/wikis works much better in practice than searching mailing lists (web search of email archives has no thread-smarts for example).
  • public domain. Wiki contributions are required public domain, while in email there is no UI to enforce this, thus email should be use only "informatively" for notifications and never for capturing material of any substance.
  • tradition. microformats have been documented on a wiki since their inception, as a result the wiki is the definitive resource for all matters microformats; not any of the mailing lists. The community has had a longstanding tradition preferring use of the wiki for content over email. We realize this is fairly novel for a standards community, as most standards communities are email-centric (e.g. W3C, IETF). However, for all the above reasons we believe using wikis for content is far superior to email and thus hope that other standards communities shift more of their activities to being web/wiki-based rather than email lists. See #historical_note for more on this.

additional documentation

  • See the book for more details and explanations on how wikis are more efficient than email for a variety of workflows.
  • This picture helps illustrate one of many scenarios - and though we are not sending word documents, the point is, that iterating content through email is far less efficient than iterating content on a wiki:


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. #microformats on freenode 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).

  • Different opinions should be captured on the wiki, not just consensus. If you only capture consensus, then others with different opinions that come along later will simply restate those different opinions and then the community will waste time arguing the same arguments again. IRC/Email is insufficient for discussion.
  • Consensus should arise from expression of opinions on the wiki via +1/0/-1 subpoints. If you only capture +1/0/-1 opinions in email, those discussions are inevitably lost in email archives, difficult to find, and difficult to show that consensus actually occured.
  • People can communicate informally using whatever method works for them. Formal issue capturing/discussion/resolution takes place on the wiki.
  • In order to actually keep a community a community, we have to converge on certain methods and practices. Issue capturing, discussion, and resolution is one such practice, and doing so on the wiki provides better community memory and continuity.

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)

  • If a simple search of the wiki fails to quickly reveal an answer to an issue, then ask in the #microformats on freenode channel or on an email list as noted in the previous FAQ.
  • Responses to such queries should include URLs to answers on the wiki, hopefully with improved discoverability to increase findability of similar issues in the future.

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.

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).

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)

  • If you do not have time to be on IRC or want an asynchronous method of communication, you may check the #microformats on freenode archives at your convenience.

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)

  • If you prefer to do your communication in batches, simply check the #microformats on freenode archives, write up simple short follow-ups with references to specific IRC archive permalinks, and paste them into IRC at your convenience.

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)

  • You can check the #microformats on freenode archives, since the last time you checked the IRC archives, and thus make sure that you don't miss anything without having to be on IRC at all times.

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:

  • does a revert without any explanation or follow-up explanatory edit, or
  • undoes a revert without any follow-up to an explanation, or
  • simply repeats an edit, ignoring previous edit explanations

Please contact one or more of the microformats 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.

how is the wiki better for controversial issues

How is the wiki better for controversial issues?

  • All issues, whether controversial or not, are better captured on a wiki for future documentation, with permalinks to reduce the probability that the same issue is re-raised (since the previous issue and resolution can be easily referenced by permalink, and often better discovered by search.)
  • If it seems like differences of opinion on an issue are unresolvable, then a wiki can serve to summarize opinions one way or the other (via +1 / -1 / 0 {username} surveys) so that at least the controversy can be recorded rather than incessant "email-ping-pong" where emails simply just go back and forth and no progress is made.
  • In comparison, e-mail does not allow for broad consensus, only the illusion thereof. The problem is that the overwhelming amount of email noise (on issues or formats they may not be interested in) typically results in people simply paying less attention and eventually leaving the mailing lists. Absence of response is not an indicator of agreement or certainly not consensus. Much better to capture the actual issues/responses/opinions on the wiki and not flood the mailing lists.

how is the microformats community different from previous standards communities

How is the microformats community different from previous standards communities?

  • The microformats community started with the wiki as central practice, and other methods (including IRC) as merely notification or for very brief discussions that if meaningful were captured on the wiki.
  • In comparison the email-centric discussions in other standards communities (e.g. W3C, IETF) has long been overwhelmed by trolls and other bad actors (e.g. www-style and www-html mailing lists) thus significantly reducing both the utility of such lists, and the desire for people of any level of expertise to actually attempt to participate.

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.

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:

  • Wikis show-up much better in web searches than email (or IRC) archives, and web searching is how most people find and see most things on the web.

Problems with other methods:

  • Very few see content on email lists (or even IRC or Twitter) after a week. Due to poor search indexing, (or in the case of Twitter, none after 5 days), such discussion content is effectively dead and unfindable.

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, #microformats on freenode 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, simpler it first.

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 microformats 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 Lists 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 1.0: Extensible Open XHTML Outlines, hCard 1.0, hCalendar 1.0 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