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Building community


How can we help our wiki become successful? How can we maintain and build a community around our wiki?

Visualize your community

Set up enough1 pages to establish a core upon which people can build. If you want everyone in a location to participate try to set up some seed pages that will catch the interest of early adopters in each sector of the community. If you focus exclusively on bars and nightspots at the beginning, you will be less likely to attract a broad range of users than if you seed out a variety of interests.

This process will help you define what you are trying to achieve, and in doing so it will also help you establish the metrics by which you will judge the eventual success of the wiki you initiate.


Set up enough2 pages to establish a core upon which people can build. If you want everyone in a location to participate try to set up some seed pages that will catch the interest of early adopters in each sector of the community. If you focus exclusively on bars and nightspots at the beginning, you will be less likely to attract a broad range of users than if you seed out a variety of interests.

For an interest wiki you might start with what you know about the subject and provide some organization for that material.


Start with your early adopters. These are the people who will help expand your core. For a location-based wiki start with a few of your friends; for an interest based wiki start with your existing interest group or contacts. You can also use the existing Wiki Spot community to help you get your wiki off the ground (a good supply of wiki gnomes).

Then work to flesh out your user community to increase the breadth of representation. This can be a slow process. Location-based wikis can take advantage of existing media to spread the word of their existence (e.g. fliers, spray-painted buses, blimps with your wiki's logo on it).

Starting small and "opening up"

For many wikis, opening up to the general public too early can create misconceptions and dampen the excitement of editors. When someone who's not been involved in your wiki checks it out, she will form impressions about your wiki. These impressions might make her not want to contribute — after all, there might not be much there, or much that she is interested in. This means the core group of editors you start out with will have to keep working to build interesting material, despite the fact others will visit and "walk away," so to speak.

For some, opening up a wiki in its extreme infant stages presents no problem — it all depends on the needs of your community and the purpose of your wiki. Opening up in a wiki's early stages can work well as long as the purpose and drive of the community is there from the start.

A good read on some more of this seeding process can be found [meatball]here.

Ongoing Guidance and Growth

Act as a member of the community that you visualize. You can and perhaps should lead, but if you do then it's better to lead by example than to give orders. Trying to establish too much authority will not result in a healthy community. Remember, wiki works because everyone is an editor, and it is best if everyone feels like they are an important and co-equal part of a community.

Sometimes taking the time to clearly explain your actions and the reasons you have for making them can help convey this to other editors. You can do this either by commenting in the "Please comment about this change:" area when you edit a page, or in the edit itself if that is appropriate.

You can always call on the [gnome]Gnomes to come and help out.

Establishing Dispute Resolution

Fostering communal mediation is a good way to turn the direction of the community over to the users. You can choose to use talk pages to resolve nearly every dispute, or you can try to resolve things within a wiki page itself by thoughtful [c2]refactoring. In either case, the important thing is to get individuals to talk out their issues rather than get caught up brutal deletion-reversion cycles.


One of the most common misconceptions about starting a wiki is that you can throw a wiki up on the web and expect it to grow simply out of inertia. Wikis build themselves, but much like any ecosystem, you have to have the right amount of starting material and a dedicated initial base of contributors to get things rolling. If I stumble upon your wiki will I get an idea of what you want to do? Will I find your wiki interesting even if it doesn't have a lot of content on it? All wikis are different, but these should be questions you think about as you begin building your wiki.

No one has to expend their effort to improve a wiki, you want to foster the desire to improve it by caring for it. A well-tended garden doesn't get littered in as often as a poorly-tended one.

General thoughts & opinions

Build something for you & your friends

One strategy that worked well for Davis Wiki, when we were first getting started out, was just building something that our small group of people were happy with — even if the larger community didn't end up using it. We always knew that it would be terrific if more people contributed, but we were really happy just building something simple that we found useful. I think that kind of attitude, at least early on, can really help to build something meaningful. —PhilipNeustrom

I echo the idea that you must build something useful to yourself first—this way even if the wiki isn't growing as quickly as you'd like, you won't be too discouraged and it will continue to remain useful to you. Study what's out there and carve out a niche to fill an unmet need in information. For example, I'm an oncologist, and because there was a severe lack of what I felt were good references, I created a wiki that focuses on [WWW]chemotherapy regimens. There is plenty of other information useful to doctors that is slowly being added, but the focus is always on the core information, the chemotherapy regimens, similar to how Google still focuses most on search/advertising. You need to make sure that you're able to stay dedicated and be a steady contributor to your wiki, so that even if nobody else is contributing during the growth phase, the wiki is not dead. You can't imagine how many unchanged and abandoned medical wikis I've seen; a ghost town is a big red flag to anybody who is thinking about adding content. Consider leveraging whatever social media connections or other websites you've created to help spread the word about your efforts. —Peter Yang

Don't be boring at first

I don't think you have to have more than 300 pages (that's about what Davis Wiki had), and it's certainly true that you don't want to create a bunch of boring framework pages. But you should have something compelling and interesting.

An easy way to do this is to have lots and lots of pictures. This is often easier than writing long articles and is a great way to document landmarks, businesses, events, etc. Most of my favorite pages on Davis Wiki contain photos (i.e., [WWW] and over time these pictures will only become more valuable and interesting as things change and disappear (i.e., [WWW]

My advice would be to focus less on adding businesses (this is too difficult to do with few editors anyway) and instead be creative and flesh out pages like [WWW] With lots of pictures that could be some compelling stuff that no other web site will ever have. Ever get lost and waste a bunch of time clicking around on Wikipedia? But probably not so much on Yelp, right? Zoom in on the quirky stuff that gives your city its character and create a network of fun pages that the user will want to explore once they start reading. When you come up with a unique page, post a prominent link right on the front page. Good luck! —MikeIvanov

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