I often make a comparison between Bill Gates’ tendency to demo new products without telling us when they’ll be available for purchase and Steve Jobs tendency to tell us that new products from Apple are available “today!” – not so much to be critical, but to illustrate a point about the online world. “Today” is central to the growth of technology because the tools and services you can use today are the ones that will have the greatest immediate impact on your work. They’ll also better prepare you to be agile and adopt the newer, better services available in the future. After my post yesterday, Easton commented to me that, “there’s an important connection between blogs and wikis – both offer incredibly easy publishing capabilities. Smart businesses and smart educators will know how to use both to enhance their offerings.” This is the perfect segue to today’s post, which looks at the distinction between blogs and wikis.
As web communication and collaboration tools evolve, the distinction between them has become subtle at the outset, and greater as the use deepens, like a fork in the road. Blogs and wikis might not seem that different on first glance, because they both enable communication of information by a person or group of people, and provide a platform for feedback. Blogs do it in the form of comments, while wikis do it by letting users directly edit the contents of a given page. This is where the distinction becomes more apparent. For example, businesses are increasingly using wikis to allow users of their products to write documentation, and the result is better, more comprehensive documentation than a product manager or engineer could write. Here are examples from Merlin Systems and Mozilla. A blog wouldn’t work as well for this, because direct editing of pages is necessary for users to alter the same text when correcting errors, improving clarity and flow, and adding new information. A blog would be useful for announcing a new product, and the comments feature would allow people to react to the announcement by posting questions, asking for further details, etc. A wiki wouldn’t work so well here, because the text of the announcement needs to stay stable in order to communicate accurate information to as many people as possible. The same general principle applies to education – blogs are a better communication tool when you want to get information out to people, and want to enable feedback, but keep the original text intact. Wikis are better when you want information to be touched – and enhanced – by as many hands as possible. Attached to my blog is a wiki documenting uses of wiki in education – see if you’re inspired by the ideas already there (many of which apply equally to business), edit them if you like, or contribute new ideas – that’s what technology today is all about!