The joy of Wiki


Earlier this year, I started a ‘Shut up and Wiki’ group at our university. It has been running now for over six months.

Many universities, often with researchers working with the Library, are showing their Wiki-friendly faces with wonderful edit-a-thons, Wiki-bombs, Wiki masterclasses, etc. I wanted to get us in on that action.

The initial idea with the group was to have a set time to meet up with like-minded folk (of all stripes and levels: academic, professional, student, profs, whatevs) and run the session like a standard ‘shut up and write’ session but with everyone working on their own Wiki projects, edits, or pages. Because we have a cosy group of stalwarts, the pomodoros don’t really need to be set and we just end up editing and chatting along as we see fit. It works, it’s fun, and we’re building bridges with other institutions around the these kinds of sessions.

Most importantly, we’ve got a great little group together that would otherwise not have come together in this way.

This post is about creating collegial spaces within our institutions, at a time when finding joy in what we do can be a challenge. 

After that grand statement, I have to admit that my motivation for the idea had a selfish side: I wanted to have more chances to edit (and learn more about how to edit) Wikipedia. I stepped down earlier this year from the convenorship of the research network I’d founded. Wanting to keep a hand in with the area, I decided that a manageable sideline would be to enrich and contribute Asian Australian Studies-relevant content to Wiki. So far, I have updated and expanded three entries, made low-level edits on a few more, and restructured and re-wrote one fairly significantly. Despite my best intentions, I only get to the work once a month at the #ShutUpAndWiki sessions.

We have a boss-level Wikipedian at our university, Dr Thomas Shafee, who is a fabulous zealot for the cause (and a lovely, generous person to deal with). Alongside Thomas, I also have my RW buddy Jonathan O’Donnell (who is a person with a deeply embedded geek identity and much experience with Wiki and all things online community) and Lauren Gawne (a researcher at my university who is exactly the kind of generous and savvy colleague you want – exactly). Without this triumvirate of amenable support and expertise on tap, I think I would’ve dabbled, been daunted, and slouched away.

With their help and shared enthusiasm, I now know a lot more – to the extent that I know just how much I don’t know. I have settled into learning slowly (but steadily, I hope).

So, with editing and creating content for Wiki, I’m back to a space where I’m crashing around a bit like a toddler as I’m not very familiar with the Wiki editing interface or the processes that are behind it. It feels strange. I’ve not been as brave as Katherine Firth about learning new skills but if, as she says, it takes about three years to learn a new skill properly, then I’ve got a few more years of leaning on my Wiki-savvy friends and making a lot of mistakes on my own before feeling at all adept. But that’s the thing: I know I can lean on them for a few more years, and have like-minded others lean on me once I know a bit more.

What have I learned from this experience, aside from the Wiki-specific stuff?

Two main things:

  1. If there are people you would like to work with and get to know better, create the opportunity to do so. With the overly full schedules that most people have, making new work friends – or friends more generally – just won’t happen. If you’re waiting for that freed up calendar week where you can drop in non-urgent, curiosity-driven, ‘just because’ meet-ups, chances are that it’ll never happen. Find a project you can work on together, something that can be fun and productive, and forming those relationships have a better chance. Once you’ve started, more chances to build on the fun stuff can happen.
  2. It’s creating these kinds of opportunities and new ways of bringing together people I admire and like that gives me a lot of satisfaction in what I do. It’s what a lot of researchers do all the time: generating momentum for what they’re passionate about. The best thing about smaller initiatives such as #ShutUpAndWiki is that it can come together with no ego competitions, low resource threshold, no stress, and maximum amounts of the good stuff: collegiality, sharing, learning. If you can bring this to your local context and benefit the context, yourself, and a larger cause, why not?

Big thanks to the #ShutUpAndWiki group: Thomas, Lauren, Steven, Clare, and Lise who’s often there in spirit.