What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 128 Stack Exchange communities.

The question title is rhetorical, and I expect most people's opinions will be in between the two extremes presented. Here's a summary of some of the pros and cons of the Community Wiki system as we've come to know it.

This is a big post, so please preface your response with an answer to the following question: Do the benefits outweigh the problems?

Pro

Stereotype: CW posts are for the selfless benefit of the community, don't be a rep whore.

Community Wiki Posts:

  • Encourage community participation -- Community Wiki questions invite the participation of the entire community (those with >100 rep)
  • Improve the overall quality of the site -- They allow for the rapid accumulation and careful vetting of information by many contributors.
  • Allow the best content to be consolidated in threads with many answers -- When a question has a large number of answers (15 or 30), converting the entire thread to community wiki allows the community to participate in improving the content of the question and its answers, so that the best information can 'bubble' to the top.
  • Open edit-prone posts to more help -- When a post has been edited a large number of times, that post can likely benefit from the input of others to improve its quality.
  • Are immune from selfish attachment to rep -- Community Wiki questions, as they are owned by the community at large, do not accumulate rep for an individual, but exist solely for the benefit of the community.
  • Show good faith -- Marking your question as community wiki voluntarily is seen as a sign of good faith, and can improve your post's reception under certain circumstances (such as subjective questions or polls).

Con

Stereotype: The CW system is flawed and easily abused, and we deserve to earn rep for our contributions.

Community Wiki Posts:

  • Deny contributors the reputation they worked for -- Community Wiki posts deny the original poster the ability to accumulate rep, which in some cases can be be seen as unfair.
  • Allow others to edit an individual's posts too soon -- Community Wiki posts force the original poster to allow a large segment of the community to edit their contributions, which may be contrary to their wishes or expectations, particularly when the post is converted by one of the automated mechanisms.
  • Confusingly still award badges -- Community Wiki posts still accumulate badges for their originators, which confuses the issue of whether they are really selfless contributions to the community or not.
  • Punish contributors who improve their posts with many edits -- Posts are forced into community wiki after ~6 edits, which can be seen as unfair by those who are diligent about improving their contributions, and which some have alleged can lead to gaming of the system.
  • Discourage asking questions which are too popular -- Threads are forced into community wiki after a large number of answers, which can be seen as an incentive to ask questions which are just popular enough to gain rep, but not so popular as to get too many answers.
  • Can't be switched back -- The switch to community wiki is permanent, users who unknowingly or accidentally switch their post to CW cannot undo their actions and may be disappointed at their lost opportunity to gain rep.
  • Discourage potential answers -- Some participants feel that having a Community Wiki question discourages potential answers, because answerers can choose to participate instead on questions where they have the possibility of earning reputation.
  • Are demanded by some users when the contributor may not agree -- Some participants feel "bullied" into switching to community wiki mode when they do not agree with the opinions of those who think their post should be voluntarily switched.
  • Are seen as a "free pass" to post useless junk -- Others feel that rather than calling for some content to be marked as CW to gain acceptance, that such content should be disallowed entirely rather than permitted by virtue of being CW.

On that note, should this post be CW? Or is it useless crap that I shouldn't have posted in the first place? :)

share|improve this question
12  
Fatally flawed or vitally useful? Yes. –  Joel Coehoorn Sep 10 '09 at 14:46
4  
So then it's fatally useful? Or is it vitally flawed? Select at least three. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 10 '09 at 15:13
1  
thank you for this. I came to SO after years of working in various wiki communities. Being a generous sort I dutifully marked every single question and answer I made 'community wiki'. Of course I want other people to contribute and make corrections! I then wandered and wondered for some time why I wasn't allowed to play yet, even the paltry 15 rep needed for commenting was out of reach. And then I'd be chastised for answering instead of commenting. It was quite discouraging and I almost gave up. Anyway, is CW useful? Yes, it has it purpose. Wiki? Definitely not. Not in name, not in substance. –  matt wilkie Jul 20 '10 at 8:19
    
I just learned about the edit threshold the hard way. I was working on a problem in my spare time between other problems over a couple of days, and posting improvements as I tweaked my answer. At least I got +8 before it went community wiki, but I feel like I'm being punished for caring about the quality of my work. –  eryksun Feb 20 '11 at 8:43
    
I'm not obsessed with rep, but I can't fathom why edits would trigger this. Editing something repeatedly doesn't necessarily imply one needs community assistance. Certainly if I wanted help, I'd mark it wiki myself. –  eryksun Feb 20 '11 at 8:50
    
@eryk it is now possible for moderators to un-wiki items; flag it for moderator attention and plead your case. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '11 at 8:59

6 Answers 6

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Do the benefits outweigh the problems?

In my opinion? Conditionally... yes.

I think the idea of what wiki should have been has been bastardized.

What Wiki Should Have Been:

"Community wiki" should be rare. If you agree that all questions on the site should be answerable programming questions and not subjective discussion, then where wiki comes into play is that rare situation where the question is answerable... but the answer is built up by group of people.

An example where wiki could work:

I am working on a C#.net team doing A, B, and C. My job is to author a style guide for my team. What should I be sure is include in that style guide?

Since the "answer" will ultimately be a collaborative work, each contributor is, in effect, relinquishing individual ownership of the answers by contributing to a larger body knowledge. That's wiki.

What Wiki Has Become

  • I have a question that would be closed but, if I make it community wiki, I might just squeeze it by.
  • I have an answer that will probably be down-voted, so I will wiki-fy it so it doesn't affect my account.
  • I want my "accept rate" to be higher so, if I don't find an acceptable answer, I'll just make my question community wiki so it isn't "counted."
  • We need a way to disconnect a post from the reputation system, for whatever reason. Too much editing? Wiki. Too many answers? Wiki. User's going to get more reputation than warranted? wiki.

If there needs to be a mechanism where reputation is no longer appropriate, maybe we need another term or mechanism to facilitate that.

Just my opinion.

share|improve this answer
    
So, your point is that... it's misused? It's too widely used? The name is inappropriate? –  Shog9 Sep 10 '09 at 17:38
    
Misused? yes... Too widely used? Yes, wiki used to excuse too many situations that I thought were supposed to be discouraged... Name inappropriate? Ummm, the name inappropriately applied as a "solution" to problems where maybe we need another mechanism. (i.e. Too many edits == wiki, doens't work for me). I don't know if that mechanism might end up with the same behavior as wiki, just applied in different circumstances. That's a different discussion. –  Robert Cartaino Sep 10 '09 at 17:50
3  
I think rcart's point is there's a bit too much overloading of meaning going on in CW. –  Paul Nathan Sep 18 '09 at 16:15
    
Perfect! In special the wrong uses of the wiki, by users and the 'system'. –  Dr Beco Apr 3 '11 at 21:12

Do the benefits outweigh the problems?

I don't think so because:

Pro

  • Encourage community participation -- Allowing participation doesn't mean encourage it.
  • Improve the overall quality of the site -- Answers do that in a better way. Maybe a low rep user is supposed to learn more than write, so quality doesn't come from allowing >100 rep users to edit a post.
  • Allow the best content to be consolidated in threads with many answers -- I can think a way to use this benefit without CW.
  • Open edit-prone posts to more help -- This is really not true. I always edit a lot, to tweak my posts.
  • Are immune from selfish attachment to rep -- And what is the problem with that? I thought rep was an incentive people should like.
  • Show good faith -- You move your answer to another system that do almost the same things of the first, but give you no rep. For me the first time I did it was a sign of my stupidity and ignorance of the system, not good faith. More control is given to answers that can be downvoted that this sign of good faith. Those who has good heart will always try to help, no matter how, and having rep back is just what we mean by "earn". We still can open our questions to edition of many, without losing the rep points. On the contrary, if more edits come, it shows the answer is hot, more points to it.

Con

  • Deny contributors the reputation they worked for -- Basically it. Unfair.
  • Allow others to edit an individual's posts too soon -- Owners must own their contributions. This is a question of rights. Automated mechanisms (or moderators) converting a post to wiki should be revoked from the system. The only option is the owner allowing it. Moderators still can close the question or take other measures to do not allow a rep factory.
  • Confusingly still award badges -- This is the way to go. Not only award badges, but also allow rep gain. Community Wiki should not be about rep or not rep. Should be about editions, favorites, structure of pages, a nice layout, etc., all of them allowing add/sub rep.
  • Punish contributors who improve their posts with many edits -- That is really the worst. So we can't edit our own posts? If we do, the system assumes the post is not valid for more rep? I have no problem the system assuming the post is a wiki. The problem is that it also assume no more points should be given to the owner!
  • Discourage asking questions which are too popular -- I think discouraging too popular questions is a good thing in the site. But there are other tools: moderator closing the question after some time, or as offtopic. Maybe an automatic lock if there are not too many moderators to do the job, until one is avaiable to unlock or close at once. But not moving the topic out of the SO system of rep.
  • Can't be switched back -- Another problem. I think SO is too much controlling. It looks like my government. Sometimes it does not respect the will of the owner, the ultimate proprietary of the information. Although some might argue that once the answer is into the system it is SO propriety, we can also argue that that may be true for some licenses, but if the way SO takes care of information is too much closed, it may make a lot of people to dislike SO and stop writing answers, and find a substitute.
  • Discourage potential answers -- True. That problem will solve if CW makes peace with the possibility of earning reputation.
  • Are demanded by some users when the contributor may not agree -- The contributor is must have the ultimate word about his/her contribution. If SO doesn't like it, the only possible solution is an agreement between the contributor and SO, of a possible deletion, or closing.
  • Are seen as a "free pass" to post useless junk -- no comments.

As for things that should improve, first of all, the contributor must have total control about what it write, if he wants to delete, change to wiki, edit as many times as he wants, etc. SO must aid this task with better tools, and keep the site clean. If a user joins a wiki site, he knows he is writing a wiki. Otherwise, he must be asked if he wants to move his info to another way. Migrating questions from one site to another is also wrong, because you force a user that has nothing to do with the other site to create another account to keep track of the answer he gave in SO! That is absurd! I never saw that in my internet life.

Well, just my personal opinion. Sorry if you do not agree. Besides all that, I still think SO has a lot to offer to its users, mainly those who do not engage in meta-questions and are not too attached. For me, it started as a great open site where I could contribute, and still be in control of what I do. Now I know it is not quite like that, but still, it is good enough. Can be better, though.

Take care, Beco

share|improve this answer

I view this as completed, because

  • We no longer allow users to set the cwiki flag on questions (it can still be set on answers)

  • Community mods can now "undo" automatic community wikification (triggered by too many edits, too many users editing, or too many answers) on a case-by-case basis as necessary. Flag the post for moderator attention and plead your case.

share|improve this answer
3  
I think community wiki should be split into "no single answer" and "no reputation". The wiki part does not apply anymore because everyone can now edit posts. There should be a visible notice before starting to write an answer that there will be no rep for it. It is extremely frustrating every time you visit your profile page to see the number of votes increased on an answer, on which you have spent hours to write, but is worth no rep. –  Hendrik Brummermann Mar 18 '11 at 9:12

I don't see CW threads as being a genuine wiki concept. They just aren't wiki, in the sense that I don't see collaborative editing beyond the norm.

I think their primary practical purpose is, let's have a subjective discussion. IMO, that's OK.

Part of CW's use is to discourage gaming of the rep system, but that's an overload of the wikiness.

For your specific points:


Encourage community participation -- Community Wiki questions invite the participation of the entire community (those with >100 rep)

So more people can join in the edit wars? Also, CW doesn'thave an edit history. This is a terrible change: there's no way to revert to a correct answer. It's like degrading from a version control system. We all know that's bad, m'kay? Hmmmm. Either I'm dumb(always a realistic option), or this was a bug that had crept in.


Allow the best content to be consolidated in threads with many answers -- When a question has a large number of answers (15 or 30), converting the entire thread to community wiki allows the community to participate in improving the content of the question and its answers, so that the best information can 'bubble' to the top. I am not sure if I've seen many cases of friendly community editing community. People seem to respect the original author of both answers and questions. The only real positive other-editing I've seen is grammar/spelling/formatting fix, but not changes of substance.


Punish contributors who improve their posts with many edits -- Posts are forced into community wiki after ~6 edits, which can be seen as unfair by those who are diligent about improving their contributions, and which some have alleged can lead to gaming of the system. I think this is a case of adjust the parameter. After 15 edits...something's fishy in Kansas, and it's probably not the ocean.


Discourage asking questions which are too popular -- Threads are forced into community wiki after a large number of answers, which can be seen as an incentive to ask questions which are just popular enough to gain rep, but not so popular as to get too many answers. I'm not sharp enough to ask uber-popular questions, but I can see how this would provide a motivational drag.


Discourage potential answers -- Some participants feel that having a Community Wiki question discourages potential answers, because answerers can choose to participate instead on questions where they have the possibility of earning reputation. Spot-on. I like my rep, and the questions I'm reasonably decent at answering often are the more "it depends" answers. Hmmm.


share|improve this answer
    
Since when does CW not have an edit history? –  mmyers Sep 18 '09 at 16:40
    
In the last week or so it seems. :-/ –  Paul Nathan Sep 18 '09 at 16:53
2  
CW has an edit history, you guys are on crack cocaine –  Jeff Atwood Sep 18 '09 at 20:23
    
It's good crack though. –  Paul Nathan Sep 18 '09 at 21:24

I'll take the extreme position of fatally flawed and needs to go away. While the intent was good, it's become quite apparent that the "Tragedy of the Commons" has taken hold. Time to cut it off before it infects the remainder of the site.

share|improve this answer
    
Okay, I'll bite. The Tragedy of the Commons is a warning about the unbounded shared use of a limited resource. What is the limited resource in this case? –  ベレアー アダム Sep 18 '09 at 17:07
    
@Adam: that's also my question. –  Paul Nathan Sep 18 '09 at 17:10
2  
The limited resource is my (our?) time to scan through all the CW cruft to find the items that are actually useful. –  Brian Knoblauch Sep 18 '09 at 17:38
1  
@Brian: Gotcha. So you're saying the existence of CW dilutes the overall quality of content on the site, that it's mostly noise. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 23 '09 at 13:26
    
@Adam: Correct, that's what I was attempting to convey. :-) –  Brian Knoblauch Sep 23 '09 at 14:56

Do the benefits outweigh the problems?

Yes.

I still consider the primary feature of the SO sites to be the ability of any community member (with sufficient rep) to edit other people's posts. CW opens this up to more users. That alone is enough to justify its existence.

On that note, should this post be CW? Or is it useless crap that I shouldn't have posted in the first place?

Well... Pretty sure it rehashes some stuff from the old CW FAQ that should never have been in the CW FAQ. So that's good. Make enough of it redundant, and we can just delete it.

share|improve this answer
4  
Well of course you would think that. We had to go through 8 previous Shog revisions before you, and so you yourself are CW. –  ベレアー アダム Sep 10 '09 at 16:52
    
yeah but it takes 10 owner edits to force cwiki. At least it has for quite a while... –  Jeff Atwood Mar 18 '11 at 9:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .