The Ugly Wiki?

05/01/2003

So the rumour is that Wikis are ugly. Lots of people seem to agree and a good few seem to be cheerfully prepared to engage in the debate. And I’m going to put myself on the line here and say that if any of you were thinking about offering me a job or something and are likely to get cross with me then I’m sorry but I’ve got to do it… Isn’t it obvious that it does not need to be this way? There’s no rulebook that says that Wikis have to look the way they do – no creationist spark of godhood that came down from on high and declared this particular appearance of editable websites the perfect one. This statement – that just because there’s a bit more of a barrier to architecting a ‘prettier’ Wiki means that they are inherently ugly – seems to me to be astonishingly strange. It’s like blaming evolution for someone’s misapplied make-up…

Now I’m not a man who begrudges the visceral / visual aspect of design. I think things should be as beautiful as they are usable. But it’s facile, surely, to compare the functionality and potential utility of two different (and potentially incredibly flexible) products and leave with the conclusion that you just like the prettier one!

“I’ve seen a sneak preview of an edit-this-page type of outliner that Marc Canter is working on, and I like it a lot better. Why? It doesn’t hurt to look at it, mostly. Silly? Maybe. But I know I’m not alone.”

I think there’s a an underlying theme behind a lot of reviews of this kind and it’s a rather old fashioned idea of fixed and stable products. The Wiki is considered a thing that works in a way, rather than a rough accumulation of various versions of the same rough concept – each of which has some benefits and some failings. Each of which could be nothing more than the first stage in a longer and more fruitful path of evolution. Each of which could be stripped down to its core and integrated with other sites – small bits of meme DNA grafted into message-boards or weblogs or even more static editorial pages. There is no product to review with finality- there is no here here (as Gertrude Stein might have been misquoted). So we dig around and we take what we like and we make new things – some will bed down and spread, others will not. Many will be spliced with each other once more…

No doubt in the future – now everyone is looking in their direction – Wikis will be even more flexible (or perhaps less flexible but more powerful or easy to use) than they are today. There are an infinite amount of potential developments – incremental or catastrophic – that we could be discussing. And in the meantime, yes, someone could probably find a way of making them prettier as well. In fact, I hope they do. But while we’re waiting for someone to do that (or doing it ourselves, in fact) – can’t we just try and bring the debate up a notch?