The architect and the wiki

Piers YoungLife, Thoughts4 Comments

I’m currently trying to get some friends playing around with TikiWiki for a mini-project. They’re all bright but they’re not particularly tech-savvy, and the idea of growing a site, rather than designing everything perfectly at the outset, seems to be filling them with a little dread.

So I wrote them a little story to try to help them “get” the wiki approach. They’ll probably think it’s ridiculous, but hey. Anything to get them going. I’ll let you know how they react. (The story – I think – is a bastardised version of something from Arno Penzias early days but could well be wrong … )

Once upon a time, a young hopeful got an apprenticeship with a famous architect. He turned up at the architect’s practice, and was immediately given some pens, pencils and paper and told to design a house. He stared at the blank sheet for a while, thinking about how to build the perfect house. And then he stared some more.

By the time the famous architect came round that afternoon, the young hopeful – despite all his training – still had a blank page in front of him. He apologised but the famous architect said not to worry, it happened all the time. The famous architect stood next to the young hopeful and asked him to draw the outline of a house, to have the front door going into the toilet, to have the back door going into the hall, to have the stairs going down into the cupboard. And so on. After a while, master and apprentice finished.

“What do you think?” asked the master, and the apprentice was lost for words.

“It’s disastrous,” said the famous architect, “that’s what it is!”.

And at that the young hopeful breathed a sigh of relief.

“How would you improve it?” asked the famous architect.

“Well I’d start by having the front door go into the hall …” answered the young hopeful, and so begun a wonderful career.

The moral of the story (which doesn’t really need saying): it’s better to start with a load of old crap than aim for an idealised version.

Wikis operate on the same principle. Someone puts down something on the site, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad, but it’s there and can be improved by anyone. They do rely, though, on your being confident enough to put the front door in the loo, and able to correct things which you think need improving.

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