When you're making a new wiki, a strategy for attracting contribution is to make that wiki a ScratchWiki.

ScratchWiki are wiki that are disorganized, chaotic, and potentially very energetic.

The theory is that people have an easier time posting to a wiki that is ugly, than they have posting to a wiki that is clearly manicured.

It's true that people will be put off by the chaos of the ScratchWiki. A ScratchWiki need not be completely chaotic, and it doesn't have to be gross. But it should be just shabby enough that people don't feel like it's too nice to post to, or to wonder, "Am I posting in the right place?" They invite IncidentalCollaboration.

Once a wiki has regular contribution, and some interesting content, you can think of what to do next. Maybe turn it into a CommunalWiki, maybe make a parallel CommunalWiki, or maybe just keep being a ScratchWiki.


Does the theory work? Does it apply to the reality at hand?

Is there any evidence?

  1. NuPedia and WikiPedia.
  2. Personal introspection of my behavior on wiki.
  3. FOAF, ESW, WardsWiki, …

Item one: NuPedia and WikiPedia

There was a plan at one time- I don't know if it's still in the works- to periodically select Wikipedia content to go through a review process, and become NuPedia content. Once upon a time Wikipedia was a sort of ScratchWiki:

There's a KuroShin article, by LarrySanger- NuPedia & WikiPedia bigwig- where he said, basically, "We tried NuPedia, but it wasn't working. WikiPedia came, and worked astonishingly well, even though it was much lower quality. Now we believe it's right to build content in WikiPedia, and refine it through NuPedia."

That was the original plan. However, it rapidly became clear that Wikipedia was generating high quality articles at a faster rate than the sluggish Nupedia review process could cope with, so Wikipedia forged ahead on its own. And, for a time it was a ScratchWiki in style. Now, it has become progressively more regulated and even ManagedWiki in style, but it seems fair to say it was a ScratchWikiFirst.

Item two: Personal introspection of my behavior on wiki

Now, perhaps I'm just a freak. But-

I've noticed that I behave differently on different wiki.

I've felt the, "Nonono- don't write here! No touch!"

It took a while to notice it, but I started to pay attention to how I responded to different wiki. I started to feel out which wiki seemed to invite touch, and which seemed to have a force field around it.

If there was a clear structure to the wiki, that meant, "Back Off!!" Serious contributors only. You'd've be invited, if you were meant to participate.

If there was sloppiness everywhere, that meant, "C'mon in! Write whatever you like, wherever you like!"

Most likely, it was in between. And depending on how in between it was, that's how in between my ability to post was.

Again, not much in the way of objective evidence. But, maybe you've felt similarly. And, if so, perhaps this article makes some sense to you then.

Anecdotal experience

We've tried this out at the Visual wiki, and it appears to have worked.

It also appears to have worked for WardsWiki, for the FOAF wiki, for ESW, and for a number of other wiki that do just this.

The Appearance of Being Scratch

An important thing, I feel, is to distinguish the appearance of being scratch, from actually being a ScratchWiki.

There are a lot of wiki that are scratch in the minds of the authors there, but that appear to be CommunalWiki.

It may as well be, effectively, a CommunalWiki, since everyone's picking up on unintended subliminal signals. Just because they aren't signaled on purpose, or even though they aren't even desired signals, doesn't mean they aren't signaling out into space. The signals are saying, "This is a CommunalWiki, This is a CommunalWiki, This is a CommunalWiki, …" …even though the authors intend it to be a ScratchWiki.

So, I believe that a wiki needs to take it's appearance into consideration, as it lands itself as a ScratchWiki.

Some ways to shout out "SCRATCH!" are:

But most important, just observe how you respond to other wiki, and think about how people will perceive your wiki.

See Also


I'm tempted to rewrite the page, because the concept has worked, for myself at least..!

The two main examples are IntComm and the Visual wiki.

They've seen use, I think, because people aren't worried that they're putting something in the wrong place, or that they might be breaking something nice, or whatever.

that's definitely true for me. especially IntComm feels very free to me; i can slap a bit of IRC conversation on there to edit later, and not worry that somebody will annoyedly write ShallowPage on top 10 minutes after i've stored the bit. i don't like annoying people. well, only when i do it on purpose. :)

(Murray has turned into a performance artist, i think. grin)

Minor rewrite; There's more to do. I feel weird about the "evidence" section. We have subjective evidence that it works. It sure seems to work to me. Perhaps I want a word that is softer than "evidence."

"Anecdotal evidence" may be what I'm looking for. Still reworking.


Define external redirect: SuggestiveLinking

EditNearLinks: NuPedia WikiEngine LarrySanger WardsWiki AccidentalLinking MeatballWiki IncidentalCollaboration