This page is to help wiki administrators consider the subtle configurations of software and how it may incline users toward certain types of interactions.

Here is a concept hierarchy

First: Object Affordances

The concept of object affordances (WhatIsAffordance) helps us talk about the attributes of an object that prefer or discourage certain kinds of use by its properties - as revealed through interaction and activity. Perceptual psychologists research how we perceive what affordances objects have. (see Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, ISBN: 0898599598) We can use this concept to help us design better for certain kinds of use. This idea was developed further by The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, ISBN: 0465067107.

While this is not an example from the book, it is a good illustration:

Take for example, a park bench affords a person to lay their body on it. Now, you may notice in some large western cities that park benches are being replaced by types of bars which now only afford a kind of leaning, and do not afford laying down on. So, in this way city planners are changing the affordances of a park bench and public space by the designs.

Second: SocialAffordances on a wiki

Since Gibson’s original idea, software designers who create tools for communication and group interaction have come to speak of SocialAffordance. This expands the concept of designing affordances to the development of software, and how it can afford certain types of interaction.

The platonic concept of Wiki technology is that it affords easy editing, and affords easy roll-backs. Depending on DegreesOfEditorialControl, this could mean that groups could use this to allow for anyone in a team or even the public to edit any document.

Yet, depending on the configurations of any iteration of wiki software, different kinds of social affordances reveal themselves. You’ll see in the examples below, that subtle interactions are made available through aspects of the interface.

This can help the community or group in several ways:

Examples of designing for affordances on a wiki

This is not an exhaustive list, but two illustrative examples which wiki developers can consider.

Managing discussions

Here on CommunityWiki, there is a policy of turn-based-thread-mode. (See more on TurnBasedVsInterruptedThreadMode)

The use of the [new::] (see DenotingAuthor) allows for a discussion to develop in the turn-based-thread-mode. Alternating colours separate out new submissions. If a wiki wanted to prefer an interrupted-thread-mode, they might not want to use this feature.


Recording and announcing in RecentChanges

RecentChanges in some wiki software allows contributors to note a ‘summary’ when a change is made to a document and sometimes, whether the change is minor.


This can help others in the group by calling their attention to something, or help them decide whether or not they should check this change. Also, since it happens as an addendum to the document, it can be temporary and casual.

Additionally this could help model behaviour for newcomers. Sometimes the content of the page changes considerably - and the Summary note appearing in RecentChanges can be the only way to understand the big change. For example, when pages are deleted, notes can be made; or when pages are refactored or moved, this can also be noted.

Some wiki software does not allow for summary, for example Kwiki and PmWiki. If a wiki community developer thinks this might be useful they might consider this when choosing wiki software.


Another point of affordance is the links in a page’s header/footer. C2 has no quick-links to any RecentChanges activity; IMO, it turns the RecentChanges into a starting-point for old hands, not a communal point for newbies. C2 also fails to afford a consistent introduction to newcomers, since the only consistent links are page-wise tools and a search function, not a link to any intro text.

In contrast, Meatball has 5 fixed points-of-reference for every page: the front page introduces, and the RecentChanges adds life. (The presence of edit summaries, absent from C2, afford small conversations and other indications of life that are also absent from C2’s RC, and provide a bit more life and sparkle.)

CommunityWiki is a bit confused, with seven fixed links, none of them ideal for newcomers. Two of them, “RSS” and “TXT”, don’t even describe their function (alternative RC formats suitable for aggregators and robots). The two varying links may not even link to existing pages; perhaps such prominent links to “make me” pages afford newcomers to vandalise the namespace with junk ‘blog pages.

Not up to putting this text anywhere organised, so made this discussion section.

That’s okay, we can sort it out. Discussion works well.

I think those are great points. I might focus on the question of linking to RecentChanges. Wiki:RecentChanges

Especially as something as simple as the fact that c2 has no link to RecentChanges. I thought that was them trying to be purposely obtuse, you think?

C2 is the canonical wiki, but yes, it’s very confusing. I’d like to get some screen shots of the points you make. (from C2 and meatball) I need to inquire about copyright and fair use (ug, any advice alex?)

I’d claim it is FairUse.

You could Greek the text as well. – SunirShah

I could greek the text (name and title) for the recent changes example, but I think greeking the text would lose meaning in the conversation about thread discussions… is that what you mean?

Some very good notes on what we call here wiki affordances: and


EditNearLinks: PmWiki FairUse SunirShah