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Wikis as political organising tools

We've blogged on occasion about Web 2.0 platforms -- or if that's too esoterical for you : about doing stuff online rather than offline. This is an example -- this blog you are reading.
I utilize a few online web based platforms on a more or less daily basis:
Facebook -- Wikispaces -- Gmail -- GReader --GoogleCalendar --Google Docs-- YouTube.... and all the rest
I'm an online web based junkie.

While a lot of the time my empirical investigations of these platforms come to naught. I nonetheless become more savvy as time goes on with what's on offer and what may be each platform's likely political application.

On the top of my list of preferences has to be blogs and blogging. And soon after comes a lot of the new multimedia platforms I use which integrate with blogging so easily: YouTube, Blip TV, Flickr, Picasa,Flickr, etc. such that they have been for me, an extension of blogging.

But as the song asks, Is that all there is?

Given that so many start-ups had been trying to grab a web market niche with new bells and whistles platforms these last five years it is a challenge to sift through all the latest on offer, such that you can get dazzled by the offerings. I'm sure I'm thought of as being something like a child in candy shop and my enthusiasms may seem impulsive and maybe over the top.

No matter -- I value the chase and the hunt. 'Tis a hobby.

In the Socialist Alliance there's a gradual, albeit hesitant, take up of blogging which I think will bear greater fruit over the next year as skills increase. Once comrades have learnt how to open an account and write their comments inside edit windows then such a skilling up (exactly the same as running an email program) raises the prospect of other online options. Especially once the logic of WYSIWYG editing sinks in -- What You See Is What You Get is seen for what it is.

Alliance Voices is now published online via a blog platform and each 'post' is linked to inside a generally circulated email message.

Wikis

The SA has begun a fragmented journey into exploring wikis and the Socialist Alliance Wiki is a national version of an exercise that is also being harnessed in some localities. We use wikis to file share and to collectively edit documents,. such as policy statements(eg)and charters (eg).

There's a lot to be said for this approach in a country as big as Australia and with a membership as geographically spread and separate as the Alliance's. Comrades are nonetheless still frightened of wikis and don't 'get it' yet.

There's also a knee jerk bias which presumes that such activities should be left up to specialists or nerds -- and really it's too time consuming to relate to.

In the case of wikis -- that attitude is not shared in schools, corporations, community clubs, non profits, and the like who have taken to wikis big time. Wikis may have been around since Ward Cunningham invented them in 1994 with the working title WikiWikiWeb (wiki means quick in Hawaiian) but it has taken until the last 2 years for wikis to really take off.

And this brings me back to the here and now challenge that wikis offers us in way of utility.

While blogs, in my view, are reach out and communication tools with a generic organising potential, wikis are collaborative tools with as much collaboration available as you want to share or participate in . This prospect hasn't dawned within the left at all which seems still caught up in egroup discussions as the primary exchange platform ( supplementing email) and individual two way email exchanges. The left's use of email has skyrocketed such that your ordinary everyday activist is drowning in egroup generated emails as though this is the apex of access and participation.

We reached overload some time back.

Nonetheless it is almost Utopian to think that we can then shift to a motley array of other platforms to take up the slack and get our left business back online and on track. The take up, for the moment, is not confident enough for that.

Can wikis fill the niche?

So the question for me is: can wikis fill this niche? Can they deliver what we can make darn good use of?

I think they can.

I've been exploring a lot of platforms in cloud land. and I guess the most interesting option that I thought suited the habits of political organizing was Google Docs.
Google Docs is a free, Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, and form application offered by Google. It allows users to create and edit documents online while collaborating in real-time with other users.
But Google Docs is cumbersome to use compared to a wiki like a wikispaces wiki.Some wikis are harder to use than others but Wikispaces (and I've been using Wikispaces for almost 4 years now) is, if anything, getting easier and more user friendly.

With a pitch aimed at the US school system, wikispaces are as self evident as a walk down Sesame Street and they offer a kick arse free account. I like it so much that I've had a $50/year paying account one for 2 years.

After playing around with Google Docs for over a year and using them for the odd bit of collaborative organising , without much enthusiasm being fostered on my part, it has struck me that I'm greatly under using the resources on offer at Wikispaces. So I'm going to now focus on wikis as the main game and key challenge in Web 2.0 land. Google Docs may offer a lot of appealing bits and pieces, but the platform is so cumbersome to use. Cloud Computing may make sense but if the Google Gorilla is to control our access then its going to a warped exercise.

So the main game has to be to prove -- or at least explore much more aggressively-- the utility of a wiki. For my part, I'm now tweaking my existence by converting a wiki into my own personal wiki.
Methinks: The element I'm looking for is a wiki that can help pull together all my various web engagements such that they're on the same page (as it were) -- the same web locale -- that was both accessible to others as well as considerate of my own personal and not so public activities. While Wikispaces has enough of the widget option to pull a lot of what I want together for more general political use, I'd want to customize the permissions for each page. For that level of managemnt I'd need to advance to their "Super" plan which is $US20/month.For general political purposes that would be the best option.As a sponatneous use of wrds I've begun to call this aspect of wikis, "hubbing" (as in hub -- the central part of a wheel.)
File sharing via wikis is beginning to occur more often in my left milieu. While collaborative text editing has begun I think if we can make it de rigueur standard operating procedure then we can free ourselves up from the brutalizing tooing and froing that is fostered by any number of ab hoc editorial committees. Nonetheless, the left understandably is still being held hostage to hard copy and the containment paradigm of the printed A4 half A4, brochure or broadsheet...and the constraints of the pdf file which is not editable, and so seldom viewable,online.



As for other matters.
  • We'd discussed web conferencing here before and the consequence of that seem to be that Skype -- which now offers an extended room option (to 20 online at one time) with a swathe of add ons -- is way ahead of other more complicated options like DimDim.Skype also offers excellent audio quality as any good podcaster knows (Skype is the basis of many interviews done on LatinRadical).
  • If you need to catch up with wikis and want to find out more about the platform, you can start by checking out the information available on wikis on The Activist Toolkit (which is itself a wiki)

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