Brian Lamb has a great article on wikis in academia in EDUCAUSE Review. I didn’t interview for the piece (would have shared how academic communities in Stanford [our very first customer], Berkeley, USC and others are using Socialtext with our discounted academic and non-profit pricing), but Brian more than did his homework and sources from some of the better posts at Many-to-Many by Clay, Liz and myself. He even ends the piece with this:
Please, grant me the serenity to accept the pages I cannot edit,
The courage to edit the pages I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference
—The Wiki Prayer
The actual serenity prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr is used in every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I raise this point to tie issues of privacy and anonymity in wikis. Back when Socialtext started, our hard security approach caused a stir with some on Meatball, although Workspaces can be easily made public or private, something Brian covers:
Many wiki systems employ more structured architectures than Cunningham’s WikiWikiWeb and feature password protection, private spaces, IP banning, and other “hard security” measures. Socialtext (http://www.socialtext.com/), an “enterprise social software” company based in Palo Alto, is pioneering efforts to integrate open-space approaches within corporate IT environments. Socialtext CEO Ross Mayfield notes that Socialtext’s “Security and Operations Policies and Procedures meet the demands of most IT organizations.”13 It’s arguable whether such approaches are true to the original vision of Cunningham’s WikiWikiWeb, but they do suggest that moderated wiki practices can function effectively within corporate environments.
Back when Ward was an advisor, we had some good discussions about this, how it was necessary for organizations, and I can tell you it wasn’t outside his vision. I can’t emphasize the obvious enough. That without some privacy for groups, participants can’t share. Similar to how AA members are able to open themselves up to strangers provided they are anonymous to the outside world. Heck, the US wouldn’t exist if anonymity wasn’t provided for contributors to the Federalist Papers.
Chris Allen defines four kinds of privacy: defensive privacy, human-rights privacy, personal privacy, and contextual privacy. For most spaces and cases, the issue for wikis is contextual privacy, or what danah called the ickiness factor when something is socially off-kilter when context shifts.
The point of providing privacy or anonymity may be moot if there isn’t a sustainable solution to online security and trust — thrusting us into a transparent society. But we still have a choice to submit to the always on panopticon.
Of course, privacy comes at an opportunity cost for others to build upon your contributions. Negotiating context shifts over time proves to be the most difficult, socially and even legally, to let resources accrete value. Setting the mission and vision of a space requires a great deal of forward looking imagination while balancing the basic need to define a social context for sharing.
Cross-posted on my personal blog as the other M2Mers are on vacation.