The students in my xpCrit course have asked me to start a wiki to share expertise related to tools and methodologies in digital humanities. I have a local install of MediaWiki, but I wanted something more light-weight, and after reviewing several “wiki farm” alternatives–Wikia, Wikispaces, and Hackpad–decided to go with Wikispaces.
Using wikis in the classroom is a tricky thing because one must walk the fine line between full-blown public access and protected “sandbox” space of the classroom. For this reason, I wanted to start with a hosted wiki platform that offers a flexible permission schema: write access by invitation only, and read access open to the public. Disappointingly, Wikia has no permission settings to speak of. Every wiki is fully public by default. (It also lacks the option to delete the wikis, which I find kind of strange.) Hackpad was my favorite in terms of the UI, but does not differentiate between read and write access. You can either make the whole thing public or private. Wikispaces is perfect in this regard. It seems like they’ve had the classroom use case in mind all along and the normally premium Plus plan (5$/month) is free for educational uses. My only gripe is with the lazy WISIWYG text editor, that does not use the now-standard Wikipedia-like markup syntax. Ideally, one would want to students to gain some exposure to the conventions of MediaWiki (which is by far the most dominant wiki platform).
Setting this whole thing up, as well as reviewing my students’ projects (many of which involve a publicly-shared component), has reminded me of the biggest challenge facing any online forum, be it a blog or a wiki–participation! It is easy to get excited about technology and to think that building a cool site, based on a good idea, is enough to attract readers, writers, and contributors. But it isn’t enough. For every successful Wikia page there are hundreds languishing in obscurity. Building technology is the easy part. Building communities is much harder. Of the 67 recorded edits on DH Toolkit today, 66 were made by me.