Tending Your Digital Gardens: In-Semester Maintenance

If you spend any amount of time using a wiki–or, for example, services such as Flickr or delicious, where you can tag and organize your material in a variety of different ways–then sooner or later entropy will tend to set in.  It can be hard to find things–or, in a classroom setting, your students find themselves either hemmed in by what’s come before, or they can’t find what they need to move forward. (Or, in my instance, PBWorks search is basically useless, because there are so many individual pages in the wiki.)

My basic reaction to this problem is to sit and sob a little. Ok, well, maybe not sob–but certainly it’s more soothing to hit refresh on NetNewsWire than to clean up 80+ pages of Flickr photos, or 3 years of PBworks pages.  The task just seems overwhelming.

Wiki folk have a metaphor that’s handy to think about: wiki gardening.  You cut a little here, move a little there, and, over time, you can combat the forces of entropy that erode the utility of your wiki, Flickr account, or other online service.  A few links and comments:

  • Matt Wisely’s “Five Wiki Gardening Tips” does an excellent job with the metaphor.
  • At WikiSym in 2008, participants identified strategies and possible risks with gardening (for example, the gardener can easily be perceived as a tyrant or bully)
  • Rather than think of maintenance that has to be done in an all-or-nothing way, it can be useful to just give it a certain amount of time each week. You might well have a weekly review time slotted in your calendar; if you add a regular time each week toward tending your various digital gardens, then you’ll make a surprising amount of progress over the course of the semester. (By contrast, this article suggests spending your first cup of coffee gardening your wiki, and making constant gardening a habit.  Which is good advice, but if your garden’s in disarray, then you need to have a plan.)
  • If your wiki (or other service) has student contributors, then wiki gardening should be part of your expectations for them.  Are they correcting typos, broken links, and general ugliness?  Are they linking to similar pages within the wiki?
  • If gardening isn’t your thing, then you can also think of the role as a WikiGnome. I prefer wiki gardening, but the WikiGnome nomenclature lets me link to this.

The opening weeks of the semester are always a bit crazy, but your future self will thank you for setting aside regular time for keeping things tidy.  What I’m trying to do this semester is, rather than get all caught up at once, to spend a few minutes once a week behind the scenes in Flickr or delicious or PBWorks.  That way, there’s less sobbing, and more of a chance to find things in the future. At the very least, the sites won’t get *more* disordered . . .

Stay tuned for ProfHacker’s endorsement of regularly making your bed and flossing!


Image by Flickr user hyperhaus / Creative Commons licensed

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