Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about blogs, wikis and forums and what each of them are good for. Partly this is a result of some discussions about how the NBI 2015 went, where I tossed out the thought in passing that a group blog might work better than the current forum. Then I started wondering if that would really be true, and if so why?
Googling turned up a few interesting articles comparing the different tools. The best such pieces seem to be written with a learning environment in mind, they’re basically guides for teachers looking at what would be appropriate to use with their students. However a lot of the thoughts are relevant more widely. These two resources are well worth a look:
The latter of those states that:
- Forums are “Used to DISCUSS and DEBATE”
- Blogs are “Used to REFLECT and REVIEW”
- Wikis are “Used to COLLABORATE and SYNTHESISE”
Not a bad way of summarizing the differences in a nutshell.
Some standout points from my reading and musings:
- Wikis have a big advantage when you have some set of information that will change over time, even if only because it’s a work-in-progess, and which will be updated by many people. For example maintaining a list of blogs taking part in the NBI event might be easier this way. Anyone could add a blog to the list, and the list always stays in the same place, and always up to date. Achieving something similar on a blog or forum would be more work because they’re not designed for that.
Blog posts are basically personal, and basically not meant to be revised much after publication. There might be some editorial process before a post goes live, there might be edits by the author afterwards, and of course other people can chip in with comments on posts. Not forgetting that you can have “pages” rather than “posts”, which can be a bit more permanent and organized. But blogging is not really a medium for working collaboratively, and nor is it well suited to maintaining an ongoing resource that could be tweaked many times.
Forums are good for interaction and discussion, but not particularly for organizing information. Things get rambly, it can be hard to find what you’re looking for, and there is no easy way to pull all the little contributions people make to a discussion into a coherent total picture.
When it comes to organizing and structuring information, wikis are probably best, followed by blogs (because of easy use of tags and categories), while forums are a long way behind.
An intriguing feature of wikis is that some of them allow you to separate the thing you’re working on (e.g. a page about topic X) from discussions about that work (e.g. debating whether subtopic Y should be included).
Because wikis are more of a free-for-all, with people able to change each other’s work, they might take more organizing. This could be a problem especially on topics that divide opinion. Lots of wikis tend to be rather dry because of this, sticking to purely factual info, and not offering much in the way of recommendations or evaluation. (e.g. The classic Wikipedia post that lists a hundred pieces of software to do some job, but giving no clue that only three of them are really used in practice, or what the pros and cons of the three main choices really are.)
Overall it seems to be that blogs, wikis and forums all offer many things that a group of people collaborating together could benefit from using, and it’s a shame there’s no single platform that’s convenient for handling all of them in one nicely integrated place!