Edit This Article! Davis Wiki, Ever Expanding

This article first appeared in HyperText, a quarterly newsletter developed by the student writers of Information and Educational Technology

Edit This Article! Davis Wiki, Ever Expanding

By Helen Cunningham

Figuratively speaking, the Davis Wiki has a pH of 7. Completely neutral, it??'s a setting that helps form ideal conditions for growing something. Since 2004, when Philip Neustrom and fellow programmer Mike Ivanov applied their philosophy of neutrality to the Web, the Davis Wiki (daviswiki.org) has proven a kind of pulsating student brain, tipping out of its Petri dish and rolling across town.

Created by its contributors, the Wiki is an ever-changing receptacle of Davis knowledge and lore: where to go, what to eat, how to spend your late night hours; the story of Toad Tunnel, the foils and struggles of the Stapler Liberation Front. It??'s a guide, a forum, and a map, what Ivanov calls the ???de facto authority on almost anything in Davis,??? and one that shows no sign of stopping.


Taken from the word wikiwiki???Hawaiian for ???fast and loose??????a wiki is a type of Web site that allows members to add to and edit its content. The words ???fast and loose??? fit our own town wiki excellently; it takes very little time to edit and create pages and its organization grows organically. The Davis Wiki is held together by a series of links, its pages connecting to each other and to external sites.

Not all wikis are this informal. Wikipedia, the most successful and perhaps only well-known wiki, has a much different approach. Stern and business-like, it bears little of the Davis Wiki??'s outward friendliness (words like ???welcome??? and ???explore,??? prevalent on the Davis Wiki??'s opening pages, are much harder to find there); nevertheless, both atmospheres serve a purpose. ???Encyclopedias are meant to be authoritative,??? says Neustrom. ???What would be encyclopedia-worthy about Davis? N othing. Our goal was to create a site that??'s non-authoritative and non-threatening.???

Not an ???It??? but a ???We???

Statistically speaking, Neustrom is a kind of primary shareholder???he tops the ???User Statistics??? page at around 6,000 edits (the second most-frequent editor trails at 2400). He and Ivanov spent months building the Web site and are fiercely loyal to it, once skimping on studying for finals when the site went down. Yet, it??'s hard to whittle the Davis Wiki down to its two creators. The site??'s ongoing maintenance, for example, has been a group effort. Although Neustrom and Ivanov hold the Wiki??'s master keys, with access to the site??'s inner workings no one else has, the Wiki has become less dependent on its creators as it has grown (Ivanov graduated in 2004 and can only contribute occasionally, and Neustrom, a senior, now spends most of his Wiki time working on the site??'s more technical parts). In its contributors, the Davis Wiki has found an ever-growing flank of defenders; when an automated attack turned the site??'s pages into gibberish, users fixed the problem before Neustrom even got to his computer.

The explanation for that loyalty, and, subsequently, the wiki??'s self-sustenance, is in the way it was created: many who use it have put time and effort into making the site what it is, and those same people work to keep it running smoothly.

Anything Goes???In or Out

As part of its spirit of openness, the Wiki accepts any comment: the crass and objectionable as well as the interesting and intelligent. Despite this, the site remains fairly clean. ???People just delete stuff that??'s obviously over the top,??? remarks Neustrom. ???Yes, it??'s easy to vandalize the site, but it??'s also easy to clean up.??? Members keep the Wiki respectful for the same reason they help keep it running, because, as Neustrom explains, ???it??'s theirs.???

Because the Davis Wiki is constantly ch anging, its only permanent hallmark may be its atmosphere, encouraging exchange and debate. The site itself is the product of an ongoing argument expressed in creations, deletions, additions, and edits. Created by the people who live here, it is Davis, snagged and put online.