I’ve had some experience working with fielded wikis since I wrote disgruntledly about LibraryThing’s implementation of them in October 2007. I knew at the time of their potential for being able to extract info for other purposes, but I had come into using wikis with a great appreciation for the way they fostered the organic organization of information, and fielded wikis go against that organic growth to a degree. My thanks again to LT’s Tim Spalding for his response, which got me thinking beyond my initial reaction. I had followed up later that month with this acknowledgement: I can see why an organization might wish to encourage certain kinds of contributions through structured fields and other input mechanisms. — Tagging, Ontology, and Structured Information
Since we started using the Confluence enterprise wiki platform at my current job, I’ve come to a better appreciation for the use of fields in wikis, particularly as I’ve worked more with wiki templates. With hundreds of projects deployed on multiple tiers, it’s very important to have the information about the servers, infrastructure tools, and applications organized in a standard way, so we can find and share information more easily (especially when getting a 3 am page and troubleshooting a system). Templates and field structures can certainly help with that. For example, one could have a drop-down list of approved operating system versions to pick from on a server information page template.
I still think fields should be used judiciously (if at all) when trying to encourage wiki use. When just trying to add some data, it can be very frustating to encounter a field mechanism that seems poorly designed, such as incomplete dropdowns or incorrect-seeming unalterable items (though sometimes these may be due to fundamental disagreements about the intended use of pages/information). Some people will not have the time or patience to try to contact wiki admininistrators or other users to work out a fix to the field or a common understanding of the page; they may just give up and not make the contribution they were planning. I was happy to notice recently that LibraryThing had fixed the dropdown that had so annoyed me before. There was a long stretch of time before that where I just wasn’t as enthusiastic about them.
Where there are wikis with multiple users and audiences, sometimes compromises will have to be made, or one path or another chosen in structuring input mechanisms. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen fast enough to keep up with changes going on in the world. Where possible, I recommend having some kind of an open notes section in addition to fields, so that there’s at least a hope of keeping the contributions flowing and finding the (up-to-date) info one needs. Also, anyone with ownership of the page (or at least some feeling of responsibility towards its contents) should probably set up a notification so they’ll know if the contents change, and perhaps be able to address problems/disagreements in good time.