This post is mostly based on a discussion on the #olpc-content channel the other week, when I learned that an [[OLPC:Policy]] page was being made.
(me, speaking to the channel:) I'm concerned about the barrier-to-entry for new wiki users. Some find getting involved in the project bewildering as it is, now there's all these more pages to read? I realize it's not mandatory and won't be patrolled by The Iron Arm Of The Law, but...
(A point is made that Wikipedia has policies and seems to be doing all right.)
Wikipedia does fine from the perspective of editors of Wikipedia who are already used to "the way things work." It's an incredibly biased sample - the folks who get through a selection process are more inclined to think that process is just fine. Think about who has a hard time getting in; think about who's being excluded. You don't see many paraplegics in treehouses - the kids who play in treehouses think they do fine, but that doesn't mean the treehouses are accessible.
It's the mindset that I think we should try hard to avoid - the "it works for me, it's good enough" barrier that prevented all but the most hardcore geeks from using Linux when it first came out, until companies like Red Hat and Yellow Dog and Canonical (Ubuntu) made it usable to more folks.
Now I know this is a very strong reaction for pages that will be used as loose guidelines by a very small minority, but I really want the wiki to be welcoming in newcomers with open arms - not from our terms ("we need to train you in the ways of our culture") but from theirs, from the world they're used to.
Most folks are taking a huge step in using a wiki in the first place. Some folks are taking a big step using a computer, going online. Some people can't touchtype, some think reading things on a screen are difficult, a lot of people are baffled by what seems to us to be simple wiki markup. "There are asterisks! it looks scary!"
It does look scary, when you're new. Remember the first time you ever saw code? didn't it look weird? It took me so long to get comfortable on the olpc wiki, even if I'd used other wiki systems (and mediawiki) before. Much of the style guide was made because I didn't know what I was doing - a lot of the "DON'T DO!" things there are my mistakes. me being really lost and confused and n00b-like. "What is a template? What is transclusion? What is... a talk page? what's that?"
So on the one hand, making something like [[OLPC:Policy]], explicitly setting these things down somewhere, that's kind of a nice reference. But it's not like other places haven't written rules like these up before. And it means that for the cautious, the more timid, the more scared people trying to come in, there's this preponderance of Stuff they feel they "have to" read so they can Learn How to Do Things Right. (Because not everyone learns by jumping into the deep end of the pool.)
(Suggestion from the channel: "So try anarchy.")
Anarchy, with cooperative and communicative participants and a healthy dose of trust between them, works pretty well in some places. Not in all. I've seen it be remarkably inefficient... I prefer the term "adhocracy," since the minor semantic difference means that organization can emerge within, but more spontaneously by anyone who thinks it's needed, and dissolve when it's no longer relevant.
(Another note from the channel, very paraphrased: "But this is constructivist learning.")
"Constructivist scholars... emphasize that individuals make meanings through the interactions with each other and with the environment they live in. Knowledge is thus a product of humans and is socially and culturally constructed." (from wikipedia, of course)
If rules are already written down when they arrive, how can new people dialogue and create them? We're on the "bleeding edge," as it were. we're getting to "set" these policies, we get to build this place, that's fantastic - for us. But we need to tear it down after we put it up, to some extent, to make sure that future "generations" get to cobble together their own thing.
Yeah, you can always comment on a wiki page, always edit it. But how many newbies are going to touch something they think of as gospel? "oh, that's not... mine. I can't do that."
If "learning is an active, social process," (also wikipedia, constructivism article) we ought to be pointing newcomers to people, not policies, mentors, not mandates. The community is what usually keeps long-termers around, anyway. (Unless they really like cataloging the episodes of the mickey mouse show for their sole edification and benefit, I guess. but those folks are... rather few and far between.) Most of us like recognition. Relationships. Feedback from others of the positive type. Not Here Are More Rules To Read.
I guess what I'm trying to say boils down to is "most people don't think like you/we do, and instead of demanding that they learn our language, we ought to try speaking theirs first." Maybe find out what they're saying and why they haven't come yet, or why they've started trying to.
Constraints inspire creativity - a lot - but I think it's important to emphasize that the "walls" we place up can be knocked down, moved around, painted purple paisley.
Epilogue: Discussion ended on the note of renaming "Policies" to "Processes," and writing them as such. I pledged (when [[OLPC:Processes]] goes up) to put in a "the first process... is to remake processes" thing of some sort. But my mind is not at rest regarding this topic, and other related ones... I'll have to hack things out a little more.
Why does this topic poke into my consciousness so much? It's not "accessibility," but I haven't found another good name for it. Eh. Must on to work.