Beyond Personal Attribution

In federated wiki, authorship is Discoverable but not Obvious. And even where it is discoverable, authorship is complex. For that reason we suggest you consider alternatives to personal attribution when you write. We suggest some such alternatives here.


What you want to write:

"In Avoid Known Traps Mike Caulfield writes about the ways in which"

What you can say instead:

"Avoid Known Traps details the ways in which"


What you want to write:

Mike Caulfield has argued that attribution should be Discoverable but not Obvious.

What you can say instead:

Some have argued that attribution should be Discoverable but not Obvious.


Why Is This Important?

It seems silly. But it matters. First of all, we've found that people consistently mis-attribute, even when they think they are being careful.

Things also change. The article you link to today may be purely my work. But by tomorrow I may have incorporated revisions of a dozen others.

Beyond that, attribution undercuts the idea of the community. These documents are meant to be "proto-pages", the sort of primordial ooze of collective thought. When we get too wrapped up in who said what, we lose some of the advantages of that culture.

Via Attribution

Sometimes citation matters to the argument, in the sense that you want to show that an idea has some authority or popularity behind it.

In these cases, consider Via Attribution. In Via Attribution you cite not the author, but the person through whom you found the idea. In amny cases you think you need to cite the author, you really only need to cite your course.

In practice, this is what we often do in conversation. You'll say that "Mike thinks X" or "Mike told me Y". These aren't assertions that the words or ideas were mine exclusively, just that you came to the ideas through me.

Tell People What You Did

Of course, the world does run on reputation, and you may want to reap advantages from stuff you have done in federated wiki.

In cases where you want to receive credit for things you've done in federated wiki, we recommend a simple strategy: Tell People What You Did.

In federated wiki, one way to tell people what you did is your index page. We suggest that you might create a list of articles you started and articles you heavily contributed to on that page.

This is also a way for students to highlight their contributions to the wiki they have curated. If desired, links could be reproduced with short descriptions of the nature of their contribution -- ideas, clean-up, media, etc.