Through the Looking Monitor: Alice in Wikiland
Constituting the Wiki
The most important idea surrounding wiki technology for the purposes of this work is the democratic and open access the technology purportedly affords to users. The wiki, by its nature as an open source software program begins, upon installation, without any functional restrictions to the user base. Though administrators may (and many do) enable various securities, which in turn limit the access users have to the wiki, the technology naturally offers a space for collaborative interaction among audience members from diverse and distant locations. This is not to say that because wikis are networked, they are inherently democratic.
As Kristine Blair notes in “Literacy, Dialogue, and Difference in the 'Electronic Contact Zone,'” the computers and composition community has often been “hopeful about these predictions [democratizing potential]” but “recent research problematizes the purported egalitarian nature of electronic networks (Regan, 1993; Romano, 1993; Selfe and Meyer, 1991; Selfe and Selfe, 1994; Takoyoshi, 1994)” (Blair, 1998, 317). Wikis are democratic in the sense that they offer anyone with access, the ability to participate in the conversation by locating that conversation in a public space (forum). Granted, issues of access may limit the democracy of any online or even electronic environment, but access aside, wikis offer such an environment. Since wikis are online, networked webpages that anyone can modify, the audience base explodes into a potential range of members, each of whom shares a common purpose (the topic of the wiki community). The major reason the wiki engenders diversity in audience members is that it positions the rhetorical situation in an open forum and prompts public discourse through the space presented in the wiki. The topoi (commonplaces—topics) around which the wiki community derives its knowledge and discourse (public and private) range in importance but are always specific to the wiki itself. In other words, in order for a wiki to sustain community, it must provide a solid and central purpose (topic) from which the community derives its identity and about which the community uses the language of its discourse to continue the conversation.
As we will see, the audience for this conversation can range from single or multiple to undefined, but this audience is enacted in all its manifestations in the forum of the wiki (the public space provided by the technology). Though scholars have written about the rhetoric of space in technologies such as course management systems (Payne, 2005) and digital environments (Blair, 1998; Kent-Drury, 1998; Mauk, 2003; Reynolds, 1998; Soja, 1989 and 1998; Selfe, 2004), as well as the idea of collaboration in wikis (Garza, 2004; Barton, 2004; Lamb, 2004), the concept of audience has not been widely examined for its rhetorical implications to the members of the wiki community and teachers who would use the technology to enhance teaching and learning. This article will examine the identity of, and the space where, the audience gains its identity as such (the forum). In order to understand audience, the idea of the rhetorical audience perspectives that students encounter in this web 2.0 world are explained further. To begin, Alice must enter the rabbit hole to gain access to this Wikiland.