Hospitable Hypertext

Hospitality is the effort one makes to have those not at home feel at home. On the web, notions of hospitality are inextricably bound up with charity of language, interpretation, and discourse style. While wiki focuses on the needs of writers, it also encourages writers to write in a hospitable way.

The Inhospitable Web

The web is a generally inhospitable place. You arrive at a page through a search result or link, only to find that that page is part of a greater conversation that you do not have easy access to.

Very often you have a simple question. You want to know, for example, what typographers mean when they talk about "fruit salad". A search reveals 20 results. Half those results talk about fruit salad, but never define it. Other pages have a definition buried deep in the text, or worse, in long streams of comments.

The problem is cumulative. Pages on fruit salad may reference "Bibliographic Paragraphs", assuming readers will know what that means in this context. A search for the term shows many results, but it's unclear which of many definitions fits here.

In your home on the web, on the other hand, things are different. You and your peeps toss jargon back and forth, make implict references to conversations and debates from years ago, and it all feels very convivial. But only to you. Your visitors are just as locked out of the conversation.

Hospitable Wiki

Wiki attempts to be hospitable.

In wiki, pages are centered on single ideas, and are written to stand on their own, since we do not know from where people will arrive.

If community terms like Fruit Salad are used, they are defined on the wiki, and linked to from the articles that reference them.

Substantial comments are encouraged on pages, but we enourage people to refactor long comment trails into the main document where possible. We try to not ask readers to read entire conversations to which they were not a party if what they need is a simple explanation or presentation of an idea. See Dissertation Over Discourse.

We try to leave trails the reader can follow from the page to investigate related ideas.

At the same time we try to balance the needs of the reader to read without distraction. Terms that are important but not necessary to understanding the current document are capitalized but not linked, indicating that the reader might pursue the link out of interest, but does not need to know the term at present.

With a well written wiki, a visitor should be able to quickly master the language of the tribe and feel at home. It is not Absolute Hospitality but it can be nice.

The Karma of Hospitality

While these steps create a hospitable environment for visitors, we've also found a certain karma in them. For we are often visitors to our own past works.

Returning to a work of even a few months ago, we are glad of the links provided, the concise reviews of terms, the attempt to bring valuable bits of information from discussions into main articles. We can remember what these ideas used to mean to us, and why we thought them important.

There is an additional school of thought that by explaining concepts to visitors we deepen our understanding of those concepts. Research supports it.

Related Ideas

There are many related ideas on this site about hospitality. We review some of them here, and where they do not stand completely on their own yet we attempt to be hospitable and contextualize.

We've noted that Fruit Salad and Bibliographic Paragraphs discuss some techniques we use to be hospitable.

Using a Prompting Statement instead of a question respects visitors while allowing you to engage with friends.

Email Doesn't Self-Organize uses a common experience to explain hospitality.

There was a good discussion in the first FedWiki Happening about hospitality, particulary around Derrida's notion of hospitality and the problems of translation. See Hospitality and Learning to start.

Kate Bowles introduced many wikizens to Derrida's concept of Absolute Hospitality. That concept informs this article, but we do not adopt Derrida's precise definition and only partially inherit his concerns.