A couple of months ago I moved to Davis, a small college town in northern California. I didn’t know anyone here and while that didn’t freak me out too much, it was hard to leave behind all the people and places I loved down in Long Beach. Yelp is great for finding local reviews of places, but in smaller communities such as Davis, the reviews may be few.
Enter Davis Wiki, the world’s largest community wiki.* Started by two UC Davis students, the Davis Wiki is a compendium of information on all things Davis. Looking for free wifi? Check the wiki. Need information on the apartment complex where you’ll be living for a year? Go to the wiki. According to their figures, 1 in 6 Davis residents use DavisWiki, which, for a town of more than 60,000 people, is impressive. Even more impressive is that 1 in 7 Davisites contribute content to the wiki.
Personally, I’m amazed by the wealth of knowledge that’s available on the DavisWiki. I have used it to find businesses, community centers, gossipy items and general information about the town. In June the wiki got nationwide press for its coverage of the “Crying Girl” scam artist who has been conning locals for nearly a year. I think I spotted the girl recently, but I wouldn’t have known about her if it wasn’t for DavisWiki.
What’s really exciting is what the DavisWiki has started: a movement to encourage communities to set up their own wikis, allowing them to pool their knowledge into an online resource. Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov, founders of the DavisWiki, have started LocalWiki, a San Francisco-based non-profit organization. Their mission is to “create the specialized open-source software that makes the new media possible, establish and guide deployment in several “pilot” communities, and experiment with models for replicating and sustaining many more successful local wikis.” They recently received a grant of $350,000 to help them achieve this mission, which is pretty freakin’ awesome. But they still need $25,000 to get trainers and coordinators into the communities that need help setting up wikis of their very own.
It used to be you could go to the corner store or the barber shop to hear the latest neighborhood news. It was easy to ask the kindly lady across the street what veterinarian she preferred for her ten cats. Nowadays, it can be very hard to connect with others, especially when you’re new in town.
That’s why building community wikis is so important. Yes, Yelp is great – I’m a huge fan – but a wiki goes beyond what Yelp can do and does it all for free. There aren’t any ads or paid sponsors – just good ol’ fashioned helpful information. And all of that helpful information is written by the people who live there.
Pledge to LocalWiki if you can. Or just go find out about a wiki in your own neighborhood, and contribute something – maybe your opinion of the recreation center, a review of a new restaurant, or your insights on local politics. It’s a whole new way to give back to your community.
*For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “wiki” is a website that allows multiple users to collaborate in creating the site. This collaboration covers everything from navigation to content, but in most instances the main focus is on adding and editing the site’s content. The name wiki comes from the Hawaiian word for “quick”.