OK, I wasn't actually on vacation. But I took some time away from blogging to get involved in a different kind of project.
About ten days ago a new website went live. It's called Flu Wiki. If you're not familiar with the term wiki, here's a definition from Wikipedia, which is itself probably the highest profile wiki on the internet.
A wiki ... is a web application that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. The term Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website (see Wiki software).
Three bloggers, Melanie Mattson, DemFromCt and Revere, had become convinced that there is a very real danger of an influenza pandemic and that at least some government and public health officials aren't giving the possibility the attention it deserves. So they decided to band together and do something about it and the Flu Wiki is the result. They needed a somewhat geekish partner on the project to install and configure software and learn how it worked. That would be me. I've spent the last few weeks trying to learn enough about this wiki engine to stay one step ahead of everyone else (and not always succeeding).
In the official launch message, the project is described as "a new experiment in collaborative problem solving in public health." It is that. While the principals are all bloggers it would be a mistake to think of this as a group blog on steroids. We bloggers are notorious for having opinions and not being shy about sharing them. But while there's a section of the wiki that invites opinion pieces, the emphasis in most of it is on assembling hard information and resources that will be fact-checked, reviewed, revised and polished by an entire community. As one of my colleagues on the project wrote in an email recently, conservatives get the flu, too. The intent is to deal with a potentially serious issue in a non-partisan manner. Having worked closely with the three individuals who comprise the wiki's editorial board I can assure you they're committed to doing just that.
As the graphic in the top left corner of the site -- and the frequent mentions of H5N1 -- will attest there's a lot of focus on avian flu here. But there's a wider range of subjects being addressed. As another of my colleagues wrote recently, if it isn't bird flu it will be something else. SARS should recently have demonstrated to us, and especially those of us in the greater Toronto area, that while advances in science and medicine have made many threats a thing of the past we can still be caught by surprise. The wiki is soliciting content on everything from the science of influenza to how to keep the kids entertained during quarantine.
Even if I wasn't involved in this project I'd be inclined to keep an eye on it. This certainly isn't the first wiki on the internet and ten days after going live it's probably not even the newest. But it's an interesting and somewhat different approach to activism that takes advantage of the internet in a way I haven't seen before. As DemFromCt wrote in a post earlier today, it's an experiment in self-reliance.
It's the first wiki I've been involved with. I have a hunch it won't be the last. (But I do need a chance to catch my breath.)
Cross-posted at the E-Group.