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Davis, California is a small town by almost any measure, yet is home to one of the busiest local wikis in the world. The Davis Wiki chronicles the mundane and the bizarre, but also serves more practical information, such as lunch specials, housing guides, news events, and the hours of the local bike collective. In recognition of the outstanding success of the Davis Wiki, the founders were recently awarded a $350,000 grant to develop their Local Wiki software for more general application, including intensive development of wikis in a number of pilot communities. Many communities already have a wiki, though only a few have really taken off; with luck and a bit of a kickstart, the experience of the Davis Wiki founders can be applied to make this invaluable resource available in more cities.
posted by kaibutsu (44 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Our local hamlet recently had to shut down its little community forum as things got too heated and personal. As you'd anticipate. I think a wiki is a great idea, though. I haven't looked in-depth at the links yet, but did they come up with a mechanism to handle the inevitable "controversial" topics, like a polarizing politician or a proposed development which is equally loved and hated by the locals? Guess I'll go poke and find out.
posted by maxwelton at 12:43 AM on July 30, 2010


Nice to know folks are the same all over.
posted by maxwelton at 12:45 AM on July 30, 2010

Very interesting, thanks. As a former Sacramento resident, Davis only meant three things to me: self-conscious hipness, failed toad tunnels and three-for-one Long Island Iced Teas at the Graduate.
posted by geckoinpdx at 12:46 AM on July 30, 2010

Huh. This is a totally obvious extension of the value of wikis and I'm completely surprised more cities DON'T have something like this in place. Some trusted moderators and a bit of a PR campaign to get the word out and this would be insanely valuable in any city.

Wikis have the obvious value that anyone can contribute their own bit of knowledge on whatever they find interesting, such that a long tail of knowledge gets published... when you localize the concept, the long tail becomes shorter, so to speak, and a higher percentage of your audience will find the things you choose to write about "noteworthy".

Fun stuff.
posted by disillusioned at 12:46 AM on July 30, 2010

When I visited a friend in Sacramento, she insisted on driving to Davis to eat at the Murder Burger. I still have my T-Shirt.

(I also discovered that one of my undergraduate classmates was a Davisite when she saw it. Exciting!)
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:01 AM on July 30, 2010

Also, the Davis wiki is way more awesome than my town's wiki.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:03 AM on July 30, 2010

Neat, the issues in this town range from a crying girl con artist to noisy daycare centers.
posted by dabitch at 1:17 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ann Arbor has a pretty good one. Though, the only thing I or my friends ever used it for was the list of free things on your birthday. Mmmm, free food.

The idea of a town/city wiki is a good one, and they're easy to start. Anyone with a bit of motivation can start one, and the great thing is that there is really no critical mass of users. Even just that one person using it can add information and make it useful for him/herself and probably a few others. If anyone else shows up to add pages, great! Except for the minor problem of stale information, wikis only grow/improve with age; they can survive periods of low or no activity, remaining as useful as before and recovering easily with new editors; and new users will arrive from search engines as long as they contain useful information not found elsewhere, which is generally the point. The conflict and need for moderation that comes with success is the one thing that seems tricky.
posted by whatnotever at 1:17 AM on July 30, 2010

Oh, wow, I wouldn't have seen the crying girl scam link if it weren't linked in the comments here, because I don't live in Davis and was more interested in the other cities... But I ran into that girl twice in one day in downtown LA! I guess she was in the area for a bit.

The first time I was eating lunch at a Carl's Jr. and she was approaching everyone with some jumbled story about having cancer and wanting to see her daughter. It was extremely awkward because I didn't have any cash and she would say the same thing to everyone who said they couldn't give her anything: "Oh, nevermind, I'm nobody," in this hoarse, despairing voice, tears streaming down her face. It made you feel like the shittiest person ever.

Then, by coincidence, I passed her hours later in the subway station. This time she was calling out a different story to all the people passing by, something about her boyfriend. I felt less shitty then.
posted by Nattie at 2:01 AM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Makes me want to start a Baltimore Wiki.
posted by kalessin at 3:03 AM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Awesome idea. Wish I had done this back when I was in a small town.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 3:36 AM on July 30, 2010

My city seems to have one started a year ago but only six people signed up and it doesn't seem to have been touched in three months.
posted by octothorpe at 4:40 AM on July 30, 2010

Rochester NY has RocWiki, and when I first saw it (2004) I thought we were the only ones other than Davis. Huh. We're not even on the directory. In an interesting piece of irony, I'm not interested in taking the 2 seconds to get a login for wikispot in order to add to the list.
posted by knile at 5:40 AM on July 30, 2010

Nice to know folks are the same all over.

posted by Dr Dracator at 5:48 AM on July 30, 2010

knile, Davis took my RocWiki signin. Have you tried that?
posted by tommasz at 6:05 AM on July 30, 2010

None for Austin?


Dang, now I want one.
posted by Seamus at 6:23 AM on July 30, 2010

This wiki is really selling Davis to me, especially the handy table detailing keg sizes, followed by the list of places to buy them. Somone is also working on a list of perpetual puddles in Davis.
posted by Hoenikker at 6:53 AM on July 30, 2010

You people complaining: go make one!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:00 AM on July 30, 2010

I started one for my metro-Detroit township after I became a homeowner here. I bought the domain, installed MediaWiki and started trying to gain traction. So far it's going OK; some of the things I've figured out are:
  • Copy what other CityWikis are doing.
  • Get the librarians involved ASAP
  • Meet IRL regularly to keep the energy levels up
One of our most popular pages is for a local Chinese takeout restaurant that doesn't have their menu online. We scanned in a menu and posted the PDF to the wiki page, and now it's in our top 10 pages.

I also signed the site over to the local public library as soon as they were interested in taking ownership of it. They have a real sysadmin who can actually work on this for his day job, which is invaluable when I'm too busy to work on the site as a hobby. It also makes more sense to me for the community to own the wiki, and putting it under the umbrella of the library means that it belongs to everyone (kinda).

Plus, sometimes you get people who say "You should put ads on there and you'll make a fortune!" and I get to mess with them by telling them I voluntarily gave up the site to the public so that no one can make a fortune off of it. I get the same head-tilt response when I talk nonsense to my dog.
posted by revgeorge at 7:08 AM on July 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

There IS a baltimore wiki, but it's empty. Bah. :)
posted by kalessin at 8:27 AM on July 30, 2010

I lived in Davis as a kid, and this is amazing. I'm feeling pretty nostalgic and I could look at this all day!
posted by peep at 8:45 AM on July 30, 2010

I've lived in Davis for four years, and have to say that the Davis Wiki is freakishly useful. I believe there's a critical mass where a local wiki stops being a collection of pages and starts manifesting emergent behaviors and shortly thereafter becomes indispensable to residents. It's like if wikipedia, craigslist, the yellow pages, and consumer reports were to have a drunken orgy and give birth to the most useful thing in the world, or at least the most useful thing in Davis.

For example, the dentists page lists every dentist in town, and has numerous reviews written by people who have used them. It was a great help to me, at least...

The $350,000 grant mentioned in the post is predicated on meeting a $25,000 fundraising goal within the next 45 days; currently they're about a third of the way there. So if this looks really cool to you, do consider giving a few dollars! If you give a thousand, you can make your community one of the 'pilot' communities for the big grant.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:49 AM on July 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wikipedia's page on city wikis has a list of the largest ones (not just on wikispot), many of which are in Europe. Stadtwiki Karlsruhe appears to be bigger than the Davis one.
posted by parudox at 9:30 AM on July 30, 2010

I lived in Davis and worked in Sacramento for two years. I recall it being a weird little blue island in a sea of red. Many of my managers and co-workers rolled their eyes when they learned I lived there and predictably threw the "Independent Republic of Davis" joke at me. I enjoyed Davis, though, and wish I'd known about this wiki while there. Thanks.
posted by ghiacursed at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2010

I lived in Davis for a year. I miss riding my bike to the record stores, and I miss the Mexican restaurant that was named after a coyote or something, and I miss the greasy little Mediterranean place where I used to get big sloppy gyros and thick, salty french fries.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:50 AM on July 30, 2010

I went to college in Davis right around the time the local wiki got started (think the founder might have been in some of my classes). I remember it looking a lot more DIY, but it was very helpful even in its early stages. Great to see that it's grown so much, kaibutsu--I'll be making a donation.

I do wonder what the ideal town size for a community wiki is, though. How does the quality and quantity of information scale as the city gets bigger and the residents feel less and less connected to the city and each other? Is it even reasonable to assume that the majority of residents in a big city don't feel connected enough to it to contribute articles? People seem pretty passionate here about LA, Chicago, SF and NYC, so I could very well be wrong on that point. Could something like this take hold for the entire city of, say, Los Angeles? Or would individual wikis for each neighborhood be more effective? Davis seemed to be just the right size for a community based wiki--big enough that there are lots of people contributing, small enough that people feel a responsibility for contributing.

I miss the wide bike lanes there so much. Davis, where the biker is king. It has pretty much spoiled me for city biking (you mean I have to ride in that tiny lane and not expect to get clipped?) And, for food? Fuji's, the all you can eat sushi for about ten bucks give or take a dollar (people with discerning palates need not apply); Old Tea House for the jasmine milk tea, pan fried noodles and the red and white sauce rice.
posted by millions of peaches at 11:36 AM on July 30, 2010

I live in Davis. I'm a graduate student transplant from the South East. It is an amusing little town and it is easy to get very comfortable here. It's nice that the town resisted so long in getting the Target, and that it is so far out of town where I never have to see it. Though I look forward to the opening of the Trader Joe's soon. It might distract from my weekly worship at the coop, my cathedral of healthy hippie food.

The wiki is great. I'm amused to see it here on the blue.
posted by Candide at 12:15 PM on July 30, 2010

Davis is a city, not a town. Even if it was a town, 64,000 people does not a "small town by almost any measure" make.
posted by mbatch at 12:16 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Howdy, Davis folks. We should have a Davis coffee day at Delta some time. What say you? In other news, y'all non-locals really truly need a local wiki. Kickstart it!
posted by aniola at 12:30 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I miss the wide bike lanes there so much. Davis, where the biker is king. It has pretty much spoiled me for city biking (you mean I have to ride in that tiny lane and not expect to get clipped?)

I commute through Downtown Oakland to the train, ride the train to Davis, then ride through town to school. Weirdly, for a town that is so full of cyclists, I have had far more dangerous interactions with Davis drivers than Oakland drivers. No one in Davis ever considers using their turn signal, and they're incredibly predatory when it comes to parking spaces. I've even had people honk at me for riding my bike on the street that went to the station (where I happened to be going), instead of being on the useless bike lane that goes under the tracks. Add to that a lot of truly terrible cyclists in Davis (yes, I'm thinking of you, spandex bike lady who inexplicably pulls to the right in the bike lane at every intersection! Stay on your side instead of suddenly veering in front of me block after block!), and I honestly am much more comfortable on my bike in Oakland. I admit that Davis' streets are in much, much better shape, though.

And yes, the DavisWiki is very useful, and I have used it frequently.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:59 PM on July 30, 2010

Ah, yeah, oneirodynia, downtown Davis wasn't great to bike through at all. It gets a little better once you get on 1st street, but the grid itself doesn't really have space for bikers. I was thinking more of the wide paths leading to and from campus that run parallel to the roads that cars use, the bike tunnels that get you around the freeways, and the bike lanes that were wider than the car lanes in the residential areas. I lived west of campus and rarely went downtown. If I had to go downtown, I usually parked my bike at Borders and went on foot.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:13 PM on July 30, 2010

The site is useful and fun. I went to school at UC-Davis and lived there for a sizable number of years. I have contributed to it regularly in the past and still do on occasion (it was a little scary when the site started, my early-30's self was on the older end of the contributor spectrum). It has been interesting to watch the site grow as it was originally more cenetered aroung the University, but it has since been embraced by the general population and broadened out to include the whole town. Having lived there as long as I did, the Departed Business Page tends to be rather interesting. Since I seem to have memories about a fair number of them. Although I live in the next town over, and it is not like it is a far trek, I tend to read the wiki to see what's going on in Davis.
posted by Badgermann at 1:23 PM on July 30, 2010

I think a point to reiterate, especially in light of comments about Pittsburgh and Baltimore wikis going unused, is that its founders seeded DavisWiki with 500 pages before opening it up to the general public. You can't just build a void for people to shout into and expect them to show up.
posted by moonlet at 2:02 PM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Howdy, Davis folks. We should have a Davis coffee day at Delta some time. What say you?

I'm down. I bet we could get together one helluva good trivia team at Sophia's from metafilter folks
posted by Candide at 2:05 PM on July 30, 2010

Add to that a lot of truly terrible cyclists in Davis

I always thought a big part of the reason for that was all of the college students coming in from out of town that knew that having a bicycle was pretty much mandatory but had never really used one for actually getting from place to place before. Luckily, I wasn't one of those students, although I did take part in an epic five-man bike crash coming up one of the tunnels.

Having lived there as long as I did, the Departed Business Page tends to be rather interesting.

Cheezer's Pizza closed! Oh, no! Now where will people go see all-ages punk shows?! I lost the hearing in my right ear at a show at Cheezer's.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:22 PM on July 30, 2010

Glad to see Dos Coyotes and Ali Baba still in business, though.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:30 PM on July 30, 2010

Cheezer's Pizza closed! Oh, no! Now where will people go see all-ages punk shows?!
They happen in my basement!
posted by TheCoug at 2:40 PM on July 30, 2010

Davis is a city, not a town. Even if it was a town, 64,000 people does not a "small town by almost any measure" make.

Have you ever been to Davis? If anything, it feels like a large town, not a small city. The downtown is decently sized but still feels small and quaint (and mostly shuts down at night). It's a bike-friendly place (for the most part), and that makes it feel even less like a city. It's surrounded by farmland, which makes it feel isolated and non-city-ish. And for 3 months out of the year, when a decent chunk of the population leaves the university for the summer, Davis actually feels like it shrinks. Plus, the general NIMBY attitude of the non-university population tends to lend a very towny feel to the area, even as it grows as a -- okay, I'll say it -- city. Although now I hear there's finally a Target in Davis, so perhaps things are changing.

The wiki was started during my last year at UC Davis, but it was slow to take off. By the time I left town the following summer (2005) it was really starting to thrive, and I actually referenced it more after I left town even though I had no pressing need for it anymore. For a while I could sense some Wikipedia-like bureaucracy on the site, so I quit paying attention to it, but hopefully that's subsided by now. It still looks great on the outside, anyway. Makes me wish I had a Davis Wiki for my current city, but I think there's something about Davis itself that really makes it successful there. I'm not surprised that there haven't been widespread copycat efforts.
posted by phatkitten at 2:44 PM on July 30, 2010

I'm amused at how many Davis folks are on MeFi, apparently.

I second the dentist reference, I found mine on there and he is super awesome. Also, it's just fun to look at the Bizarro Davis section (or most of anything else) when you are bored. It really is the best town wiki ever. So, yay Davis geekery, even if I hardly ever update it beyond the page on where to find yarn :P
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:49 PM on July 30, 2010

So if this looks really cool to you, do consider giving a few dollars!

Nothing personal, but please do not do this here. I'm aware that wikis are built and created by everyone, but one of the links seems to have a photo of you on it. No big deal, I'm sure it was created by a ton of folks, but that combined with the solicitation is potentially problematic. So, no big deal people seem to like the link, but any more discussion along those lines needs to not take place here.
posted by jessamyn at 3:01 PM on July 30, 2010

Metatalk. (Meetup request, not a call out! Didn't realize there were so many Davis people here.)
posted by mudpuppie at 3:29 PM on July 30, 2010

As far as I can tell, my picture isn't on any of the pages linked, though I am involved in organizations in Davis that one can find on the wiki. I also haven't contributed more than a few edits over the last four years; thus, it seemed pretty far from a self-link. Given that I'm in no way personally connected to the wiki, I don't see any sense in which my statement could be considered solicitation. I'll leave further discussion for MeTa or memail, if anyone feels it necessary, and, of course, make no more statements of the sort.
posted by kaibutsu at 4:18 PM on July 30, 2010

Davis is a city, not a town.

I lived in Davis for far too many years. Davis has always been a small town at heart.
posted by aspo at 5:59 PM on July 30, 2010

It's a bike-friendly place (for the most part),

Davis is one of three cities in the US to be ranked platinum bicycle friendly.
posted by dhartung at 8:17 PM on July 30, 2010

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