NOTE: This has been finalized, so there's no point in editing it now :)

Submitted PDF: ars_2007.pdf

Here was a working page for the Prix Ars Electronica submission. We were nominated for the Digital Communities category. The grand prize is EUR 10,000, or USD 15,594.

A snip from the Wikipedia

The Prix Ars Electronica is often called the Oscar of computer art. As the world’s premier cyberarts competition, the Prix Ars Electronica has been a forum for artistic creativity and innovation since 1987. It is the trend barometer in an ever-expanding and increasingly diversified world of media art. Thanks to its annual recurrence, its international scope and the incredible variety of the works submitted for prize consideration, the enormous Prix Ars Electronica Archive provides a detailed look at the development of media art and a feel for its openness and diversity. In 2004 Wikipedia was awarded a Golden Nica in the category "Digital Communities".


Title / Name of Project*

Davis Wiki

Type of Project*

Community Project

Description of your project*

What is your project about, who are the people involved and addressed.

This Davis Wiki is an interconnected community effort to explore, discuss and compile anything and everything — especially the little, enjoyable things — about the city of Davis, California, USA. In order to create a resource to best reflect of our community, we conceived the project as a website that is written, edited, and maintained by the community itself: a wiki.

When we moved to Davis as college freshmen, we knew little about the town. Being generally confined to our dormitories, we didn't know where to hang out, meet friends, find interesting spots, hear local music, and see town art. After living in Davis for a few years we began to learn all of these things about spots, culture, music and politics and wanted to share this with other people. We also knew that, given the cyclical nature of a college town, that we weren't the only ones who would be stuck in this bind. However, nothing existed to preserve this institutional knowledge.

In 2004, prior to the explosive growth of sites such as Wikipedia, we didn't know what form this eventual project would take. We imagined a sort of "personal blog" for the city itself — a place for sharing, listening, learning, growing and exploring. We eventually decided on the wiki format, at least as a starting point, and installed an open-source wiki engine.

Over the course of the next year we grew the project in many directions: we built up a base of content, attracted creative and interesting contributors and extensively developed the software to fit our future and current needs. The Davis Wiki seeks to involve every member of the Davis community. This includes not only permanent residents of Davis, but also university students, business owners, politicians and even people's pets.

Nearly four years later, with one in six people in the city using the wiki on a daily basis, the Davis Wiki is the defacto guide and resource for all things Davis. We've amassed nearly 12,000 pages of information with over 6,000 residents having made an edit. We've helped people find their lost pets, learn about vegan eating options, expose corruption, teach people about historical landmarks, empower political dissent, teach people how to care for their bikes, and we've even started a larger non-profit organization, Wiki Spot, to help other communities create wikis.


wiki, community, city, davis, university of california at davis

Web Address of the Project

Web-Adresse Login

If you wish to edit or leave comments, click "new user" to set up an account

Web-Adresse Password

See above.

Project Details

(max. 3.000 characters per question)


What is the objective of your project? What is the common goal, topic, interest, etc. of the community or the main uses of the software?

The Davis Wiki aims to allow the people of Davis to share information about things that are interesting to them in the town or surrounding areas, contribute back what they think is interesting or important, and through this process, nurture an environment where individuals and organizations have a voice and common forum. Our means are very anarchistic: the individual is empowered with the knowledge that he or she may enact change or instigate dialog.

But these objectives are mostly taken in retrospect: in actuality, when the project began we had little idea what would come of it. At the time, we invited a few friends and told them to just contribute whatever it was they thought was interesting. Our introduction page said — and to this day still says — "we will hopefully record a little bit of what Davis means for us, here."

We knew it would be unsustainable to ask people to contribute things they weren't interested in, so we just asked for what was fun.

As it turned out, this was a terrific strategy for growing the Davis Wiki. At first, a small group of early enthusiasts contributed some initial material on what they found most novel. Most who came to the wiki wouldn't find the information very useful. A small fraction, though, thought it was really neat and started contributing what they loved. Over time, this small growth turned into a snowball-effect, where we had enough truly useful information to draw in members of nearly every cross-section of the Davis community, and we ended up with a comprehensive and uniquely-human guide to just about everything in Davis, encompassing everything from local politics to sidewalk cracks.

Davis Wiki helps overcome two large social obstacles associated with the college town. The first is the high rate of turnover. Although a surprisingly large number students decide to stay in Davis (see upcoming article in New York Times), the majority of students leave Davis and take their knowledge of the city with them. The wiki has become not only a dynamic knowledge repository for the transient population of Davis, but a means of connecting students and permanent residents that transcends age and class. Davis Wiki now serves as a great introduction to the community and an interesting reflection of the reality experienced by the contributors.

The second is the disconnect between permanent residents and students. Before Davis Wiki, many students found it difficult to form a connection with the place they lived in and did not regard their neighbors as people living in their same community. Davis Wiki helps foster community between students and permanent residents by drawing them out of their dorm rooms and into the city, by helping them understand the concerns and priorities of people trying to raise a family, by bringing students and non-students together for community events, gatherings, art openings, shows, walks, protests and celebrations.

Language and context

In which cultural and geographic context is the project rooted?

The project is geographically rooted in the Davis region of California. The Davis Wiki shares users and content with neighboring city wikis in Woodland and Sacramento.

The University of California at Davis was formed in 1906 as the agricultural extension of the University of California Berkeley; the City itself was incorporated in 1917. The town and the university have grown together since then and enjoy a symbiotic relationship. Today, the City of Davis is the most highly educated city in the state and boasts over 65,000 residents. There are approximately 27,000 undergraduates at UC Davis, as well as thousands of graduate and professional students, faculty and staff. In total, UC Davis is the largest employer in the Sacramento region and its economic impact is estimated between $2.7 and $3.4 billion per year.

The streets and bike paths of the city and university are lined with trees and an an extensive network of bike paths connects over 40 neighborhood parks. The first bike lanes in the United States were developed in Davis, a town where bicycles outnumber people 2.5:1.

Davis fosters a strong Do-It-Yourself attitude. In 1968, students in Davis faced a challenge: the city had grown to a size such that students in outlying areas had a difficult time getting everywhere in a city without bus service. A group of motivated students banded together and secured two retired double-decker buses from London. Thus began the nation's largest entirely student-run bus network. Today, this bus system consists of over 50 buses, with most all — including the double-deckers — running on compressed natural gas. With London retiring its world-famous original double-decker buses this past year, Davis remains one of the only places in the world to see these in action.

Thanks to the unique blend of educated townsfolk and eager young undergraduates, Davis enjoys a special blend progressive optimism and ground-breaking experimentation usually found in larger cities such as Toronto or San Francisco. And it was exactly this attitude that was a catalyst for the new, brave idea of the world's first local wiki.

Project History*

What was the project's origin, when and how did it start? How did it develop up to the present day?

In early 2004 Philip Neustrom, Paul Ivanov, and Mike Ivanov sat down over some tasty burritos at a taqueria to discuss ideas for implementing a freely accessible, freely editable, and extremely user-friendly website where useful and entertaining information about the city and the university could be collected. The central concept was the ability for anyone to create an illustrated "entry" describing a place, event, person, or idea related to Davis, and make it possible for others to find and reference the entry in order to organize and build on the content. In addition, an intuitive interface built around a geographic map of the city was discussed. Above all, emphasis was placed on usability and dynamic content.

Deciding to jump right in rather than build the web site's backend from the ground up, in June 2004, Philip installed and configured a copy of the popular open-source wiki package MoinMoin on his laptop. The choice of the "MoinMoin" package was largely arbitrary, and inspired partly by Tobin Fricke's experimentation with starting a wiki for Berkeley. Philip named it, naturally enough, "Davis Wiki," and chose the bike circle, a symbol especially recognizable in Davis, as a tentative logo. Mike and Philip created a few pages and opened up the wiki for contributions from friends.

Although the MoinMoin wiki, generic as it was, did not exactly fit the original concept for the website, and although accessing it on Philip's laptop was far from convenient, potential was definitely felt by some of the early users. Soon Philip acquired temporary hosting, and together with Mike began the process of transforming the MoinMoin package into the vision of Davis Wiki.

We unlocked the site on October 27 and created some flyers and posted them around town. Over the first three weeks of being open to the public, the number of Davis Wiki users quadrupled to over 100, and the number of pages doubled to over 600 pages.

We decided from the start, for the Davis Wiki to be a long-term and truly reflective project, that it would have to be a non-profit effort and free of overt commericial influence.

The Wiki Spot project launched a little less than a year ago with the goal of helping other communities create, sustain and connect wikis. Of course, the software and general architecture behind the project have been constantly improved.

Davis Wiki has been featured and cited in numerous local media stories throughout its life. This past year we were awarded the "Excellence in Community Involvement Award" from the City Council, an award usually given to more traditional organizations such as local TV and community radio stations.

What started as just an idea scribbled on flyers stapled to telephone poles has turned into 12,000+ page eclectic record of the life, places, and culture of the people and things that make our community great.


What is the core team carrying the project? How many (groups of) individuals are currently involved as members or users? How would you characterize the people participating in the project? Is access to the project open or restricted?

Anyone and everyone are responsible for the content and moderation of the wiki.

There are over 6,000 registered users of Davis Wiki. The number of day-to-day visitors is very high: one in six residents visit the wiki every day. For detailed user information, see The software back-end and server are maintained entirely by volunteer efforts from a group of roughly five dedicated individuals.

Demographically speaking, the active user base of the Davis Wiki is split between undergraduates and towns people. There is a slight gender bias which we have not thoroughly investigated, but we are continually trying to make the wiki more accessible and are currently developing features such as a GUI editor.

A good example of a group using the wiki over the years is the UC Davis student government. A couple of years ago, someone created a page asking, in essence, "What is the student government? How is it structured? How does it work?" Today, the wiki holds hundreds of pages detailing scandals, budgets, and candidate statements all related to the student government. The wiki acts as institutional memory for an organization that, until now, had none.

People of all walks of life contribute to the wiki: members of the City Council, the homeless, students, cooperative enthusiasts, pet-lovers, and bicycle nuts are only a few.

Lessons learned:

What has worked / what has not worked in the process of realization of your project?

The wiki format has proved to be a powerful double-edge sword. While anyone's mother could log on and start editing or vandalizing the wiki, the fact is that instances of vandalism have been few and far between and the wiki's current state of prosperity speaks volumes to the sense of strength felt by the community of Davis.

Adding information to the wiki is so quick and easy, and nearly anything, content-wise, can be contributed. The wiki reflects not only the positive aspects of life, but also the negative.

People don't understand the idea of universal contribution and the wiki idea — from both a practical and philosophical perspective. One important idea — in fact central to the true wiki philosophy — is that no one owns the wiki or the pages on it. A page about a local figure in city politics is not "owned" by that person and, as such, that person may be upset when controversial things are written about them and the community at large rejects their attempts at removing said negatives.

As the Davis Wiki continued to grow by leaps and bounds, people would come to us and say "I really love what you've done with the Davis Wiki and I want to create a resource like that for my community." At first, we would set up custom installs on our server — a tedious and error-prone process. We eventually formed Wiki Spot, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing the means for communities anywhere in the world to initiate, maintain, publicize and fund wikis. We provide a trusting home for wikis through our service, encourage development of collaborative software, and promote adoption of the wiki as a tool for enriching communities.

Although we had empowered people with the ability to instantly create the framework for a community wiki, many people were disappointed to find that their wiki gardens did not flower overnight. The success of Davis Wiki, when compared to other more stagnant wikis, reinforces the idea of appropriate technology: just because a given technology exists, in this case the wiki framework, doesn't mean that it is going to work, or that it is the best solution for a given problem. Davis Wiki has been successful due to a dedicated community with a preexisting desire to share knowledge. Because the Davis Wiki already had a few hundred pages before it was widely advertised and made public, people could see that it was worth visiting, it was an worth contributing to and they wanted to come back.

Davis Wiki has been and continues to be a fascinating study in self-governance and organic anarchy. When Davis Wiki was started, there were Internet norms of how a non-geographical community website could be governed, but because no one had ever made a local wiki before there was no precedent us. Instead of following Internet norms such as strict oligarchical moderation, the rules and norms of the Davis Wiki were formed on a consensus and point-by-point basis to meet the needs of a unique geographical community.

Technical Information

(max. 3.000 characters per question)

Technological basis*

What is the technological basis of your project or software (infrastructure, operating system environment, connectivity / telecommunication, etc.)?

Davis Wiki is part of the larger non-profit Wiki Spot community. Wiki Spot represents the infrastructure of the Davis Wiki project. Wiki Spot is currently hosted on just one server - a 1U rack-mount machine with a 2.0GHz Athlon64 dual-core processor (x2 3200+), 4GB of ECC memory and 200GB of RAID1 storage. The server is based on a Tyan Transport barebone package and runs Gentoo GNU/Linux.

The server is housed in the Cernio Tech Cooperative's cabinet at United Layer's facility in the 200 Paul data center in San Francisco. As a public-benefit charity that strives to increase public participation in all levels of life, we want to support more just organizational models. As such, supporting cooperatives, such as the hosting cooperative we are a member of, is important to us.

The core wiki engine used to power the Wiki Spot project is custom-written. We release all of the software used to power the project under free licenses. Sycamore, the wiki engine we continue to develop, is licensed under the GPL and written in Python. We use PostgreSQL for our database, Xapian as our search API, lighttpd as our http server and make heavy use of memcached for caching — essential in a project where low overhead means everything. We've contributed to the Xapian and memcached projects, as well.

Although we use PostgreSQL ourselves, Sycamore can run on a variety of databases: MySQL, SQLite are supported out-of-the-box. Xapian and memcached are also optional dependencies, but necessary for superior search and general performance.

We have access to 100Mb/sec (burst) connectivity in our cabinet. We process an average of ten+ dynamic requests a second throughout the day and, thanks to extensive caching, our load average is currently only 0.2.

Free software is used for all aspects of our software infrastructure, we give all of our efforts back, and we contribute to other projects when we can.


If your submission is a software, please describe the problem it is answering to, what solutions and most important features it offers.

The Davis Wiki effort has necessitated the creation of custom wiki software: Sycamore. The Sycamore wiki engine has been developed with a few goals in mind:

  • User interface simplicity
  • Designed to be used by everyday people
  • Scalable and efficient
  • Meets certain community specific needs: integrated mapping, comments, events

Simplicity in our user interface is essential: if the wiki appears too complicated people will shy away from contributing. The Davis Wiki, and associated Wiki Spot projects, target specific community needs — our goal is not to provide a wiki engine for programmers, but for ordinary communities. We're constantly working on new ways to improve things: a GUI editor and simple metadata interface are in the works.

Scalability and efficiency have become more important as the project progresses. Our resources are limited and being able to serve up more pages on less machines allows us to help more communities. Sycamore has been designed with the needs of extremely active wikis in mind: we make extensive use of caching at the application level — this differs from the approach taken by Wikipedia, which is to cache at the HTTP level with a reverse proxy (Squid).

As a project targeted at a local community, we integrated mapping, easy commenting, and an events board system into the wiki engine. Many of the changes, at the feature level, have been incorporated into other wiki systems. This tells us we're doing something right!


In what areas / sectors / regions is your software currently applied? Where are running implementations of your software to be found?

Sycamore was initially developed for the specific needs of Davis Wiki. As the Wiki Spot project began, the software was adapted to work extremely well in multiple-wiki environments. Currently, Sycamore is used primarily for the Wiki Spot projects.

As free software, Sycamore can be taken and used by anyone. Most public, non-commercial projects would probably see the service to be a good home for their wiki — thus, few communities choose to run our software directly. However, there are a few cases of non-Wiki Spot projects using Sycamore: and are two examples. There are likely unknown private installations, but the only indication we have of them are occasional mailing list questions.

People have used Wiki Spot to create wikis not only to serve geographical communities, but many other uses including scientific research, role playing games, anti-nuclear proliferation, and education.


Who are its (potential) users and beneficiaries?

The Davis Wiki can be used by anyone — it's free and it's on the web! However, the project is most useful for people residing in or around Davis, California, USA, or those who are interested in the culture and history of the town or surrounding areas.

The larger Wiki Spot project provides a home to any wikis that benefit communities — communities of most any sort. There is no associated service charge and we are currently funded entirely through individual donations.

The Sycamore software can be used by anyone, as well. Having freely available, freely-licensed software allows our communities to feel safer choosing to work with us: they know that they have the freedom to leave if they choose to. Our communities also have the ability to directly contribute to the project at all levels — helping with documentation, helping others set up their wikis, and helping develop the software itself.

Davis Wiki has been and continues to be a fascinating study in self-governance and organic anarchy. When Davis Wiki was started, there were Internet norms of how a non-geographical community website could be governed, but because no one had ever made a local wiki before there was no precedent. Instead of following Internet norms such as strict oligarchical moderation the rules and norms of the Davis Wiki were formed on a consensus basis to meet the needs of a geographical community.


Under what kinds of licenses do you make it available? How many copies / licenses have so far been handed out/downloaded?

The content on Davis Wiki is contributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0. The wiki software, Sycamore, is under the GPL license and is freely available from our subversion repository. Wikis can be created free of charge on provided the wiki meets the Wiki Spot community guidelines (roughly: non-commercial).

The Wiki Spot project encourages, but does not require, all wikis to license their content under a Creative Commons license.

Statement of Reasons*

Why the submitted project deserves to win a prize in the "Digital Communities" category.

The Davis Wiki is groundbreaking project. The Davis Wiki was the first concrete example of a local wiki and is currently the largest in the English-speaking world. We took something that was just an idea and made it real, made software to drive it and built an organization around maintaining it and helping other communities.

Our efforts thus far have been supremely local, though: few not in the geeky wiki community or in the greater Davis area know about the project. Those that do know, however, recognize the uniqueness of our undertaking. Winning the Digital Communities prize would serve to not only recognize the work of thousands of volunteers that have contributed to the Davis Wiki's success but would also raise awareness of the benefit that collaborative, locally-controlled information can bring to communities.

Davis Wiki and more broadly, the local wiki concept, aim to deconstruct traditional political and economic power structures in a community via multiple means. The wiki adds transparency and accessibility to local government by opening up the municipal code for review, asking questions of electoral candidates, and providing an avenue for government officials to directly address issues in the city. Furthermore, Davis Wiki not only holds businesses accountable for questionable activities, but provides a direct avenue for business owners to respond to these accusations.

By putting every person on the same level, the local wiki reinforces the knowledge that we are neighbors first, and citizens/politicians, consumers/business owners second. Although Davis is a small town, we feel that the progress we have made here can be applied in any community to improve political and economic relations by increasing cohesiveness within a community and bypassing hierarchical power networks.

Planned use of prize money*

We've accomplished so much with such a limited budget, thus far: we've built a real community around maintaining information about anything and everything relating to the city of Davis, we've developed our own software, and allowed other communities to start their own projects through our service. With the Prix Ars Electronica prize money we could do so much more.

On the software side of the project, we could dedicate more resources toward creating a world-class graphical page editor, build semantic wiki features and improve our mapping system. We could help pay for our non-profit incorporation costs. We could purchase more space to ensure consistent, fast backups. We could develop a real donor database and coordinate our yearly fundraiser in a more organized manner. In short, the prize money will serve to bootstrap the long-term success of our project.

The prize money would be donated to Wiki Spot, the non-profit (we are in the process of incorporating) that has grown out of the efforts of Davis Wiki. By funding Wiki Spot, we would not only be funding Davis Wiki, but enabling us to bring community wiki to others in the form of not only an interconnected wiki hosting environment, but also support and community guidance. While the norms and protocols established in Davis may not be appropriate everywhere, the non-commercial, self-moderating model offers significant advantages to rigid corporate efforts such as Yelp or City Search.