The World of Wiki
Most online content, like this article for instance, is written by one person. Some sites allow readers to post their comments for others to read and react to. But imagine if online content could be created collectively by people with similar interests? What if anyone could then edit or add new content? This online collaboration exists in the form of wikis.
A wiki is a website that encourages and enables people to participate in the creation and editing of its content. The software makes it easy--all that's needed is a web browser and some non-technical know-how.In the Beginning
The first wiki was created in 1995 by a programmer named Ward Cunningham as a supplement to the PortlandPatternRepository website. He wanted to democratize the creation of online content by providing a way for people to openly share their knowledge and be accountable to the group for the accuracy of their information. It was a radical idea at the time and still is among those who believe that the best information comes from "experts." But just as blogs have shaken up mainstream journalism, wikis challenge the status quo of mainstream publishing. (By the way, although blogs and wikis bear some physical resemblance, blogs only append comments to the original posting; wikis allow the original to be edited, regardless of who authored it.)
The most successful wiki is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that launched in 2001; it's now become the largest reference site on the Web. The publication hosts millions of articles in dozens of languages, all written collaboratively by the public. While this experiment in content creation has sparked controversy due to inaccuracies within some of the articles, it has also fostered unprecedented global sharing of information.How It Works
When you first view a wiki, it looks like a typical web page--mostly formatted text with images and hyperlinks to other online resources. What makes wikis different is that anyone with access to the wiki, which might be anyone with Internet access, has the ability to modify, edit or add content. This can be done easily using a web browser; it requires no technical ability, no special software and no knowledge of HTML. Content on a wiki can also be edited indefinitely, allowing current information to be added and of course, revised.
You may be thinking that this isn't such a good idea. What if someone decides to delete portions of the text or add incorrect information? A few unique features of wikis deftly deal with these issues:
- Wiki software allows earlier versions of content to be restored.
- The history of all the changes made to the content can be seen by everyone--who made edits and when--revealing how the content evolved. This transparency tends to keep wikis "honest," because everyone knows who did what; community censure acts as a powerful force.
As with all online information, readers should be critical of the source and not accept information at face value. With wikis, older information tends to be more accurate as it has gone through community review, whereas newer material may not have received thorough scrutiny. For more on this, read our article "Online Information--Fact or Fiction?"Start Your Own
A wiki can be a useful communication tool for families, work groups, sports clubs, classes and for people with similar interests. You can restrict access to your wiki to just the people you want to participate or open it to the entire world--it's your choice.
What can you do with it? Here are just a few ideas:
- Create scrapbooks to share family photos, genealogy information and gossip
- Plan trips with friends
- Collaborate on projects with colleagues
- Create online cookbooks
- Share class notes with fellow students
- Write reports with co-workers
Like many services on the Web, you can start your own wiki for free, even with limited technical skills. Choose a name for your wiki, select a password, then start writing, encouraging others to participate. It's that simple. Two services to consider are:
Now go out there and start collaborating. Aloha!
Last update: Jan 7, 2010