Wisdom in wiki production/Introduction
A wiki is a website that enables the quick and easy collaborative production of materials. The best-known example of wikis might be the Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Wikis are becoming increasingly common at workplaces, schools and civic organisations - and it is no surprise, because wikis are flexible.
This guide intends to provide an overview of wikis (Introduction), their introduction for use and their materials production process (Wiki content production process, Good wiki material), as well as ideas for beginners who are only planning to start the use of wikis (Starting to use wikis) and also for more advanced users who are perhaps planning more extensive roll-outs of wikis in their organizations (Introducing a wiki for use). Wikis are discussed from the points of view of potential user groups (Target groups of wikis) and the points of view of various popular purposes (Different uses of wikis). We can study the use of wikis from different points of view.
Short history of the word and the concept of "wiki"
"Wiki" means 1) quick, fast 2) collaborative web publication. The word is Hawaiian, adopted by Ward Cunningham, the writer of the first wiki software. "Wiki" was the first word he learned when travelling to Hawaii: he was told to take the wiki-wiki bus, i.e. the express bus, to the city center. When considering a name for his software, Cunningham wanted to avoid the type of names similar to "quick web". "Wiki wiki web" sounded more fun to him; it was appropriately different and in particular, differed from product names containing the words "quick" and "fast".
We may well consider the history of wikis to have begun with Cunningham's first wiki software in 1995. If we study wikis as Cunningham first designed them, the basic wiki functions relate to editing and various versions of text. On the other hand, many wiki programs today contain much more than these "basic wiki" features: there are discussion forums, blogs, and the option to create user profiles. It may be difficult to establish the line between wikis and community software such as Ning and Facebook.
Two uses of wikis: reading and writing them
The use of wikis is based on two activities we all know, reading and writing. All internet users have, most likely, read a wiki even if they did not identify it as a wiki. The simplest and surely the most common way of using wikis is reading them. We can use wikis as sources in our information acquisition; this is well exemplified by our use of Wikipedia. Wikis can also be used for content production by e.g. writing.
The most important characteristic of wikis is that everyone may participate in the writing and illustrating process, i.e. they may collaborate in content production. Wiki readers can produce wiki contents. This may confuse new wiki users at first, but there are benefits for organizations: the maintenance of a wiki does not depend on any one person. Most new wiki writers encounter new challenges due to the fact that the authorship of texts becomes obscure. These challenges have their effects on the structuring and editing of the text. The basics of wiki writing are discussed in Starting to use wikis.
Reliability of information in wikis and Wikipedia
A large group of people is usually involved in producing contents to a wiki, and we can think the contents of the wiki to eventually become more and more reliable due to the work of the user community. The latest version can be considered to be collectively approved by the user community. The wikis of small communities often reflect the values and beliefs of the community, and the reliability of the wiki must be assessed according to what we can learn of the community on the basis of the text and other information perhaps available. For example, if a political party is using a wiki, the writers are rather sure to give critical information concerning their opponents - but we should consider it open to doubt. If a wiki is in organization-internal use, there probably is no danger of vandalism and purposeful distribution of faulty information In this type of use, too, the wiki's reliability is decreased if the number of visitors to the wiki is very small, and people actually updating it are few, only doing their updates as more urgent issues allow. In general, it is practical to have more than one person nominated in different units to be in charge of the organisation's wiki.
In connection with the use of Wikipedia as a source of information we often encounter discussion of the reliability of information in wikis and Wikipedia. If Wikipedia is used as a source, the user should understand that it is an encyclopedia with basic information on very many issues. However, it does not contain the latest scientific information. Regarding the reliability of its information, the English language version of Wikipedia was found by the science journal Nature to be as reliable as Encyclopaedia Britannica (see also Wikipedia's own analysis of Wikipedia content). We must note, however, what effects the sizes of the respective user communities have on the reliability of the information in the different language versions. For example, most assessments of the reliability of the Finnish language Wikipedia have been rather critical. In addition, the level of articles varies per subject within language communities. Studying the linguistic form of an article often gives a good general idea of its reliability. If the article seems well-structured and to the point, it most likely has been scrutinized by several writers.
Why choose a wiki?
Wikis are an easy way to collect a knowledge base from many people in one place. Wikis can be used, for example, for knowledge creation platforms in projects, for many people to collaborate on summaries, for documenting work completed, and for collaborative writing. Various kinds of hobby enthusiast communities can use wikis for collaborative writing. Home pages implemented with wikis can be updated by anyone, when necessary. Organizations can write their user instructions in wikis, which enables all members to edit the instructions and even produce new instructions so that the set is kept current.
No tool, not even a wiki, should be selected at random without carefully considering its purpose of use first. At some point, it may be more effective to write texts and edit tables in, say, GoogleDocs. In some cases, blogs may be more suitable than wikis. The differences between blogs and wikis are described in the table below:
|Designed for collaborative work in which everyone is allowed to edit the contents.||Designed for more personal use, usually kept by one user.|
|Organization of information per subject matter.||Organization of information in chronological order.|
|Wikis do not show easily when and in which order certain pieces of information were documented, but they show what each piece of information is related to — they are easy to browse.||Blogs may make it difficult to find all postings related to a certain topic.|
|Feedback in wikis takes place through users editing documents directly.||Blogs enable comments — the original text functions as the primus motor for comments and remains controlled by the owner of the blog.|
|Wikis encourage the sharing of information concerning their subject matters.||Blogs encourage spontaneous exchanges of ideas.|
|Wikis are better when information is intended to be edited and added to through common effort.||Blogs are better for distributing information to people and for obtaining feedback — original texts are not edited in blogs.|
Please refer to the table in which blogs, wikis and GoogleDocs are compared from the viewpoint of their use in education.
- Correspondence on the Etymology of Wiki Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc. home page. 1 November 2003. Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc..
- Wiki History Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc. home page. 25 March 1995. Cunningham & Cunningham, Inc..
- Giles, J. 2005. Internet encyclopaedias go head to head. Nature 438(7070), 900-901. Nature Publishing Group. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v438/n7070/full/438900a.html
- Parker, K.R. & Chao, J.T. 2007. Wiki as a Teaching Tool. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects 3, 57-72. http://ijklo.org/Volume3/IJKLOv3p057-072Parker284.pdf