A Wiki – the Basic Concepts

wikiAlmost everyone that reads this blog has looked up something on Wikipedia.  I use it so much, I felt obligated to donate to their recent fund raiser.  If you use Wikipedia, as much as I do, you might consider a small donation to the cause yourself.

A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to have a developer, imperialWicket, come into our group, and put up a wiki just for our development group.  He used a commercial Wiki, and I found it useful for looking up key informaton that we used periodically in our work.

In my recent job, we have a group of 10 developers, all doing different projects, but using SugarCRM, not a particularly easy piece of software to get to know, thus an ideal setting for a local wiki.  I volunteered to put a wiki up on our local server, and thus my sudden interest.

But first let me digress to a little history on the concept of a Wiki as first invented and created by Ward Cunningham in 1994, the creator of the first WikiWikiWeb software, and the co-author of the book, The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web.

The basic concepts of a Wiki are:

1. A Wiki invites all users to edit an existing page, or create a new page, using any web browser.

2. A Wiki connects topics together by easily linking wiki pages together.

3. Thus, a Wiki is not necessarily a highly organized site, but a database for searching and browsing for specific information.  It seeks to encourage users to collaborate on existing pages, and create new linked pages, which constantly changes the overall structure of the Wiki site.

4. A wiki favors easy correction over lock-down security.

A wiki is more organic, then a forum which attempts to keep everything organize into set topics to which users add comments.

The problem that I've personally experienced with a forum is spam.  The forum monitors constantly have to run spam filters, review forum comments before posting, and constantly review old posts, to eliminate unsavory use of the forum, see my article on forums.

Wikis handle this problem slightly differently.  Wikis are open, and topics and comments are not reviewed before posting.  Since every user can create and edit an existing page, a wiki is self-monitored.  Any users can edit any page to remove unsavory comments.  When you have millions of users viewing and editing pages, corrections can happen quite quickly, text is edited, spelling corrected, and topics checked for veracity by everyone.

On the other hand, vandalized pages and links may not be corrected for quite some time depending on traffic to the page, and because of the open system, links to trojan and malware can be integrated as external links into the site.

5.  Most Wikis, like version control software, keep track of every edit made to a particular page.

You can look back and see the history of who and what edits were made to a page, and revert to a prior version if a page has been too corrupted.

Security concerns have kept many wikis private, only offered to a select group as an information database within the group. Other security integrated into a site include page-by-page permissions and group permissions.

6. Wikis make it easy to search for information.

Despite these security concerns wikis are quite popular. Their openness and ability to link to many different pages within one page leads to insightful browsing and arcane information that users may not be able to get any other way.   The ease of searching and the indexing of pages is a big part of the wikis appeal.

7.  Wiki pages are trusted.

Any false information in the wiki page will be edited out by fellow users, so that greater and greater truth emerges as the page is edited.  In the case of Wikipedia, source information is often requested from users for topics within a page that can be verified and enhanced with additional information.

This is the start of a series of articles on wikis. In my next article, I'll explain the difference between the various types of wikis and the structure of the wiki that makes using and contributing to a wiki different from using any other software.

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