After studying this section you should be able to do the following:
A wikiA Web site that can be modified by anyone, from directly within a Web browser (provided that user is granted edit access). is a Web site anyone can edit directly within a Web browser (provided the site grants the user edit access). Wikis derive their name from the Hawaiian word for “quick.” Ward Cunningham, the “wiki father” christened this new class of software with the moniker in honor of the wiki-wiki shuttle bus at the Honolulu airport. Wikis can indeed be one of the speediest ways to collaboratively create content online. Many popular online wikis serve as a shared knowledge repository in some domain.
The largest and most popular wiki is Wikipedia, but there are hundreds of publicly accessible wikis that anyone can participate in. Each attempts to chronicle a world of knowledge within a particular domain, with examples ranging from Wine Wiki for oenophiles to Wookieepedia, the Star Wars wiki. But wikis can be used for any collaborative effort—from meeting planning to project management. And in addition to the hundreds of public wikis, there are many thousand more that are hidden away behind firewalls, used as proprietary internal tools for organizational collaboration.
Like blogs, the value of a wiki derives from both technical and social features. The technology makes it easy to create, edit, and refine content; learn when content has been changed, how and by whom; and to change content back to a prior state. But it is the social motivations of individuals (to make a contribution, to share knowledge) that allow these features to be harnessed. The larger and more active a wiki community, the more likely it is that content will be up-to-date and that errors will be quickly corrected. Several studies have shown that large community wiki entries are as or more accurate than professional publication counterparts.
Want to add to or edit a wiki entry? On most sites you just click the Edit link. Wikis support what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG)A phrase used to describe graphical editing tools, such as those found in a wiki, page layout program, or other design tool. editing that, while not as robust as traditional word processors, is still easy enough for most users to grasp without training or knowledge of arcane code or markup language. Users can make changes to existing content and can easily create new pages or articles and link them to other pages in the wiki. Wikis also provide a version history. Click the “history” link on Wikipedia, for example, and you can see when edits were made and by whom. This feature allows the community to roll backThe ability to revert a wiki page to a prior version. This is useful for restoring earlier work in the event of a posting error, inaccuracy, or vandalism. a wiki to a prior page, in the event that someone accidentally deletes key info, or intentionally defaces a page.
Vandalism is a problem on Wikipedia, but it’s more of a nuisance than a crisis. A Wired article chronicled how Wikipedia’s entry for former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was regularly replaced by a photo of a “scruffy, random unshaven man with his left index finger shoved firmly up his nose.”Daniel Pink, “The Book Stops Here,” Wired, March 2005. Nasty and inappropriate, to be sure, but the Wikipedia editorial community is now so large and so vigilant that most vandalism is caught and corrected within seconds. Watch-lists for the most active targets (say the Web pages of political figures or controversial topics) tip off the community when changes are made. The accounts of vandals can be suspended, and while mischief-makers can log in under another name, most vandals simply become discouraged and move on. It’s as if an army of do-gooders follows a graffiti tagger and immediately repaints any defacement.
As with blogs, a wiki’s features set varies depending on the specific wiki tool chosen, as well as administrator design, but most wikis support the following key features:
Wikis are available both as software (commercial as well as open source varieties) that firms can install on their own computers or as online services (both subscription or ad-supported) where content is hosted off site by third parties. Since wikis can be started without the oversight or involvement of a firm’s IT department, their appearance in organizations often comes from grassroots user initiative. Many wiki services offer additional tools such as blogs, message boards, or spreadsheets as part of their feature set, making most wikis really more full-featured platforms for social computing.
Wikis can be vital tools for collecting and leveraging knowledge that would otherwise be scattered throughout an organization; reducing geographic distance; removing boundaries between functional areas; and flattening preexisting hierarchies. Companies have used wikis in a number of ways:
When brought outside the firewall, corporate wikis can also be a sort of value-generation greenhouse, allowing organizations to leverage input from their customers and partners:
Jump-starting a wiki can be a challenge, and an underused wiki can be a ghost town of orphan, out-of-date, and inaccurate content. Fortunately, once users see the value of wikis, use and effectiveness often snowballs. The unstructured nature of wikis are also both a strength and weakness. Some organizations employ wikimastersIndividuals often employed by organizations to review community content in order to delete excessive posts, move commentary to the best location, and edit as necessary. to “garden” community content; “prune” excessive posts, “transplant” commentary to the best location, and “weed” as necessary. Often communities will quickly develop norms for organizing and maintaining content. Wikipatterns.com offers a guide to the stages of wiki adoption and a collection of community-building and content-building strategies.
Not only is the nonprofit Wikipedia, with its enthusiastic army of unpaid experts and editors, an immediate threat to the three-hundred-year-old Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia entries can impact nearly all large-sized organizations. Wikipedia is the go-to, first-choice reference site for a generation of “netizens,” and Wikipedia entries are invariably one of the top links, often the first link, to appear in Internet search results.
This position means that anyone from top executives to political candidates to any firm large enough to warrant an entry has to contend with the very public commentary offered up in a Wikipedia entry. In the same way that firms monitor their online reputations in blog posts and Twitter tweets, they’ve also got to keep an eye on wikis.
But firms that overreach and try to influence an entry outside of Wikipedia’s mandated neutral point of view (NPOV)An editorial style that is free of bias and opinion. Wikipedia norms dictate that all articles must be written in NPOV., risk a backlash and public exposure. Version tracking means the wiki sees all. Users on computers at right-leaning Fox News were embarrassingly caught editing the wiki page of the lefty pundit and politician Al Franken (a nemesis of Fox’s Bill O’Reilly);A. Bergman, “Wikipedia Is Only as Anonymous as your I.P.,” O’Reilly Radar, August 14, 2007. Sony staffers were flagged as editing the entry for the Xbox game Halo 3;I. Williams, “Sony Caught Editing Halo 3 Wikipedia Entry,” Vnunet.com, September 5, 2007. and none other than Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales was criticized for editing his own Wikipedia biography;E. Hansen, “Wikipedia Founder Edits Own Bio,” Wired, December 19, 2005. an act that some consider bad online form at best, and dishonest at worst.
One last point on using Wikipedia for research. Remember that according to its own stated policies, Wikipedia isn’t an original information source; rather, it’s a clearinghouse for verified information. So citing Wikipedia as a reference usually isn’t considered good form. Instead, seek out original (and verifiable) sources via the links at the bottom of Wikipedia entries.