...and other information to keep staff in the Technology Loop

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Wiki, Wiki, Wiki!

One of the most interesting things about technology advancing as fast as it does is the effect it has on language. The English language has always been a very fluid thing, incorporating new phrases as quickly as there are new concepts to explain, and so a wide variety of terms has arisen to describe the changing technology of the modern world. Thus we talk about blogs, iPods, mp3s, podcasting, and... wikis?

A Wiki is a quick-to-build, easy-to-edit website on which all information can be edited, changed, or rewritten by the users or members of the site. It is an incredibly useful tool for collaborative writing, pooling knowledge or exchanging ideas, especially on a subject that changes or needs updating frequently.

The word "Wiki" comes from the Hawaiian phrase "wiki wiki", which is commonly used to indicate something fast. The first Wiki ever made was WikiWikiWeb, an attempt to make an easily updatable website about certain trends in software development. It was started in 1995 and has been added to and continually updated since then.

The largest wiki in the world is the English language version of Wikipedia, which has been estimated at having over a million entries. Wikipedia is an open-source encyclopedia, an attempt to gather detailed information about a variety of subjects.

The advantage that Wikipedia - and by extension all wikis - over a conventional website is the fact that all of the wiki's users are potentially its authors. This means that when new information is discovered about a subject, it is quickly added to the collective knowledge base. Unlike a conventional encyclopedia, where editors have to find experts for different subject areas, and nothing gets published without their say-so, anybody can write a wikipedia entry. If you have knowledge about a given subject area, you can write an entry about it. If there is already an entry but it doesn't cover something, you can edit it to add your information. Wikis are dynamic and collective, updating quickly to take account of new developments, and drawing on the expertise of a very broad, very deep readership. Wikis are also not as limited as most encyclopedias in what they talk about. Wikipedia especially has entries on subjects as diverse as the rivalries between different newsgroups, Australian constitutional crises, the love lives of English footballers, and the current storylines in the Spider-Man comics. These are maintained and updated by enthusiasts with interests in and passion for these subjects.

The disadvantage a wiki has is ironically the same as its advantage. Being written by its readers, and having little in the way of editorial control, a wiki is prone to being subjective, or strongly influenced by opinion. Someone with a grudge against a particular public figure, for example, could edit their entry to make derogatory remarks about them, or simply delete the page altogether. Controversial subjects are occasionally the site of "editing wars", where an entry is edited multiple times in quick succession by people on opposing sides of an issue. Because of this lack of vetting of entries, many teachers do not allow students to use wikipedia as an information source.

Despite its disadvantages, a wiki is a good way of gathering facts quickly and pooling expertise from a large number of people. I have recently started up a Core Competencies wiki to gather information and experiences from people about the Core Competencies program and to provide the information necessary to fulfil the requirements of the different cores. Please come and visit the site, and if you have anything to add to the existing entries, or any new information to add to the requirements as yet uncovered, feel free to do so. The more we share our information, the more we learn.