Wikis 1

An Introduction to Wikis

About Wikis

A Wiki is a computer software program that allows a group of people to collaboratively build a website. Wikis are easy to use, easy to edit, and easy to search. The beauty of a wiki is that contributors don’t have to have advanced technology skills, such as knowledge of html, to participate in creating a website. A wiki “democratizes” the contribution process by providing easy editing tools so that everyone, from the novice to the geek, can contribute to the very same website.


The most popular example of a wiki is the online encyclopedia Wikipedia .




Wikipedia was introduced to the online community in 2001 and, according to a report recently published by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, is now considered the largest online reference resource on the web. Currently Wikipedia boasts 2,114,000 articles in 253 different languages, with more than 75,000 active contributors around the world. It is this concept of collaboration that is the main focus in this module.

Wiki History

In 1995 computer programmer Ward Cunningham developed the first wiki called Wiki Wiki Web. Cunningham wanted to create a website on software development that could be easily updated by other computer programmers. He wanted a program that allowed these programmers to quickly and easily exchange ideas with one another. Inspired by an Apple program called Hypercard, Cunningham created such a program that he called a “wiki” after the Hawaiian word meaning quick. Early uses of wikis include project communications and intranets.


Chris Harris, author of the article, Can We Make Peace with Wikipedia, states that the Oxford English Dictionary might have also played a role in the development of the Wiki Way

“Every day, librarians around the world turn to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) as the definitive resource. This trusted authority, however, has a shocking secret-the venerable OED began life as a wiki. Well, sort of. Thousands of volunteer readers back in the day composed more than 400,000 definitions by submitting slips of paper with quotations that detailed word usage. Lacking wiki software meant organizing over five million slips to form this collective intelligence project, a process that lasted from 1857 until 1928. Today, Wikipedia’s volunteers have published about five million articles worldwide in just six years. So these two projects appear to be distant cousins of sorts.” Can We Make Peace with Wikipedia By Chris Harris, School Library Journal. June 2007, Vol. 53, Iss. 6; pg. 26.* (See note at the bottom of the page).

How a Wiki works

The flow of information from a website to a viewer is typically one-way; the viewer can access the information, but not contribute. With a wiki the flow of information is two-way; the viewer can access, edit, and contribute information to the website. Take a look at this very short but entertaining tutorial (4 min.) on how wikis work: Wikis in Plain English (it does require sound–ask about the headphones that are available at your branch).

WYSIWYG (pronounced wiziwig) is an acronym for “What you see is what you get.” It refers to the editing toolbar found on a wiki user interface. A WYSIWYG toolbar allows the user to see exactly what the content will look like as they enter it onto the page. The toolbar looks much like a word processing toolbar although the options are somewhat limited.

When wikis were first created users learned a simple syntax language to edit a document rather than use an editing toolbar. This Wikipedia Cheatsheet shows you how simple this syntax language is to use. Today users have the option of using wiki syntax over the WYSIWYG toolbar to edit or contribute to a page.

Why a Wiki versus a Blog or traditional Website?

Using a wiki to create a website can be more efficient than the traditional way of building a website. Having multiple users collaborate on the content helps ease the backlog of congestion that happens when a website needs updating and there is only one webmaster to handle the load.

A wiki differs from a blog in that no one owns the content – instead everyone owns the content. And because everyone owns the content, contributors tend to put extra thought into what they add to the wiki. It really is a perpetual work in progress as the community is continually expanding and grooming the wiki.

On the flip side, collaboration can also create chaos. One reason a community or organization might not choose to use a wiki is the chaos vandals and spammers can cause. Wikis are built on the concept of trust. While there are many who care about the accuracy and quality of the wiki content, unfortunately there are others who like to create malicious mischief. To combat this issue, many wikis now have plug-ins that deter spammers and wiki administrators ask that contributors create user ids and passwords to access and edit the wiki.

Wikis in the Community

Wikis are typically created to collect and disseminate knowledge on a common theme or topic. The possibilities are limitless. Once a wiki has been created the structure, organization, and content of the wiki becomes dynamic – pages are linked together using hyperlinks. And as more and more people contribute to the wiki, it begins to take on a life of its own. Here are some wonderful examples of wikis on the web today. As you view these wikis take note of the different wiki interfaces. There are many free wiki hosting sites available and users can now shop around to find the best wiki server for their project.

Community Information guides

Content Management Systems

Readers Advisory

Encyclopedias & Dictionaries


Personal Wikis

Subject Guides

  • BizWiki (Business Resources) Powered by Mediwiki
  • Library for Life (St. Joseph County Public Library) Powered by Mediawiki

Check out this article at Techessence. It has a nice summary and links to different types of wikis.

Now, some administrative-type stuff:

  • Here’s a link to the krl2pt0 wiki at PBwiki.
  • To edit or add content to the wiki, you’ll need a password. That has been sent to everyone at your gmail address. If you didn’t receive an email with the password, let us know at

One more important thing to know — any number of different users can view a page at the same time, but only one person can be editing any given page at any one time. If you go to edit a page someone else is already working on, you’ll get a popup notice informing you who is editing and for how long.

So, make sure that you save your changes and exit edit mode when you are finished editing a page — don’t leave it open in edit mode and go out for dinner — that way others can have access to the page for editing.


Next week we will begin building a staff wiki which will be hosted by PB Wiki. Your assignment for this week is to:

  1. View this screencast on the krl2pt0 wiki. (To view this, you must have Java installed on your computer. The screencast website will automatically check for it and offer a download if it isn’t installed. Computers at KRL should already have Java installed).
  2. Explore the Stevens County Wiki Project (listed above) as well as one other wiki in the list and blog about a wiki idea you have for KRL.
  3. Next take a look at the bare bones of the krl2pt0 wiki. We will begin adding to this wiki next week. While viewing the krl2pt0 wiki, practice editing and contributing to the wiki in either the Fake (FA) branch or the wiki Sandbox.
  4. If you’re interested, check out some of the links to wiki tutorials that are listed in the sidebar of the krl2pt0 wiki.

*(For a detailed account of the making of the Oxford English Dictionary, read Simon Winchester’s excellent work, The professor and the madman : a tale of murder, insanity, and the making of the Oxford English dictionary).

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