Friday, December 5, 2008

7. Learn about wikis

Wikipedia, the largest collaborative wiki, has over 2.1 million articles in EnglishWe’ve looked at blogging as a way of quickly and easily publishing content to the web and we have also explored RSS feeds as means of syndicating such content. While blogs can be undertaken as collaborative enterprises, the Web 2.0 technology we turn to next is particularly suited to online collaborative authoring - Wikis. This week we will take a look at what wikis are, how they are used, and what features are common to most. So, what’s a Wiki?

A wiki is a type of website that allows users to easily add, remove, and otherwise collaboratively edit and change content that can be quickly published to the web. This ease of interaction and use makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative authoring. Most likely you have already taken a look at the most famous public wiki, Wikipedia, but if you haven't, take a look; try looking up a subject you know something about to see if it appears complete and accurate.

You do not need to know HTML to edit a wiki (although many allow for the use of HTML editing in addition to Wikitext or Wiki Markup) and all you need to edit a wiki is an internet connection and a web browser. Wikitext, a form of markup which is simpler than HTML, may also vary to a degree from one wiki to another, here’s a sample of Wikitext used in MediaWiki. There are numerous kinds of “wiki software” or “wiki engines,” these can vary widely in look and functionality. Features common to most wiki software include: recent activity display, discussion or comment features, and varying degrees of access/edit permissions for users, WYSIWYG editing and edit history.

Wiki software can be downloaded and installed on a private network or hosted online. Hosted wikis allow users to quickly sign-up and establish their own wiki with no software downloads either for free or for a nominal change (free wikis are supported by revenue from advertising).

When to use a wiki

Wikis are used for:

  • Group collaboration
  • Building a knowledge base: capturing the collective intelligence
Wikis can be used for any project that is worked on by more than one person. Examples of a wiki for "internal projects" include grant applications, committee work, conference planning, policies and procedures. "External projects," viewable to the public, might include textbooks, community information, or bibliographies.
Wikis in the library

There are numerous examples of the ways in which wikis have been used in libraries - as resource guides, to foster collaborative writing projects, for reference desk support, and to share library policies. Here are some examples of wikis in libraries and health care:

What’s the difference? Choosing the right wiki

TikiWiki, WetPaint, Stikipad, PHPWiki, SeedWiki, PBWiki, Wikispaces, MoinMoin, Netcipia… with all these different wikis to choose from you might have a difficult time deciding which wiki is best suited to your project. A tool you might find useful for comparing the features of various wikis is Wikimatrix. The Wikimatrix web site has several useful features for comparing any number of more than 80 wiki engines listed. So what are some of the features common to Wikis and what are some differences?

  • Wikis allow you to assign different access permissions to different users. The site creator (Administrator) can assign other Administrators or Moderators to the Wiki. Wikis typically have several levels of contributors with varying degrees of access, such as Admin, Mod, Writer, Registered User, and Guest.
  • Many wikis allow users to subscribe to them either via email or RSS feeds. Some allow users to subscribe to specific pages and keep apprised of recent edits.
  • Personalization of user accounts can be quite different from wiki to wiki; some allow for the creation of detail user profiles, private messaging, and commenting upon individual profiles.
  • Many wikis are tiered with both free accounts and ‘premium memberships’ that often have added features such as a higher page limits or greater storage capacity.
  • Pages edit history & revert. Wikis allow users to view the history of specific pages, and mark up recent changes. Many have more advanced edit comparison features that may allow users to compare the changes to an entry over the course of months. Wikis also typically have a revert feature that allows those with sufficient access permissions to rollback a page to an earlier edit.
  • WYSIWYG. Not only do most wikis allow users to use Wikitext instead of HTML, but some wikis also have “What You See Is What You Get” editors that make it even easier for anyone to contribute.
  • Take a look at some library wikis and create a blog post about your findings. Post a comment here with a link to your blog post so others will be able to easily find it.
    • What did you find interesting? What uses could you see for a wiki in your own professional setting? What do you see as some of the possible pitfalls of wikis?

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