Sunday, May 17, 2009

why wikis?

By this point you have all surely encountered at least one wiki, the ACLA Youth Services Wiki (and I would be hard-pressed to imagine that any librarian is yet to encounter wikipedia). But if you haven't had the opportunity to update or interact with the behind-the-scenes end of a wiki, you may be a bit confused as to what all the fuss is about.

Wikis are a type of collaborative workspace, and wikipedia defines them as " A wiki is a collection of web pages designed to enable anyone with access to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language." The word wiki comes from the hawaiian term for "fast." All of that sounds quite technical, but the basic premise is that of a document, housed on the web, which can be edited by multiple authors.

Ever had to write a report or other document in a group? Emailing a new version of the document out after every slight change and keeping up with all of these versions can quickly become a nightmare. Wikis and other collaborative documents alleviate these problems by maintaining a single copy of the document with a logged record of changes made, when, and by whom.

A wiki may be publically viewable or have limited access, and the group of editors may be small or very large. They are commonly used for internal communications by corporations and organizations, including prominant organizations like Microsoft and the FBI.

Many wikis have other features such as the ability to upload images and files, and create links to other pages within the wiki and on the outside web. These features are all nice, but they are not necessary to make a document a wiki. Technically, any web-based document with editing access by multiple authors fits the definition, even something as simple as a shared Google Document.