Most of us have heard of Wikipedia, but it can sometimes be easy to forget that Wikipedia is just one wiki, albeit a very popular one. So, just what is a wiki? What makes them so popular?
A Look at Wiki - Content Management:
At its core, a wiki is a content management system. What this means is it is designed to allow people to create and edit web pages without any knowledge of HTML. This allows writers to do what they do best, which is write, and editors to do what they do best, edit.
Many websites utilize content management systems to provide content to users. For example, this article was written using About.com's content management system. Blogging software is another example of a content management system.
A Look at Wiki - Community Oriented:
The main thing that sets wikis apart from the pack is that they are community-oriented projects, often allowing the public at large to write and edit articles. This allows a wiki to draw upon the expertise of a large number of people, and to grow much quicker than if only a limited number of people were able to add to it.
The open-ended aspect of wikis does lead to some downsides. A wiki can be a target of people who want to post misinformation or simply vandalize an entry. However, the good outweighs the bad, and the open-ended nature allows wiki users to police themselves.
A Look at Wiki - Wiki Farms:
While Wikipedia is perhaps the most popular wiki, there are thousands of other wikis out there both large and small, and both public and private. Some of these wikis are stand-alone, meaning the wiki covers a specific topic and the website was created just for that wiki.
A Look at Wiki - Popularity:
The social nature of wikis extends a sense of ownership to the community at large. Because anyone can add to them or edit them, anyone can feel a sense of accomplishment through their contributions. This sense of ownership counters the negatives of public wikis by creating a self-policing nature among the wiki's community.
Also, compared to traditional methods of delivering content where one person or a limited group of people write and edit material to be posted on a website, wikis are very fast. Because they draw upon such a larger pool of writers, subjects can be entered at a much faster rate.
A Look at Wiki - The Future of Wiki:
What will the future hold for wikis? A more intuitive interface for adding content. While most wikis allow anyone to add or edit information, actually adding content can be made a lot simpler.
Wikis may also start to incorporate more pictures, videos, and sound clips. Can you imagine a piano wiki with YouTube tutorials on playing the piano embedded within the entries? It seems a logical next step.
Future wikis might also have reputation systems that provide higher consequences for users who misbehave. A catch-22 in that they can also be exploited, but expect more wikis to start experimenting with their use.