Wikis are a form of webpage distinguished by their ‘read/write’ quality. Any reader can usually revise wiki content, with changes instantly visible on the page. Since most wikis preserve each successive version, malicious or misguided changes are readily reversed.
In a sense, wikis are a representation of Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision of the Internet, which he hoped would editable by any user. The invention of wikis is generally credited to Ward Cunningham, who launched the WikiWikiWeb (‘wiki’ is the Hawaiian word for ‘quick’) in 1995. As wikis have grown in popularity, they have tended to become somewhat more feature-rich and structured. It is now common for a wiki to have restrictive access controls and advanced authoring interfaces.
Generally wikis work best as collaborative authoring spaces. They may be thought of as a virtual whiteboard for rapid and relatively informal information capture. They may also work well for large and elaborate collections of community-authored materials -- Wikipedia is the best-known example, illustrating the massive scale that may be achieved. While the basics of page-creation and authoring are relatively simple in wiki systems, like any novel environment some support may be required for new users. For some users, the open structures typical of the environment (such as the absence of templates, hierarchical organization and structured navigation) can be disorienting. While they are very flexible environments, the ‘anything can go anywhere’ quality of wikis can make them confusing places to attempt something like a threaded online conversation. There is great diversity in the technical architecture and specific mark-up language across the many wiki systems, and migrating content from one system to another can be unexpectedly difficult.
Examples of How Wikis are Used at UBC
- An incredible exercise in which UBC students authored articles on Latin American literature for Wikipedia, most achieving “featured article” or “good article” status
- Professor Jon-Beasley-Murray’s reflections on the Murder, Madness and Mayhem Wikipedia project.
- ETEC 510 Design Wiki (iterated over a number of course offerings).
Sample some of the resources linked above, and then take some time to dive deeper into Wikipedia. While you have probably used Wikipedia as a reference work, you may not be aware how complex the processes for authoring and managing conflict can be. For any Wikipedia article with any significant amount of substance, it is worth clicking the “Discussion” link for a sense of how these articles develop, and how disagreements are resolved. Feel free to make a few edits to Wikipedia yourself. Though keep in mind that frivolous changes will likely be removed in a matter of minutes!
You may want to create a wiki yourself, to collect resources on a subject or to support a collaborative writing project. Some places you can create a wiki:
Write an entry for your course weblog about your experience here (on your "Home" page and posting a new entry). How labour intensive was the process? What worked well? What was challenging? What surprised you?
- Wikis in Plain English (short video).
- Heavy Metal Umlaut: The Movie: Jon Udell deconstructs how a Wikipedia article evolves.
- Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not (EDUCAUSE Review; requires registration with valid UBC email address).
- WikiEducator Help Pages: A treasure trove of tutorials, supported by an enthusiastic and friendly community.