This profile looks at wiki - open source based collaborative
This page covers -
Wiki - sometimes referred to by true believers as WikiWiki
- is both a mechanism for electronic publishing and a
movement for collaborative publishing.
Both date from 1995, when the Portland Pattern Repository
was established by US programmer Ward Cunningham.
Cunningham commented in 2004 that
think wiki is a miniature version of science. Science
is a process for organising and explaining nature. Wiki
is a process for organising and explaining experience.
I ask people to tell me their stories, and people like
to tell stories. It's a natural, social thing. Wiki
provides the machinery for weaving together those stories.
content - such as the Wikipedia, claimed in 2006 to be
the 17th most visited site, "generating more traffic
daily than MSNBC.com and the online versions of the New
York Times and Wall Street Journal combined"
- is hosted on a server and published using software (typically
a web-based publishing engine) that allows users to readily
create/modify web pages. In contrast to other content
management systems (CMS), discussed here,
use of wiki engines does not involve processing text offline
using software such as DreamWeaver for subsequent upload
to the web.
Wiki engines use a variety of markup languages to enable
non-specialist users to create/edit text, make hyperlinks
between pages on the particular server and add images.
A standard wiki markup has yet to emerge. Wiki pages are
Wiki is unusual among groupware because it facilitates
both editing of content and changes to the way that content
The movement embraces notions that the technology will
enable publishing by specialists and the general community
alike, liberating authors and providing free access to
content outside traditional publishing framneworks. It
thus shares values attributed to blogging
and Usenet, and to collaborative
That is evident in comments
many simple concepts, "open editing" has some
profound and subtle effects on Wiki usage. Allowing
everyday users to create and edit any page in a Web
site is exciting in that it encourages democratic use
of the Web and promotes content composition by nontechnical
wiki's strength is that it is a form of communication
based on documents, rather than messages. Since it is
document-based, it becomes much easier to maintain a
discussion between a group of people, and to edit and
re-edit the page until it becomes coherent and helpful
SociologyWiki doesn't, and most likely will never exist.
Its supposed charter was "to discuss and explore
political, economic, psychological and philosophical
The trouble with this is that "discussing and exploring"
mainly means flaming and poo-pooing. In other words,
noise. No one was willing to waste bandwidth hosting
such a thing, and most WikiZens looked on the prospect
with trepidation and loathing.
wiki community appears to be small but enthusiastic and
- like the supporters of initiatives such as Project Gutenberg
- has a somewhat utopian flavour.
In discussing the Wikipedia encyclopaedia one proponent
shouldn't there be a page for every Simpsons character,
and even a table listing every episode, all neatly crosslinked
and introduced by a shorter central page like the above?
Why shouldn't every episode name in the list link to
a separate page for each of those episodes, with links
to reviews and trivia?
If you haven't read Borges on the never-ending library,
why indeed not a separate page for every category and
That is consistent with suggestions that "the all-encompassing
nature of Wikipedia has been a significant factor in its
growth" and with developments such as Esperanto wikis,
redolent of 1920s visions of technocracy and the end of
Jean-Baptiste Soufron commented
in 2005 that
am convinced that Wikipedia is the only real Encyclopedia
of our days because it's the only one that relies on
a real political goal: to pursue freedom over content
On the other hand, books like the Encyclopedia Britannica
are nothing else than simple knowledge compendiums without
any political soul and usurping the term "Encyclopedia".
... we must really understand that this freedom is the
real difference between Wikipedia and other so-called
encyclopedias of today: Wikipedia relies on the political
principle to extend freedom, to change the society of
the 20th century by giving control over content to everyone.
In that sense, it's also clear today that only Wikipedia
can pretend to be a real Encyclopedia.
As with other inward-looking affinity groups or technical
communities wiki is marked by its own - often self-consciously
cute - language.
A 'WikiWikiWeb' (generally abbreviated to 'wiki' and created
enables collective authoring, on the fly, of text documents
using a web browser. Simple wiki engines restrict users
to basic text formatting. Some of the more advanced engines
feature inclusion of images, tables and interactive elements.
An assemblage of documents, such as an encyclopaedia or
other reference work, is characterised as a 'wiki'. Individual
documents are characterised as separate 'wiki pages'.
Contribution to most wikis is open to anyone with access
to the wiki server, in principle to the general community.
added restrictions in mid 2006.) Registration of a user
may not required. There is often no prior review before
wiki pages are created or modified.
A characteristically upbeat item in the March 2004 Guardian
easy to feel confused on your first browse around a
wiki. Some might be tempted to dive right in and start
editing every page they find, but like other electronic
communities (think newsgroups or mailing lists), it's
probably a good idea to lurk unobtrusively for a while
first. Once you have a good sense of the right tone
to adopt and the accepted way of using the site, you
can start making changes.
The confusion is compounded when newcomers realise there's
nothing to stop them behaving badly. Wiki sites are
not usually protected and there's nothing to stop someone
trashing pages, deleting good content and replacing
it with rubbish. And, sadly, this does happen. Changes
to wiki pages are stored in a database. If some one
vandalises a page, the last "good" version
of it is still available and can be restored with a
The consequence is that most of the time, wiki sites
can only be vandalised one page at a time, and as long
as there is a community of well-behaved users prepared
to sort things out, problems can be fixed quickly and
with little fuss.
Wikis face many of the questions asked about blogging.
Having a publishing tool -
not equivalent to quality
not address concerns about objectivity or defamation
not obviate traditional publishing issues such as editorial
standards, respect for intellectual property.
The shape of the wiki community means that major initiatives
have been cruelly but with some justice dismissed as "the
encyclopedia that Slashdot
built", with extensive coverage of IT (and science
fiction minutiae) but little attention to the social sciences
and less to the humanities. If you are interested in Klingon
surf the Wikipedia. If you are interested in Busoni, Namier,
Marc Bloch, Heimito von Doderer, the Kea parrot of New
Zealand or Christina Stead head for the Britannica
or an individual study.
highlights Wikipedia's bias. dismissed by some as a bias
"toward things that don't matter". The Wikipedia
item on Latin is shorter than that on Klingon. Its Archaeology
is shorter than the item on Indiana Jones, Women's suffrage
is shorter than the 'List of fictional gynoids and female
cyborgs' and so forth. Measures of quality rather than
length are more depressing, as noted later in this profile.
Wikipedia has also been panned as "an open-licensed
rip-off of Encarta" and other online/offline resources,
with Ethan Zuckerman for example commenting
a paper encyclopedia, paraphrase the entry on Alexander
Hamilton and you've done a "service" to the
Andrew Orlowski commented in 2005 that
the project has no shortage of volunteers, most add
nothing: busying themselves with edits that simply add
or takeaway a comma. These are housekeeping tasks that
build up credits for the participants, so they can rise
higher in the organization.
Of the 200,000 registered users on the English-language
Wikipedia, some 3,300 are responsible for around 70% of
The frequent absence of citations (particularly to offline
work published prior to the 1990s) and anonymous collective
authorship means that it is difficult to assess the accuracy
of wiki reference works. Proponents have argued that collective
editing - illustrated through contributions accessible
via the 'page history' link - functions as a form of effective
peer review, commenting that
articles are extremely easy to edit. Anyone can click
the "edit" link and edit an article. Peer
review per se is not necessary and is actually a bit
of a pain to deal with. We prefer (in most cases) that
people just go in and make changes they deem necessary.
practice recurrent editing to ensure a consensus about
accuracy and filter out contributions by cranks appears
to be the case only for those pages that attract significant
interest. Areas that are the preserve of a only few enthusiasts
have sometimes received dubious coverage.
For us much of the interest of Wikipedia lies in the editorial
comments by contributors rather than the final product.
One wiki participant asked,
in Wiki vs Web, whether wiki was close to the
original vision of the web -
Web was originally designed to make it easy to link
information. It would be simple for people to write
their various web pages, sprinkling links to other documents
ThisHasntHappened? [sic] Instead, we have the Web as
a publishing model. We have the Web as magazines. We
have the Web as TV.
Most people who browse the Web don't author their own
Web pages. Those who do typically create a simple personal
page and leave it at that. Personally, I think it is
because HTML, the language that Web pages are written
in, lies right smack in the middle ground between being
too hard and too easy. ...
HTML is simple enough that any self-respecting geek
can whip out a Web page in a couple of minutes using
nothing more than Notepad. To a programmer, there isn't
much call for a simple HTML editor. There is no need.
To the average person, though, HTML is finicky, arbitrary
and complicated. The average person, after ascending
the learning curve enough to write their personal page,
decides that they don't want to deal with all the funny
is unclear, though, whether the "average person"
is that interested in dealing with a wiki engine or indeed
contributing to an online resource.
copyright and the gift economy
The wiki communitarian ethos has advantages and disadvantages
regarding intellectual property.
As open content under the GNU
Free Documentation License there are no access fees. Contributors
are not paid and there is no formal 'star system'. Wiki
proponents argue that
this encourages people to contribute; they know it's
a public project that everyone can use.
downside is that anonymity "encourages people to
contribute" other people's work. Wikipedia for example
features individual passages, images and discrete items
that have been lifted by contributors
without any apparent concern for copyright owners or -
just as importantly - for attribution
to the authors of that content.
One of the more spiky Gift Economy comments
property is intellectual theft, a lie backed by law,
a child of hubris and conceit. It presumes that it is
possible to own ideas, to control them, and to dictate
their use. It mandates that knowledge must always be
a scarce resource to be hidden and hoarded and carefully
Open source enthusiast Eric Raymond bracingly commented
that "'disaster' is not too strong a word" to
characterise Wikipedia, sniping that
more you look at what some of the Wikipedia contributors
have done, the better Britannica looks
appear to have been no rigorous surveys but several of
the major wiki collections appear to be enthusiastic recyclings
of text that's readily identifiable on the web - textual
clip-art - rather than work of original analysis or content
derived from academic or other journals.
Given academic interest in open source and publishing
developments such as blogging
it is perhaps surprising that prior to 2005 wiki attracted
so little attention from pundits and journalists.
Four sources are The Wiki Way - Quick Collaboration
on the Web (Reading: Addison-Wesley 2001) by Ward
Cunningham & Bo Leuf, How Wikipedia Works: And
How You Can Be a Part of It (No Starch Press 2008)
by Phoebe Ayers, Charles Matthews & Ben Yates, MediaWiki:
Wikipedia and Beyond (Sebastopol: O'Reilly 2008)
by Daniel Barrett and Wikipedia: The Missing Manual
(Sebastopol: Pogue Press/O'Reilly 2008) by John Broughton.
They are complemented by sociological and informational
analysis in From Usenet to CoWebs (New York:
Springer 2003) edited by Christopher Lueg, the 2003 paper
Applying the open source development model to knowledge
by J Mateos Garcia & W Steinmueller, Phantom authority,
self-selective recruitment and retention of members in
virtual communities: The case of Wikipedia, a 2003
by Andrea Ciffolilli, the insightful 2004 Collaborative
Authoring on the Web: A Genre Analysis of Online Encyclopedias
by William Emigh & Susan Herring, and Reid Priedhorsky's
Creating, Destroying, and Restoring Value in Wikipedia
The 2004 paper
Manifesto for the Reputation Society by Hassan
Masum & Yi–Cheng Zhang describes Wikipedia as
a public good where reputation and other motivations substitute
for direct reciprocity, a notion that is contested by
critics who argue that anonymity reduces the investment
that individual authors have in maintenance of their reputation.
Andrew Lih's Wikipedia as Participatory Journalism:
Reliable Sources? Metrics for evaluating collaborative
media as a news resource (PDF)
considers the vexed question of evaluation. Studying
Cooperation and Conflict between Authors with history
flow Visualizations (PDF)
is a 2004 study by Fernanda Viegas, Martin Wattenberg
& Dave Kushal
For a business case see Emma Tonkin's 2005 article
Making the Case for a Wiki and Wiki: Web
Collaboration (New York: Springer 2005) by Anja Ebersbach,
Markus Glaser & Richard Heigl,
complemented by Yochai Benkler's The Wealth of Networks:
How Social Production Transforms Markets & Freedom
(New Haven: Yale Uni 2006).
next page (ideology