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Wiki

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A wiki is a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone with access to it. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work".[1] Wikipedia is one of the best-known wikis.[2]

History

Wiki Wiki bus at Honolulu International Airport
Wiki Wiki bus at Honolulu International Airport

WikiWikiWeb was the first site to be called a wiki.[2] Ward Cunningham started developing WikiWikiWeb in 1994, and installed it on Internet domain c2.com on March 25, 1995. It was named by Cunningham, who remembered a Honolulu International Airport counter employee telling him to take the so-called "Wiki Wiki" Chance RT-52 shuttle bus line that runs between the airport's terminals. According to Cunningham, "I chose wiki-wiki as an alliterative substitute for 'quick' and thereby avoided naming this stuff quick-web."[3][4] Wiki Wiki is a reduplication of wiki, a Hawaiian-language word for fast. The word "wiki" (/wiːkiː wiːkiː/) is a shorter form of wiki wiki .

Cunningham was in part inspired by Apple's HyperCard. Apple had designed a system allowing users to create virtual “card stacks” supporting links among the various cards. Cunningham developed Vannevar Bush's ideas by allowing users to "comment on and change one another's text".[2][5] In the early 2000s, wikis were increasingly adopted in enterprise as collaborative software. Common uses included project communication, intranets, and documentation, initially for technical users. Today some companies use wikis as their only collaborative software and as a replacement for static intranets. There may be greater use of wikis behind firewalls than on the public Internet.

On March 15, 2007, wiki entered the Oxford English Dictionary Online.[6] Wiki is sometimes interpreted as the "backronym" for what I know is, which describes the knowledge contribution, storage, and the exchange function.[7]

Trustworthiness

Critics of open-source wiki systems argue that these systems could be easily tampered with; while proponents argue that the community of users can catch malicious content and correct it.[2] Lars Aronsson, a data systems specialist, summarizes the controversy as follows:

Most people, when they first learn about the wiki concept, assume that a website that can be edited by anybody would soon be rendered useless by destructive input. It sounds like offering free spray cans next to a grey concrete wall. The only likely outcome would be ugly graffiti and simple tagging, and many artistic efforts would not be long lived. Still, it seems to work very well.[8]

Characteristics

A wiki enables documents to be written collaboratively, in a simple markup language using a web browser. A single page in a wiki is referred to as a "wiki page", while the entire body of pages, which are usually highly interconnected via hyperlinks, is "the wiki". A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing and searching information.

A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted. Many wikis are open to the general public without the need to register any user account. Sometimes session log-in is requested to acquire a "wiki-signature" cookie for autosigning edits. Many edits, however, can be made in real-time, and appear almost instantaneously online. This can lead to abuse of the system. Private wiki servers require user authentication to edit, sometimes even to read pages.

Editing wiki pages

Traditionally content structure and formatting on wikis is implemented with a simplified markup language, sometimes known as "wikitext". For example, starting a line of text with an asterisk ("*") is often used to code an item in a bulleted list. Style and syntax of wikitexts can vary a great deal among wiki implementations, some of which also allow HTML tags.

The reasoning behind this design is that HTML, with its many cryptic tags, is not especially human-readable. The actual text content is hard to read within HTML, making it difficult to edit. Wikis therefore favour plain-text editing with a few simple conventions of wikitext for structure and style.

MediaWiki syntax Equivalent HTML Rendered output
"''Doctor''? No other title? A ''scholar''? And he rates above the civil authority?"

"Why, certainly," replied Hardin, amiably. "We're all scholars more or less. After all, we're not so much a world as a scientific foundation — under the direct control of the Emperor."
<p>
"<i>Doctor</i>? No other title? A <i>scholar</i>? And he rates above the civil authority?"
</p>

<p>
"Why, certainly," replied Hardin, amiably. "We're all scholars more or less. After all, we're not so much a world as a scientific foundation — under the direct control of the Emperor.
</p>
 
"Doctor? No other title? A scholar? And he rates above the civil authority?"

"Why, certainly," replied Hardin, amiably. "We're all scholars more or less. After all, we're not so much a world as a scientific foundation — under the direct control of the Emperor."

(Quotation above from Foundation by Isaac Asimov)

Although limiting access to HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) of wikis limits user ability to alter the structure and formatting of wiki content, there are some benefits. Limited access to CSS promotes consistency in the look and feel and having JavaScript disabled prevents a user from implementing code, which may limit access for other users.

Increasingly, wikis are making "WYSIWYG" ("What You See Is What You Get") editing available to users, usually by means of JavaScript or an ActiveX control that translates graphically entered formatting instructions, such as "bold" and "italics", into the corresponding HTML tags or wikitext. In those implementations, the markup of a newly-edited marked-up version of the page is generated and submitted to the server transparently, and the user is shielded from this technical detail. WYSIWYG editors of wikis have nowhere near the capabilies of the average word processor and usually do not produce good code.

Many implementations (for example MediaWiki) allow users to supply an "edit summary" when they edit a page. This is a short piece of text (usually one line) summarizing the changes. It is not inserted into the article, but is stored along with that revision of the page, allowing users to explain what has been done and why; this is similar to a log message when committing changes to a revision control system.

Most wikis keep a record of changes made to wiki pages; often every version of the page is stored. This means that authors can revert to an older version of the page, should it be necessary because a mistake has been made or the page has been vandalised.

Controlling changes

History comparison reports highlight the changes between two revisions of a page.
History comparison reports highlight the changes between two revisions of a page.

Wikis are generally designed with the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them. Thus, while wikis are very open, they provide a means to verify the validity of recent additions to the body of pages. The most prominent, on almost every wiki, is the "Recent Changes" page—a specific list numbering recent edits, or a list of all the edits made within a given time frame.[9] Some wikis can filter the list to remove minor edits and edits made by automatic importing scripts ("bots").[9]

From the change log, other functions are accessible in most wikis: the Revision History showing previous page versions; and the diff feature, highlighting the changes between two revisions. Using the Revision History, an editor can view and restore a previous version of the article. The diff feature can be used to decide whether or not this is necessary. A regular wiki user can view the diff of an edit listed on the "Recent Changes" page and, if it is an unacceptable edit, consult the history, restoring a previous revision; this process is more or less streamlined, depending on the wiki software used.[9]

In case unacceptable edits are missed on the "Recent Changes" page, some wiki engines provide additional content control. It can be monitored to ensure that a page, or a set of pages, keeps its quality. A person willing to maintain pages will be warned of modifications to the pages, allowing him or her to verify the validity of new editions quickly.[9]

Security

The open philosophy of most wikis, allowing anyone to edit content, does not ensure that all editors are well-meaning. Vandalism can be a major problem. In larger wiki sites, such as those run by the Wikimedia Foundation, vandalism can go unnoticed for a period of time. Wikis by their very nature are susceptible to intentional disruption, known as "trolling". Wikis tend to take a soft security[10] approach to the problem of vandalism; making damage easy to undo rather than attempting to prevent damage. Larger wikis often employ sophisticated methods, such as bots that automatically identify and revert vandalism and JavaScript enhancements that show how many characters have been added in each edit. In this way vandalism can be limited to just "minor vandalism" or "sneaky vandalism", where the characters added/eliminated are so few that bots don't identify them and users don't pay much attention to them.

The amount of vandalism a wiki receives depends on how open the wiki is. For instance, some wikis allow unregistered users, identified by their IP addresses, to edit content, whilst others limit this function to just registered users. What most wikis do is allow IP editing, but privilege registered users with some extra functions to lend them a hand in editing; on most wikis, becoming a registered user is very simple and can be done in seconds, but detains the user from using the new editing functions until either some time passes, as in the English Wikipedia, where registered users must wait for three days after creating an account in order to gain access to the new tool, or until several constructive edits have been made in order to prove the user's trustworthiness and usefulness on the system, as in the Portuguese Wikipedia, where users require at least 15 constructive edits before authorization to use the added tools. Basically, "closed up" wikis are more secure and reliable but grow slowly, whilst more open wikis grow at a steady rate but result in being an easy target for vandalism.

Linking and creating pages

Hierarchical navigation menus are often not useful in wikis as multiple authors create and delete pages in an ad hoc manner. Non-linear navigational methods are more appropriate. Typically each page contains a large number of hypertext links to other pages. Links are created using a specific syntax, the so-called "link pattern" or CURIE syntax.

Originally, most wikis used CamelCase when naming program identifiers. These are produced by capitalizing words in a phrase and removing the spaces between them (the word "CamelCase" is itself an example). While CamelCase makes linking very easy, it also leads to links which are written in a form that deviates from the standard spelling. CamelCase-based wikis are instantly recognizable because they have many links with names such as "TableOfContents" and "BeginnerQuestions". It is possible for a wiki to render the visible anchor for such links "pretty" by reinserting spaces, and possibly also reverting to lower case. However, this reprocessing of the link to improve the readability of the anchor is limited by the loss of capitalization information caused by CamelCase reversal. For example, "RichardWagner" should be rendered as "Richard Wagner", whereas "PopularMusic" should be rendered as "popular music". There is no easy way to determine which capital letters should remain capitalized. As a result, many wikis now have "free linking" using brackets, and some disable CamelCase by default.

Searching

Most wikis offer at least a title search, and sometimes a full-text search. The scalability of the search depends on whether the wiki engine uses a database. Indexed database access is necessary for high speed searches on large wikis. Alternatively, external search engines such as Google can sometimes be used on wikis with limited searching functions in order to obtain more precise results. However, a search engine's indexes can be very out of date (days, weeks or months) for many websites.

Wiki software architecture

Nearly all wikis are implemented as server software. However, some have been implemented purely on the client-side using Javascript, and some have been built on top of peer to peer networks.

Wiki communities

Many wiki communities are private, particularly within enterprises. They are often used as internal documentation for in-house systems and applications. The "open to everyone", all-encompassing nature of Wikipedia is a significant factor in its growth, while many other wikis are highly specialized.

There also exist WikiNodes which are pages on wikis that describe related wikis. They are usually organized as neighbors and delegates. A neighbor wiki is simply a wiki that may discuss similar content or may otherwise be of interest. A delegate wiki is a wiki that agrees to have certain content delegated to that wiki.

One way of finding a wiki on a specific subject is to follow the wiki-node network from wiki to wiki; another is to take a Wiki "bus tour," for example: Wikipedia's Tour Bus Stop. Domain names containing "wiki" are growing in popularity to support specific niches.

For those interested in creating their own wiki, there are many publicly available "wiki farms", some of which can also make private, password-protected wikis. PeanutButterWiki, Socialtext, Wetpaint, and Wikia are popular examples of such services. For more information, see List of wiki farms. Note that free wiki farms generally contain advertising on every page. For those interested in how to build a successful wiki community, and encourage wiki use, Wikipatterns is a guide to the stages of wiki adoption and a collection of community-building and content-building strategies.

The English-language Wikipedia has the largest user base among all wikis[11] and ranks in the top twenty among all websites in terms of traffic.[12] Other large wikis include the WikiWikiWeb, Memory Alpha, Wikitravel, World66 and Susning.nu, a Swedish-language knowledge base. The largest wikis are listed and updated on Wikimedia's "meta" wiki.

Wikis and content management systems

Wikis have shared and encouraged several features with generalized content management systems (CMS), which are used by enterprises and communities-of-practice. Those looking to compare a CMS with an enterprise wiki should consider these basic features:

  1. The name of an article is embedded in the hyperlink.
  2. Articles can be created or edited at anytime by anyone (with certain limitations for protected articles).
  3. Articles are editable through the web browser.
  4. Each article provides one-click access to the history/versioning page, which also supports version differencing ("diff") and retrieving prior versions.
  5. The most recent additions/modifications of articles can be monitored actively or passively.
  6. Easy revert of changes is possible.

None of these are particular to a wiki, and some have developed independently. Still the concept of a wiki unequivocally refers to this core set of features. Taken together, they fit the generative nature of the Internet, in encouraging each user to help build it.[13] It is yet to be studied whether an enterprise wiki encourages more usage, or leads to more knowledgeable community members, than other content management systems.

See also

Wiktionary

Notes

  1. ^ Ward Cunningham's original description of Wiki.
  2. ^ a b c d "wiki", Encyclopædia Britannica, 2007
  3. ^ Cunningham, Ward. Correspondence on the Etymology of Wiki.
  4. ^ Cunningham, Ward. Wiki History.
  5. ^ Cunningham, Ward. Wiki Wiki Hyper Card.
  6. ^ March 2007 new words, OED.
  7. ^ WIKI - What does WIKI stand for?.
  8. ^ Richard Heigl, Markus Glaser, Anja Ebersbach(2006), p.10.
  9. ^ a b c d Richard Heigl, Markus Glaser, Anja Ebersbach(2006), p.51-54.
  10. ^ Soft Security.
  11. ^ WikiStats by S23.
  12. ^ Alexa Web Search - Top 500.
  13. ^ Zittrain, Jonathan. The Generative Internet.

References

External links


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