5.21 Wikis

Wikis are are a particular form of content management system that allows web pages to be created and edited collaboratively by multiple authors using a simple markup language or WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor. Wikipedia, the free online wiki encyclopedia, is the best-known wiki, but wikis are everywhere as community websites, corporate intranets, government information sites, special interest forums and learning aids at schools and universities. Many are private, or part of larger corporate, government or educational systems. Most wikis are built with special software, which tends to be open source for the simpler systems. Like blogs and content management systems generally, the software usually allows levels of access, so that entries can be edited competently and kept free of rant and spam.


The first wiki was developed by Ward Cunningham in 1994 and called WikiWikiWeb after the Wiki Wiki Shuttle at Honolulu Airport. Wikis became very popular in the early 2000s, and have to some extent been overtaken by social media platforms and other content management systems, though well-established wikis continue to thrive.


Wikis are generally seen as:

1. Collaborative efforts inviting contributions under some code of conduct.
2. Being written first, often rapidly, and then culled, crafted and rewritten by contributors (with older page versions being stored, however).
3. Employing no more than a web browser for the writing, editing and viewing.
4. Pages grouped about or developing naturally from some theme or common interest.
5. Pages being hyperlinked (sometimes to pages yet to be written, thus inviting contributions).
6. Pages in the course of being written, with editorial requests for clarity, information sources, etc.
7. Offering a title search, and sometimes a full text search.

Security and Legal Issues

Like blogs and bulletin boards, wikis can be defaced and need to be
a. monitored and
b. kept clean of viruses and spyware, and
c. have access rights defined: usually as reader, author, wiki administrator or web administrator.

Libel issues can be evaded with a sensible code of conduct, but multiple contributions makes copyright (should the material be later incorporated in commercial publications) a thorny issue. Most wikis therefore operate under an open content license or creative content license: material can be freely used if properly attributed and not materially altered.

Quality of Wikipedia

Many colleges deter students from using Wikipedia, but the online encyclopedia is often admirable place to start an essay or research topic. No academic paper would cite Wikipedia as a reference because the qualifications of compilers are not spelled out, and there are still too many inaccuracies. The better-written entries do have multiple citations, however, and these will often serve as references.


1. What features characterize a wiki?
2. Describe three different wikis and their use.
3. Outline the legal and security issues that affect wikis, and how they are sensibly dealt with.

Sources and Further Reading

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