What is a wiki and how does it work?

"Communities can't be manufactured, but you can design the conditions under which they are most likely to emerge, and encourage their growth when they do" (Rheingold, 1998).


A wiki is a type of social software that allows multiple people to easily and collaboratively create, edit, discuss, and share multimedia content online using a web browser. Many wiki providers (such as Wikispaces or PBWorks) make this service available for free to anyone who has access to an internet connection, charging small fees to those who want access to additional features such as ad-free spaces, a customized appearance, or increased security options. It is also possible to install wiki software (such as MediaWiki) on a server. However, in most cases, creating a wiki is as easy as filling out a simple form.


As Lee LeFever (2007) points out in his now classic video called Wikis in Plain English, very little technical knowledge is required to set up, edit, or maintain wikis--even those that include multimedia features such as embedded images, audio, video, calendars, or surveys.

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In other words, the average person can accomplish tasks that once required a significant knowledge of computer programming (like the creation of interactive, multimedia websites) with just a few clicks of a mouse. Thus, it is easy for large communities of people with very limited technology skills to participate in the development of a wiki, and makes them an especially attractive option for educators with limited time, money, and technological skill.

It is not surprising, then, that wiki use already spans many domains and purposes beyond the field of education. A number of well-known businesses such as Cingular, Disney, Kodak, Michelin, Motorola, Nokia, and Yahoo use wikis to facilitate collaboration, share documents and information, and coordinate communication among teams in diverse locations (Goodnoe, 2005). Community members are also using wikis for purposes ranging from preparing communities for an influenza pandemic (Mattson, 2005) to the dissemination of information during disasters such as the bridge collapse in Minnesota (e-Democracy, 2007). Non-profit organizations are using them to support efforts such as the One Laptop Per Child Initiative (Bender, 2007), and even scientists, researchers, and publishers have recognized their affordances. For example, Elsevier (2007) is collaborating with licensed medical practitioners to experiment with them as a platform for providing the public with credible, up-to-date health information. Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation is providing funding to expand OpenWetWare, a wiki project begun by students at M.I.T. (Kelly, 2005) that encourages scientists from a diverse array of fields to share their work in progress (Waldrop, 2008). The growing importance of wikis in the professional world, combined with their potential to facilitate communication, support collaboration, and foster the development of community, makes them especially worthy of the attention of educators.


Scholarly References

Goodnoe, Ezra. (2005, August 8). How to use wikis for business. Information Week. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.informationweek.com/industries/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=167600331&pgno=3&queryText=

Rheingold, H. (1998). The art of hosting good conversations online. Rheingold's brainstorms: Rheingoldian writing. Retrieved December 19, 2007, from http://www.rheingold.com/texts/artonlinehost.html

Waldrop, M. Mitchell. (2008, April 21). Science 2.0--Is open access science the future? Scientific American Magazine. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=science-2-point-0&print=true

Multimedia References

Archer, Allison, & Wehunt, Wes. (2007, December 7). We are the world. We are the world - PBWiki. Retrieved March 16, 2008, from http://wearetheworld.pbwiki.com/

Bender, Walter. (2007, April 24). One laptop per child wiki. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://wiki.laptop.org/go/Home

e-Democracy.org. (2007). 35W. E-Democracy.org. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://pages.e-democracy.org/35W

Elsevier. (2007, August 16). Main page - WiserWiki. WiserWiki - Media Wiki. Retrieved March 26, 2008, from

Free Buttons. (n.d.). Blur metal. Freebuttons.com. Retrieved March 17, 2008, from http://www.freebuttons.com/index.php?page=freebuttons&buttonName=BlurMetal&color=3

Kelly, Jason R. (2005, April 20). OpenWetWare. Retrieved April 22, 2008, from http://www.openwetware.org/wiki/Labs

LeFever, Lee. (2007, May 29). Wikis in plain English. CommonCraft: Explanations in Plain English (on YouTube). Retrieved March 12, 2008, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY&

Mattson, Melanie. (2005, June). Flu wiki - about. Flu Wiki - PM Wiki. Retrieved March 26, 2008, from http://www.fluwikie.com/pmwiki.php?n=About.About

MediaWiki. (n.d.). MediaWiki logo. MediaWiki. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.mediawiki.org/wiki/MediaWiki

Montgomery, Cherice. (2007). Map of the content and structure of a wiki. Websites as Graphs. Retrieved October 2007, from http://www.aharef.info/static/htmlgraph/ (by inputting http://languagelinks2006.wikispaces.com)

Pbwiki. (n.d.). Pbwiki logo. Pbwiki. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://pbwiki.com/

Pbwiki. (n.d.). Pbwiki Sign Up. Pbwiki. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from https://secure.pbwiki.com/signup.wiki

Wikispaces. (n.d.). Wikispaces logo. Wikispaces. Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.wikispaces.com/