Are you ready for a wiki?

What's a wiki? The short definition is "collaborative online workspace," but a wiki is really a new--some might say anarchistic--way of cooperatively generating information content.

Since its introduction 15 years ago, the World Wide Web has given us many new ways to acquire and share information--web sites by the millions, web portals, online educational courses, streaming media, blogs, and e-commerce, to name a few.

What's a wiki?

The short definition is "collaborative online workspace," but a wiki is really a new--some might say anarchistic--way of cooperatively generating information content.

Incidentally, wiki is derived from "wiki wiki" meaning "quick" or "fast" in the native language of Hawaii.

In its simplest form, a wiki is a web page set up so that any viewer is given free and open access to add and edit content on the page. A wiki contains text and sometimes graphics, photo images, and video clips. To keep track of changes made by various editors, a wiki usually includes a "History" function that tracks edits and provides a record of new versions of the page in chronological order.

How did wikis get started? In the mid-1990s, a computer programmer in Portland, Oregon, designed a way to provide an online collaborative workspace that could be shared by a few people (or hundreds of millions of people!). A wiki can be started or stopped as needed to serve the workflow of a particular group or team of individuals. Some wikis are designed to have a short life; others are indefinite.

According to Kris Olsen (Wiki That!), "A wiki is a web page [or collection of web pages] that you and any member of your group can create and update directly. A wiki can be used for creating any plan, documentation, communications, or other information for any group."

You also could think of a wiki as a digital paper that you can share with any colleague at any time and in any location where Internet access is available. If you aren't sure a wiki might work for you, consider the advantages:

  • Easy to use
  • 24/7 access available to all participants
  • All participants are equal contributors
  • No one participant has control of the content development process

At the same time, the disadvantages include:

  • No one participant has control of, or leads, the process (a point considered anarchy by some people)
  • Open access makes web pages vulnerable to vandalism
  • Works effectively if users are comfortable sharing ideas openly via web technology

Wiki Examples

The national eXtension initiative uses wikis for group planning and educational content development. You can learn more about eXtension wikis and eXtension's "communities of practice" by visiting the site that also has links to online training materials.

Wikis have the potential to change how we compile information and create knowledge through group processes. Wikipedia, called "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit," is a good example.

Wiki Uses

A wiki can be a powerful information and educational content development tool in Extension. Several Extension faculty and staff are using wikis in these situations:

  • group/team/committee visioning, planning, idea building
  • developing reports
  • documenting processes
  • generating educational content planning educational events
  • planning professional development training events, gathering and organizing professional development training materials/content
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