Week 4: Wikis

So far we have explored Blogging as a way of quickly and easily publishing content to the web and we have also explored RSS feeds as means of syndicating such content. While Blogs can be undertaken as collaborative enterprises, the 2.0 technology we will be looking at this week is particularly suited to online collaborative authoring — Wikis. This week we will take a look at what wikis are, how they are used, and what features are common to most.

So, what’s a Wiki?
A wiki is a type of website that allows users to easily add, remove, and otherwise collaboratively edit and change content that can be quickly published to the web. This ease of interaction and use makes a wiki an effective tool for collaborative authoring. You do not need to know HTML to edit a wiki (although many allow for the use of HTML editing in addition to Wikitext or Wiki Markup) and all you need to edit a wiki is an internet connection and a web browser. Wikitext, a form of markup which is simpler than HTML, may also vary to a degree from one wiki to another, here’s a sample of Wikitext used in MediaWiki. There are numerous kinds of “wiki software” or “wiki engines”, these can vary widely in look and functionality. Features common to most wiki software include: Recent activity display, discussion or comment features, and varying degrees of access / edit permissions for users, WYSIWYG editing and edit history.

Wiki software can be downloaded and installed on a private network; you can even get your own personal desktop wiki! (Such as MoinMoin Desktop), but most wiki users go to a Wiki farm. A Wiki Farm is a server or a collection of servers that provides wiki hosting. Wiki farms allow users to quickly sign-up and establish their own wiki with no software downloads either for free or for a nominal change (free wikis are supported by revenue from advertising).

Wikis in the library

There are numerous examples of the ways in which wiki’s have been used in libraries to foster collaborative writing projects. Examples abound even in our own library!

  • Wetpaint has been used to create a quick reference tool named “Digital Reference Shelf” which allows reference staff to add links to online reference sources that can be quickly accessed at the desk.
  • PBWiki has been used assist in the development process of the new catalogue (Endeca Information Access Platform). It’s been used for collaboratively authoring planning documents as well as housing meeting minutes and communications from Endeca. PBWiki is one of the few free hosted wikis that allow for complete privacy (a login is required to view). Since most wiki farms depend on advertising for revenue not many support completely private sites.
  • StikiPad which has been used by the Emerging Technologies Group to develop Learning 2.0!

There are many other great examples of how wikis are being used by libraries, for a more comprehensive list check out the LISWiki!

What’s the difference? Choosing the right wiki
TWiki, WetPaint, Stikipad, PHPWiki, SeedWiki, PBWiki, Wikispaces, MoinMoin, Netcipia… with all these different wikis to choose from you might have a difficult time deciding which wiki is most suited to your project. A tool you might find useful for comparing the features of various wikis is Wikimatrix. The Wikimatrix website has several useful features for comparing any number of more than 80 wiki engines listed. So what are some of the features common to Wikis & what are some differences?

  • Wikis allow you to assign different access permissions to different users. The site creator (Administrator) can assign other Administrators or Moderators to the Wiki. Wikis typically have several levels of contributors with varying degrees of access, such as Admin, Mod, Writer, Registered User, and Guest.
  • Many wikis allow users to subscribe to them either via email or RSS feeds. Some allow users to subscribe to specific pages and keep apprised of recent edits.
  • Personalization of user accounts can be quite different from wiki to wiki; some allow for the creation of detail user profiles, private messaging, and commenting upon individual profiles.
  • Many wikis are tiered with both free accounts and ‘premium memberships’ that often have added features such as a higher page limits or greater storage capacity.
  • Pages edit history & Revert. Wikis allow users to view the history of specific pages, and mark up recent changes. Many have more advanced edit comparison features that may allow users to compare the changes to an entry over the course of months! Wikis also typically have a revert feature that allows those with sufficient access permissions to rollback a page to an earlier edit.
  • WYSIWYG. Not only do most wikis allow users to use Wikitext instead of Html, but wikis also have “What You See Is What You Get” editors that make it even easier for anyone to contribute!

Activity #1
The first activity for this week is to try some basic editing in Wetpaint & PBWiki. Try adding pages, links, comments, and look at the page history features on both of these wikis. Accounts have been set-up to access a test wiki named “my favourite books” (PBWiki), and a “writer” level account on “Digital Reference Shelf” (Wetpaint). You can access both of these wikis by following the links below. To those of you who have already used these wikis in the past, feel free to examine and compare the features of wikis you haven’t used before, you can always set up a free account with any of the wikis below or use Wikimatrix to find others to explore.

Test Wikis:

Need help getting started? Check out the link on the main page of “My favourite books” for the link “Here is a list of a few features you may want to test on PBWiki” for the basics of editing or click the “tutorial” link on Digital Reference Shelf.

Activity #2

Once you have finished experimenting with these wiki tools blog about your experience, and check out some of the postings of your group members. Some questions you might consider are: What differences did you find in functionality between these two wikis? Did you find one was easier to use than the other? Did either or both lack features you might expect? If you get hung up on any of the activities than talk to your team leader or ask a group member. Have fun!

Further readings (optional)

Chawner, B., & Lewis, P.H. (2006). Wiki Wiki Webs?: new ways to communicate in a web environment. Information Technology and Libraries, 25(1), 33-43.

Clyde, L. (2005). Wikis. Teacher Librarian, 32(4), 54 – 56.

Farkas, M. G. (2005). Using Wikis to Create Online Communities. Web Junction.

Singel, R. (2006). Veni, Vidi, Wiki. Wired News.

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4 comments so far

  1. Julie Willson on

    I don’t feel we have been given enough time to complete the activities for Week 4. For many of us this technology is new. Trying to read through the information given, exploring the acivities and working at the same time is rather overwhelming. For example, here at Thode the Circulation and Stacks staff only have one computer they have to share when it’s not being used for circulation purposes.

  2. Neera on

    As we explore the world of wikis this week, I stumbled across a news story posted on the CBC website last night. It highlights one of the main concerns many have with the heavily used monster of all wikis, Wikipedia. As I said in my blog, I have used it in the past with great success but I do have to critically appraise the content first.

    Check out CBC’s story Fake ‘expert’ scandal forces Wikipedia to review editor policy at http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2007/03/07/tech-wikipedia.html

  3. Cathy on

    You might be interested to see two wikis that are being used in McMaster courses this term. These are still in the process of development, as the due dates are end of term. Geo 3HZ3 is working on Segregation in World Cities at http://geo3hz3wiki.wetpaint.com/ and Geo 4G03 is working on an inventory of Canadian glaciers at http://cgip.wetpaint.com/

  4. Margit on

    I just had a light bulb moment! I finally get what Wiki’s are and understand how they can be used for educational purposes. Thanks Cathy, for posting your examples.


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