Thursday, January 31, 2008

A topic for discussion: wikis vs discussion forums

How do wikis differ from discussion boards or forums?

Also known as online bulletin boards or Internet forums, discussion forums are asynchronous tools to facilitate group discussions. They automatically maintain a log of all messages in a threaded, hierarchical structure. Users find a topic of interest, read the postings under it, and enter a response. Discussion boards are often used to post questions and answers and to enable an on-going conversation about a topic. All visitors can view the dialog and benefit from the material discussed without actually participating. However, some users often find that the threads are hard to follow.

How do wikis differ? Well, a wiki is a type of website that allows anyone who can basically use a word processor or send e-mail to develop or to edit content on the site, with no special tools or programming knowledge. Wikis may be used by a group to build a website, each person contributing information on the subject. A wiki permits the aggregation of the views of the many participants. Unlike on a discussion forum, each wiki user may actually update the content posted by other visitors on the website. The content is an evolving work-in-progress by the group, collaborating. However, many wikis also allow their visitors to comment on the content and postings of others through discussion threads or forums. For example, visitors can ask questions about the content posted on the site or make comments about it. The questions and comments and replies posted to them would be typically displayed with the page. Discussion forums are often used by content authors too -- to discuss the approach and development of the content.

Image credit: New York State Music Teachers Association, Inc

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

How do wikis differ from mailing lists?

There are many tools available to collaborate with others. A wiki is one form of a collaboration tool. One collaboration tool that preceded wikis is the mailing list. Mailing lists have been used for distributing announcments or information about events. Individuals may subscribe to a mailing list in order to be informed immediately of an announcement. Subscribers receive an e-mail about the announcement and can then reply to the e-mail item.

Why would a wiki be better than a mailing list for your group? A wiki can include an "Announcements" or "News" page on the site. In addition to viewing the announcement, community members can also even refine the announcement content. When you visit the wiki, you can see the date of the last update to the page and can also view the recent changes to the page. Community members can post comments or entries to discussion threads about the content on the announcement page. For example, you could post a question on the announcements page and view answers or comments posted by other community members without sending e-mail to the entire group. Others may have a similar question and can see the responses from your community. If you want to eliminate the e-mail trail about community announcements, wikis may be a great alternative. If you don't have access to your e-mail account, but have access to the Internet where the wiki is hosted, then you would be able to view recent announcements. If you don't plan to visit the site to look for updates, members of the wiki community can generally automatically or virtually "watch" that page for updates. As the content changes, a wiki member watching the page will receive a notice by e-mail which generally provides a link to the page that changed. Updates to a wiki site are often managed through RSS feeds too. Many wikis also provide a means to communicate with its members, often to individuals or the entire group. So, a wiki often has many capabilities of a mailing list, but so many additional features that are not available in a mailing list alone.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A great debate: wikis vs blogs

Wikis facilitate collaboration among community members, who are often a dedicated group of people fairly focused on the content. That's sounds a lot like a blog community too. So, what's the difference between the two? Why would I create a wiki rather than a blog? What the difference between a wiki and a blog?

Here's a neat video of a fictional debate between JFK and Nixon about wikis and blogs:

As posted on YouTube by groupnon

Yes, a wiki facilitates collaboration among community members like blogs. Plus, a wiki (like a blog) is a type of website that allows anyone who can basically use a word processor or send e-mail to develop or to edit content on a website, with no special tools or programming knowledge. However, wiki visitors are encouraged to edit content posted by other users and to create new pages to improve the content of the site. That's not usually allowed on a blog, except for a blog that is specifically set up for a group or team.

For more information about how you can use and create wikis, stay tuned to this blog. You may also visit the Wild About Wikis website. It's a wiki too!

Image credit: Movie City Indie

Sunday, January 27, 2008

How do wikis and conventional web pages differ?

If you are interested in creating a website on the Internet you have several choices to make. A wiki is a quick and easy way to get your content on the Internet. You may be wondering how a wiki differs from a conventional web page.

A conventional web page:

  • has limited editing
  • uses conventional HTML or other programming language
  • does not have earlier versions stored to restore
  • is difficult to add to an existing website
  • does not display the author of the content or its revisions
  • requires special tools or knowledge to create
  • is generally considered "final"
  • typically does not note when it was last updated
  • has high security (not just anyone can update it)

On the other hand, a page on a wiki:

  • has frequent edits
  • uses either a simple text formatting language or does not require any tags at all (a WYSIWYG editor)
  • has earlier versions of its content stored so that pages can be reverted
  • may be easily added to an existing wiki
  • may be created by multiple authors, permitting collaboration on the content
  • requires no special tools or technical knowledge
  • is considered always in progress
  • displays when it was last updated
  • typically has lower security

Simply put, a wiki is a type of website where its webpages can be viewed and modified by anybody with a Web browser and access to the Internet. (However, some wikis require community membership to edit content through site security and content control features to combat spam and vandalism.) A wiki allows people to quickly and easily develop content without any knowledge of any Web programming language.

For more information, visit the Wild about Wikis site.

Image credit: Uso educativo de las TIC

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Sharing your passion

Wikis are websites where visitors can easily collaborate and add content without any technical knowledge. There are many wiki hosting services available. Most allow you to easily create a website very quickly. Many are totally free. Generally if you can send e-mail, you have what it takes to use and to create a wiki.

Wikis are perfect solutions for those who want to build a website to describe their passion. Wikis allow you to create a site that can be shared with people all around the world. You can easily create a site to be shared with a community of people that are also interested in your passion. Everyone can easily pitch in to add content, post ideas, ask questions, and communicate with each other. It's easy to add photos, videos, and polls. Music can be added to the site too. For example, maybe you'd like to create a fan site for your favorite band. You can have a music player on the site that automatically plays your favorite playlist of their hits. You can also add other neat features, like online chat, to many wikis. You can add a calendar to the wiki to show a calendar of events. Community members can create their own pages on the site too. Wikis offer so many opportunities for people to share their passion with creativity and ease.

Here's a neat video that describes how a wiki can be used. It describes how easy it is to create a wiki on Wetpaint. It also describes when a wiki might be a better way to share your passion compared to a blog or a message board.

Wetpaint Wikis in Plain English

As posted on YouTube by commoncraft

What's your passion? Are you ready to share it with the world? Give wiki a chance. It's easy. It's fun. It's free.

Image credit: California Republic Stationers

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

How did all this begin?

You may have only recently heard about wikis as a new approach to managing web-based content or for collaborating with others. A wiki (pronouced "wickie" or "weekee") is a member of the group of "social software" --- that is, software that provides some level of interactivity between individuals. The first wiki was developed over 10 years ago, actually pre-dating blogs by about two years. Wikis are in their second decade of use.

How did this phenomenon begin?
The first Wiki was created in 1995 by Ward Cunningham, a Smalltalk developer, who conceived it as a quick way to create and share ideas when working. The first public wiki, called the Portland Pattern Repository, facilitates the discovery and discussion of software patterns. Ward's Wiki is still working today. In fact, on its tenth anniversary, it had over 30,000 pages! His site has a lot more information about the history of Wiki. A video is available on Channel 9 Forums with Ward describing how he came up with the idea for the wiki. By the way, the "wiki" name was inspired by the transit bus line at the Honolulu International Airport which is named after the Hawaiian expression for quick (wiki wiki).

The result of Ward's development was the creation of a web-based collaboration tool with applications for use in many areas. Since its creation over a decade ago, dozens of Wiki implementations or clones have spawned on various server platforms, including a number of open source software projects. There are now several wiki engines (the wiki software) available for installing and hosting a wiki. There are also many wiki farms where a wiki space can be hosted (some free and some for a fee) on a server or group of servers where the wiki engine is installed and maintained by someone hosting the central service.

For more information: Ward Cunningham and Bo Leuf authored a book about using wikis.

Image credits:
Photo -
Microsoft Research
Book cover -
Bus -

Ward's wiki

Wild About Wikis

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

How do others describe wiki?

  • The ideas of ‘Wiki’ seem strange at first, but dive in and explore its links. ‘Wiki’ is a composition system; it’s a discussion medium; it’s a repository; it’s a mail system; it’s a tool for collaboration. Really, we don’t know quite what it is, but it’s a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network. (from WikiWikiWeb)
  • The simplest online database that could possibly work. (by Ward Cunningham and also in The Wiki Way, by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham, on page 15)
  • A wiki is a freely expandable collection of interlinked webpages, a hypertext system for storing and modifying information – a database, where each page is easily edited by any user with a forms-capable Web browser client (by Bo Leuf and Ward Cunningham, from page 14 of their book The Wiki Way)
  • A “wiki” is a document that is collectively created and maintained. Anyone can edit it. This feature evokes a sense of responsibility and seriousness among most Internet surfers (sometimes this is too much for people). It’s a great means to utilize the Internet community, allowing users to build something useful for everyone. (from Sourceforge)
  • A Wiki is a collaboratively-edited website which many people also view as an anarchistic publishing tool. The distinguishing feature of wikis is that they typically allow all users to edit any page, with full freedom to edit, change and delete the work of previous authors… (from UseModWiki)
  • A Wiki is an online collaboration tool… (from OpenWiki)
  • Wikis are made up of a collection of hyperlinked documents that can be collectively edited using a browser. (Stowe Boyd in Darwin Magazine)
  • the post-it note of the web (the description of OpenWiki)
  • Wikis facilitate collaboration, information dissemination and communal knowledge management in a free-form, yet structured way. (from the New Communications Forum wiki)
  • Wiki is sometimes interpreted as the backronym for “What I know is”, which describes the knowledge contribution, storage and exchange function. (From Wikipedia’s definition)
  • In many ways, wikis are the world’s simplest Web sites. (Rubenking’s article on “Wiki Tools” on PC Magazine in 2003)
  • Wiki, a writable web: Communities can share content and organize it in a way most meaningful and useful to them (Peter Thoeny, WikiSym 2007)

Monday, January 21, 2008

How can you tell if it's a wiki?

A wiki typically has the following characteristics:

  • allows anyone to add or edit pages
  • is designed to be built by members of a community working together
  • has either a simple markup language for formatting text on the page or a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) text editor which does not require you to use any markup language at all
  • saves previous versions of a page for easy recovery from errors
  • supports hyperlinks, where information from other pages or even other sites may be viewed

So, how do you recognize a wiki? Typically when you see an edit button on a web page, that web page is part of a wiki (even if it does not call itself a wiki). However, you may be on a wiki and not see that edit button in some cases. For example, because of spammers and vandals, some wikis require their community members to register on the site in order to add or to edit pages. In this case, there's usually a note on the page that encourages you to participate and tells you how to join the community. However, sometimes organizers will "lock" (or prevent anyone else from changing) pages on a wiki. BTW, you can generally create a 'private' wiki with restricted access too. Wikis are great solutions to easily build web content even if you have a limited community --- you could even be a community of one! (But, what's the fun in that?)

How about an example? Today, take a peek at Bucket Lists. It's a new little wiki that I'm organizing. This week the Wetpaint wiki hosting service is saluting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and his ambition to dream. I've been selected by the Wetpaint Crew as a top contributor and am featured on Wetpaint's home page. Because my new Bucket Lists wiki dares to dream and in an effort to recognize [my] efforts, my just_tonya user name and its avator plus a link to that wiki are posted on the Wetpaint home page. Yippee! I sure look good on that Wetpaint home page. (hehehe) Visit the Wetpaint home page to see me and link to my wiki. Don't delay, it won't be there long. ; ) Better yet, join my Bucket Lists community and let's follow our dreams together.

How does Bucket Lists stack up to the typical wiki characteristics?

  • Yes, it allows anyone to add or edit pages
  • Yes, it is designed to be built by members of a community working together
  • Yes, it has a WYSIWYG text editor. No tags required!!
  • Yes, it saves previous versions of a page for easy recovery from errors
  • Yes, it is easy to add a link to another page or even another site

I have the main menu locked preventing change; it's just something that I want to control for now. This is a typical example of the new wiki . Wikis are not just reference sites, like Wikipedia, either. Wikis are also no longer websites full of boring text and endless hyperlinks to other pages. You can now easily add multimedia content and interactive features to wikis today. Browse around Bucket Lists and you'll see lots of videos. Wikis are now looking more like other non-wiki websites. Hey, more about that later! I shouldn't get ahead of myself. : ) If you can't wait, check out the Wild About Wikis website for more details.

Image credit:

Sunday, January 20, 2008

A practical wiki application, in plain English

Ok, so now you have an idea of what a wiki is. But, you may be wondering how a wiki could help you. I bet that you're working on some project or activity with a group. Perhaps you're planning a party, planning a trip, planning a reunion, publishing a newsletter, organizing the car pool, or any number of similar activities involving multiple people. Communication among the group is usually the greatest challenge. For example, keeping everyone up-to-date on current details can be a pain. Usually there's one person who ends up funneling all the information to everyone else in the group. Maybe you all are using e-mail. Or, possibly you are also spreading the news by phone calls and phone messages. Phone-tag and e-mail backlog become challenges on even the smallest project or group activity. For those whose group members have access to the Internet, how would you like a simple, free solution to solve your problem? Try a wiki!

Watch this neat video about a practical application of a wiki, in plain English.
Wikis in Plain English

As posted by Lee LeFever on YouTube on the Common Craft Show

Hopefully you'll join me each day to learn about wikis and how you can easily create and use them. If you're anxious and just can't wait, visit the Wild About Wikis website on Wetpaint.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

No, really, what is a wiki?

The video posted yesterday was a humorous view of what people think a wiki might be. However, it really provided no valuable information on what a wiki actually is. Here's a video that I think you'll find to be a lot more informative.

As posted on YouTube by ramitsethi

Simply put, a wiki is a type of website where its webpages can be viewed and modified by anybody with a Web browser and access to the Internet. A wiki allows people to quickly and easily develop content without any knowledge of any Web programming language.

Hopefully you'll join me each day to learn about wikis and how you can easily create and use them. If you're anxious and just can't wait, visit the Wild About Wikis website on Wetpaint.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What's a wiki?

We're not the first people to ask that question! Check out this short video.

As posted on YouTube by bobobluemonkey1

I hope that you picked "none of the above" from the above video.
And, hopefully you'll visit this blog regularly to learn more about wikis and how they can help you easily build web content and collaborate with your community.

If you can't wait, visit the Wild About Wikis site, which has a Wiki 101 section.