Friday, February 29, 2008

Wiki this! How you can use a wiki

If you have information to share, you can use a wiki. Better yet, if you would like to work with others to create or to maintain information, you can use a wiki. If you can access the Internet using a web browser on your computer, you can use a wiki. You can reach new heights by using a wiki with your group.

Wikis can be used for:
  • authoring teams
  • book clubs
  • classes
  • civic organizations
  • collectors
  • community groups
  • families
  • fan clubs
  • party organizers
  • product reviewers
  • project managers
  • sports teams
  • teams
  • theater groups
  • trainers
  • wedding planners
  • writers
Whatever you or your group does -- just name it, you could probably use a wiki!

What could go wrong when using a wiki?

Wikis are easy to use but sometimes new users are hesitant to jump right in and become contributors. Here's a list of some common excuses for not contributing to the content on a wiki.

Collective editing

Many apprehensive users are uncomfortable with collective editing. The idea that someone can edit your text on the Web really is a key reason why some are hesitant to use wikis. However, the concept does not seem quite as dangerous if you think of your site as a whiteboard. You and your colleagues likely could use a whiteboard to collaborate on the solution to a problem -- all sharing the whiteboard, adding, deleting, and modifying its content until you come to a solution through collaboration. A wiki takes the whiteboard analogy one step further -- consider a room with multiple whiteboards. Each page of the wiki becomes its own whiteboard that users can share and can easily add links to other pages. For those sites where it is necessary to manage or to control who edits the content, most wikis support features like permissions (e.g., page access control) and may also be either public or private (e.g., limited user group).

Misbehavior on wikis

Several common problems have been identified for wikis, or sites which allow anyone to create or to edit content:

  • Spamming - the addition of inapplicable content to a page by individuals in order to increase their websites' page ranking on search engines

  • Content deletion - the deletion of text from a page that was entered by another contributor

  • Flame wars - wikis depend upon cooperation among the community to avoid the flame wars that often plauge e-mail, discussion groups, and blogs. Many wikis either implicitly or explicitly encourage people to contribute material that most people would find objective. The NPOV (neutral point of view) is emphasized on some wikis, such as Wikipedia.

  • Vandalism of content - deliberately and maliciously deleting and/or changing content on the page (e.g., adding obscene content)

In active wikis, you'll notice that such bad behavior is not generally tolerated. I have found that the "page watch" feature, where I'm notified when changes are made to a page, is very helpful in enabling me to quickly handle the spammers and vandals that visit my public wikis. Content is often corrected fairly quickly using the revision history view and the feature to revert content. Also, some wikis provide the ability to "ban" (by IP address) someone from editing the wiki if they are known trouble-makers. Of course, if installed within an enterprise in your corporation (as opposed to a wiki on the World Wide Web), the chances the above bad behavior will occur may be much lower.

When managing a wiki site, you also need to watch for duplication of effort (e.g., multiple pages created on the same topic), inconsistent content, and general neglect (e.g., information is out-of-date). Through an active content development community and attention to healthy usage patterns, you may find the wiki to be very helpful as a realtime solution for easily developing web content and collaborating.

Image credit: Spider's Parlor Productions

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Benefits of using wikis

What are the benefits in using wikis?

If you're looking for solid, quantitative research that proves wikis are the best approach for your team, then I need to tell you that the jury may still be out. However, there is a lot of qualitative data to suggest that wikis are providing benefits to individuals, teams, and organizations.

Some of the benefits suggested by wiki users are:

  • ease in creating web-based content, especially by those who have no technical expertise
  • elimination of e-mail threads among groups to communicate or to obtain information
  • ability to complete real-time updates of web-based content (without waiting for the technical support team to update your web server files)
  • avoiding transfer of document attachments to a distribution list through your e-mail system
  • enabling the ability to always access current information (eliminating problems by referencing outdated documents or attachments that you previously received)

If you use wikis, post a comment or, better yet, tell us your story of how wikis have been beneficial at Everything Wiki.

Image credit: ConsultingAuthority

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why wiki?

So why should you jump on this bus to wiki?

A wiki is a website that may be easily and quickly developed by a community using only the Web browser on their computer. Wikis are easy to use by groups with common interests or communities of practice. Let's say that your group has an idea of a website that it would like to create. You've heard about wikis, but you and your group are definitely not a group of techies and geeks. You're looking for an easy, quick, and cost-effective solution to get your content on the wonderful world wide Web.

Here are some reasons why you may want to use a wiki:
  • Wikis provide a virtual presence. Wikis allow communities to quickly and to easily create develop a Web presence, allowing community members to easily access and update content from virtually anywhere and at anytime.

  • Wikis support a variety of interactions within a community. Wikis support site creators, administrators, authors, and readers; online discussions; and the collaborative development and management of web-based content.

  • Wikis are generally very easy to use. It's usually very simple to post comments or questions about the content. It's usually easy to edit the content or add new pages to a website created using wiki technology. Wikis are great solutions for individuals and groups with little or no technical skills.

  • Valuable content can be created using a wiki. Content which previously has not been available in a central location to the community members or other interested individuals can be included on a wiki. For example, some documents may be available in shared databases; however, those database or groupware systems are often very expensive and may not contain the most recent version. Also, many documents are sitting on the hard disks of the community members and are frequently sent across the network through e-mail systems. Again, who has the most recent version and what changes have been integrated since you last saw the document? Wikis solve most of these content management problems.

  • Connections can be made to a broader subject field. You can easily include links (often called hyperlinks) to other websites within your subject field or to sites in related fields using most wiki applications

  • Wikis support personal and community identities and interactions. Most wikis allow the community members to create a profile about themselves. The communities supporting the wiki are generally clearly defined on most wikis. In addition to users easily adding wiki content and making changes to existing content, messaging is often supported among members on wikis.

  • Wikis support democratic participation. Wiki content changes do not require review and voting by community members. However, wikis provide an opportunity for anyone to contribute to the content. No longer is content developed and managed by a single person when using a wiki -- no more delay between submitting feedback or comments and the changes to the website content. Generally anyone can edit and create content on a wiki, but often community membership is required to circumvent spam and vandalism. There's generally not a lot of focus on the individual authors of the content -- developing the content is generally a group effort, although you can usually view the history of the revisions to content on a wiki page. However, some wikis provide a feature that allows participants to notate their updates (e.g., to automatically add the user name and time of update), which is particularly helpful in discussion threads, brainstorming sessions, and group voting, where implemented.

  • Wikis enable evolution over time. Content on a wiki can be refined over time by the community participants, evolving based on community contributions and online discussions. Wiki content is generally always under construction. It's generally easy to view the prior versions of a wiki page, reviewing the changes previously made and reverting content as needed.

Today I hope that you have identified at least one great reason to give wiki a try. It's easy. It's fun. It's totally free on many wiki hosting services. The question today should not be why wiki? but instead be why not wiki? For more information, stay tuned on this blog or join me and the Everything Wiki community.

The Fine Print: Some functions may be limited on wikis by the wiki organizer in order to prevent spam and vandalism

Image credit: photo by cogdogblog from flickr

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Starting with wikis

In celebration of the 50th running of the Daytona 500 today, I cannot resist to drop the green flag and encourage you to GO and "Start your wikis" today!

Now you know that 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. Perhaps you want to check wikis out, but you may not be ready to create your own site yet. You might be a bit hesitant to jump in and get your feet wet on the world wide web immediately. Wikis allow people to be involved in several different roles. There are readers of wikis -- those who just visit the site and read the content that is posted by others. There are visitors who find a site of interest and join its community. Community members often have the opportunity to receive and send messages to other members and request notices (or page watches) for changes to pages or articles of interest. Some readers and community members become discussers by posting comments or starting discussion threads about topics posted on the site. Then there are the editors, those who update existing content, revising the text to make corrections or to improve it. There are community members who create new pages or add content to existing pages. Then there are the moderators and administrators which help the creator to manage the site.

Today, I encourage you to jump right in -- go for it. Start small if you like though. Find a wiki on a topic that interests you and start by becoming a community member. Pick out an existing wiki today and give it a try. Post a comment or send me a message and tell me about your experience. Give it a try --- before you know it, you may be a Wiki-Man as described in the below music video!

As posted on YouTube by VeryTasteful

Image credit: SteveParkWeb on Geocities, 1999

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A place for me too - private wikis

As we've already covered, 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. You often have the choice about what content can be updated by others when creating your wiki. For example, you may choose to create a wiki where only people you invite can update the content. You can often restrict others from even viewing your content. So, what would be the purpose in that? Remember, a wiki allows people to quickly and easily develop content without any knowledge of any Web programming language. So, if you have something that you'd like to make available on the wonderful wide world of the Web, a wiki is an easy way to do that.

In celebration of Valentine's Day, let's just think about a few applications where you might use a private wiki or a wiki where editing is restricted.

1. Create a Valentine wiki for the love of your life. Check out the Hopelessly devoted to you, Valentine site on Wetpaint to see an example.

2. Create a wedding wiki, to share the information and news about your engagement and marriage plans with your wedding guests. Tell the story of how you met and how you proposed. Post information about the wedding plans. Post helpful information about places to stay and other travel information for your wedding guests. Post your gift wish lists and locations where you are registered. Allow your guests to post thoughts about you and your fiance and to post best wishes for your new life together. A wiki is a great place for well-wishers who cannot attend your wedding to post their best wishes for you and to be included in the wedding celebration remotely, wiki-style!

3. Create a scrapbook of the life with your soulmate. Post information about your life goals. Post pics and videos of your travels. Create the list of things that you love about each other. Post favorite memories.

Although a wiki is a great place for groups to gather, hopefully today you can see where wikis can be used even if you're a group of one (expressing your devotion to your Valentine) or with a small, targeted group of special people for a very special purpose.

Image credit:

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A place for groups: wikis vs. groupware

How do wikis differ from groupware systems?

Groupware refers to programs that help people work together collectively while located remotely from each other. Some examples of groupware systems include Lotus Notes and Microsoft Exchange, both of which facilitate calendar sharing, e-mail handling, and the replication of files across a distributed system so that all groupware users can view the same information.
Groupware systems are described as "industrial-strength solutions with many collaborative features for corporate needs, but they cost." (from The Wiki Way, p. 12, by Ward and Leuf). These systems cost hard disk space, money, memory, upgrades, and time to learn how to use them effectively. They also often require other tools for Web space creation and maintenance, net-conferencing connectivity, and document creation. Your entire group will need access to the groupware in order to collaborate, which generally involves installing some software on your workstation. In contrast, Wiki is a "light" solution, a simplistic solution with a surprising amount of functionality for the size of the wiki source code and its general low overhead (e.g., a perl package and a Web browser) for those using wiki engines. If you use a wiki hosted solution on the web, a wiki farm, it's the most simplistic solution for you! This means there is no code to install and nothing to support, other than your content and your community! You can actually create your wiki in less than five minutes. I dare anyone to describe to me how they can get their groupware system up and running for a community in five minutes!

Image credit: