What is a Wiki?

I have seen the word before when installing eGroupware, a web-based emailing and calendar program that could give Microsoft Exchange a real run for the money. But I haven't had the chance to really think about what a Wiki was until I used Wikipedia, and looked at the technology. Wiki's are cool!

According to Wikipedia, a Wiki "... enables documents to be written collectively (co-authoring) in a simple markup using a web browser. A single page in a wiki is referred to as a "wiki page", while the entire body of pages, which are usually highly interconnected via hyperlinks, is called "the doodle"; in effect, a very simple database."

This sounds very cool! I can think of a number of uses:

* College academic groups using one to write a report. No longer do you need to email the attachment from person to person, and keep track of everyone's little change.
* Business groups using the Wiki to write and store business documents, such as marketing materials, technical specification sheets, and parts lists. Again, no need to keep track of potentially hundreds of email attachments and other materials.
* IT departments for documentation purposes. Keep track of deployed assets, as they can be easily edited when an asset moves or is retired.

But I also see some problems:
* Anyone can edit the Wiki, meaning the information could be under attack. Nothing seems to be in place to protect the data from malicious vandalism, such as the changing of little details here and there to make the document inaccurate, and not easy to access. Note that a number of Wiki's have version control information, along with editing information, so someone could go back and restore the data, but that takes time (money!) to do.
* A Wiki is not a blog. It is not ideally setup to be a blog. Then again, I think about the "use the right tool for the right job" philosophy.

Some Wiki software developers:

* Socialtext (you host it, not free, has lots of options and features)
* pbwiki (someone else hosts it, has features)
* projectforum (you host it, free basic version)
* egroupware (has a wiki module)

Recommended Answers

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Wikis are NOT used to edit single documents, such as reports. In addition, they are not used to handle a relatively small collection of documents. Rather, they are used to handle large collections of data. The reason for this is because there are two criteria for wikis. The first is that they are fully editable by everyone. The second is that common words and phrases between wiki documents are interlinkable. For example, you'll notice that each time a phrase or "special" word appears in a wikipedia article, it is hyperlinked to its own article. The idea behind this is that they are an interlinkable group of documents about related topics, where each word in one article that has its own wiki article is hyperlinked to it. In essense, they are a collection of articles ala a massive index.

They CAN be used for single documents. In that case the document is effectively cut up into paragraphs or short chapters with each becoming a page.
Of course we're talking about rather large documents here, such as scientific research project results which can run into hundreds of pages.

Effectively a wiki is a reader-editable e-book when used as such.

Yes, but either way, we are talking about hundreds of individual pages. ;)

A Wiki should be really thought of as a collaborative website development tool. They're far more than a document creation tool, and can include forums, chat, storage and heaps more features.

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