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A wiki is software that allows registered users or anyone to collaboratively create, edit, hyperlink, and organize the content of a website, usually for reference material. Wikis are often used to create collaboration and to power community websites. These wiki websites are often also referred to as wikis; for example, Wikipedia is one of the best known wikis. Wikis are used in many businesses to provide affordable and effective intranets and for Knowledge Management. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as "the simplest online database that could possibly work". Ward Cunningham's original description of Wiki.

Wiki Wiki is a reduplication of wiki, a Hawaiian word for "fast". Some have suggested that wiki means, "What I Know Is." However, this is a backronym.

Contents

History

Wiki Wiki bus at Honolulu International Airport
WikiWikiWeb was the first site to be called a wiki. Ward Cunningham started developing WikiWikiWeb in 1994, and installed it on the Internet domain c2.com on March 25, 1995. It was named by Cunningham, who remembered a Honolulu International Airport counter employee telling him to take the "Wiki Wiki" shuttle bus that runs between the airport's terminals. According to Cunningham, "I chose wiki-wiki as an alliterative substitute for 'quick' and thereby avoided naming this stuff quick-web."

Cunningham was in part inspired by Apple's HyperCard. Apple had designed a system allowing users to create virtual "card stacks" supporting links among the various cards. Cunningham developed Vannevar Bush|Vannevar Bush's ideas by allowing users to "comment on and change one another's text". In the early 2000s, wikis were increasingly adopted in enterprise as collaborative software. Common uses included project communication, intranets, and documentation, initially for technical users. Today some companies use wikis as their only collaborative software and as a replacement for static intranets. There may be greater use of wikis behind firewalls than on the public Internet.

On March 15, 2007, wiki entered the Oxford English Dictionary Online.

Trust and security

Controlling changes

History comparison reports highlight the changes between two revisions of a page.

Wikis are generally designed with the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them. Thus, while wikis are very open, they provide a means to verify the validity of recent additions to the body of pages. The most prominent, on almost every wiki, is the "Recent Changes" page—a specific list numbering recent edits, or a list of all the edits made within a given time frame.

From the change log, other functions are accessible in most wikis: the Revision History showing previous page versions; and the diff feature, highlighting the changes between two revisions. Using the "Revision History", an editor can view and restore a previous version of the article. The diff feature can be used to decide whether or not this is necessary. A regular wiki user can view the diff of an edit listed on the "Recent Changes" page and, if it is an unacceptable edit, consult the history, restoring a previous revision; this process is more or less streamlined, depending on the wiki software used.

In case unacceptable edits are missed on the "Recent Changes" page, some wiki engines provide additional content control. It can be monitored to ensure that a page, or a set of pages, keeps its quality. A person willing to maintain pages will be warned of modifications to the pages, allowing him or her to verify the validity of new editions quickly.

Trustworthiness

Critics of publicly-editable wiki systems argue that these systems could be easily tampered with, while proponents argue that the community of users can catch malicious content and correct it. Lars Aronsson, a data systems specialist, summarizes the controversy as follows:

"Most people, when they first learn about the wiki concept, assume that a website that can be edited by anybody would soon be rendered useless by destructive input. It sounds like offering free spray cans next to a grey concrete wall. The only likely outcome would be ugly graffiti and simple tagging, and many artistic efforts would not be long lived. Still, it seems to work very well."

Richard Heigl, Markus Glaser, Anja Ebersbach (2006), p.10.

Security

The open philosophy of most wikis, allowing anyone to edit content, does not ensure that all editors are well-meaning. Vandalism can be a major problem. In larger wiki sites, such as those run by the Wikimedia Foundation, vandalism can go unnoticed for a period of time. Wikis by their very nature are susceptible to intentional disruption, known as "trolling".

Wikis tend to take a soft security approach to the problem of vandalism; making damage easy to undo rather than attempting to prevent damage. Larger wikis often employ sophisticated methods, such as bots that automatically identify and revert vandalism and JavaScript enhancements that show how many characters have been added in each edit. In this way vandalism can be limited to just "minor vandalism" or "sneaky vandalism", where the characters added/eliminated are so few that bots do not identify them and users do not pay much attention to them.

The amount of vandalism a wiki receives depends on how open the wiki is. For instance, some wikis allow unregistered users, identified by their IP addresses, to edit content, whilst others limit this function to just registered users. Most wikis allow IP editing, but give registered users some additional editing functions; on most wikis, becoming a registered user is a short and simple process. Some wikis require an additional waiting period before gaining access to certain tools. For example, on the English Wikipedia, registered users can only rename pages if their account is at least four days old. Other wikis such as the Portuguese Wikipedia use an editing requirement instead of a time requirement, granting extra tools after the user has made a certain number of edits to prove their trustworthiness and usefulness as an editor. Basically, "closed up" wikis are more secure and reliable but grow slowly, whilst more open wikis grow at a steady rate but result in being an easy target for vandalism. A clear example of this would be that of Wikipedia and Citizendium. The first is extremely open, allowing anyone with a computer and internet access to edit it, making it grow rapidly, whilst the latter requires the users' real name and a biography of themselves, affecting the growth of the wiki but creating an almost "vandalism-free" ambiance.

Wiki software architecture

Wiki software is a type of collaborative software that runs a wiki system, allowing web pages to be created and edited using a common web browser. It is usually implemented as a software engine that runs on one or more web servers. The content is stored in a file system, and changes to the content are stored in a relational database management system. Alternatively, Personal wikis run as a standalone application on a single computer. Examples: WikidPad and VoodooPad.

Wiki communities

Many wiki communities are private, particularly within enterprises. They are often used as internal documentation for in-house systems and applications. The "open to everyone", all-encompassing nature of Wikipedia is a significant factor in its growth, while many other wikis are highly specialized.

There also exist WikiNodes which are pages on wikis that describe related wikis. They are usually organized as neighbors and delegates. A neighbor wiki is simply a wiki that may discuss similar content or may otherwise be of interest. A delegate wiki is a wiki that agrees to have certain content delegated to that wiki.

For those interested in creating their own wiki, there are many publicly available "wiki farms", some of which can also make private, password-protected wikis. PeanutButterWiki, Socialtext, Wetpaint, and Wikia are popular examples of such services. For more information, see List of wiki farms. Note that free wiki farms generally contain advertising on every page. For those interested in how to build a successful wiki community, and encourage wiki use, Wikipatterns is a guide to the stages of wiki adoption and a collection of community-building and content-building strategies.

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