What Is a Wiki?

All the details about online encyclopedias

A wiki is part online database, part collaborative content management system. It pools together the knowledge of a group of people to create the best possible resource available on the web, making a wiki both a source for information gathering and a place to share knowledge.

Start web page of Wikipedia
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A Wiki Is a Content Management System

Most websites are similar to a newspaper. The name of the website and the menu for navigating through it tend to stay the same while the actual content changes from page to page.

Most websites are designed through a content management system that allows the creator to quickly and easily provide content to the user much in the same way that the editor can quickly pull new articles into the newspaper without having to design every single aspect of it by hand each time.

The simplest of content management systems on the web is a blog. It's about as straightforward as you can get, which is one of the main reasons why blogs are so popular. You type in what you want to say, give it a title, and publish. The content management system will then stamp a date on the post and put it on the main page.

What differentiates a wiki from a blog is the fact that multiple people can — and usually do in the case of popular wikis — work on a single piece of content. A single article on a site like Wikipedia can have as few as a single author or as many as tens or even hundreds of authors.

It is the collaborative effort that makes wikis so unique.

A Wiki Is Content Collaboration

Collaboration is what makes a wiki tick. It pools together the knowledge of a group of people to create the best possible resource. So, in effect, an article becomes the sum of knowledge of the people who worked on the article.

Through a collaborative effort, contributors can create a resource that is superior to anything that we could have accomplished alone.

A Wiki Is a Reference Book

The closest analog parallel to a wiki is a reference book, like a dictionary or encyclopedia. You'll usually use one to research a topic and find primary resources for further investigation

Since a wiki is in web form, however, you use a search box rather than a table of contents. From any single article, you might be able to jump to several new subjects. For example, the Wikipedia entry on "wiki" has a link to Ward Cunningham's entry. So, instead of flipping back and forth in a book to get the whole story, you can just follow the links.