A wiki is a collection of information brought forth and organized by its users into a number of pages. Wikis generally center around a unifying theme, but the content can vary in formality. Depending on the number of contributors and the quality of each contribution, wikis may incorporate outside information, conform to various structural designs or include extensive discussions over content.
Developer Ward Cunningham created the software in the early 1990’s in order “to facilitate discussions among programmers.” The wiki software was originally based in the programming industry, but in 2001, the wiki software expanded to include more of the general public. The site Nupedia, whose goal was to create an online encyclopedia, enlisted the help of a wiki to gather information for am encyclopedia. This site was called Wikipedia, which is now number six on a list of most trafficked sites . Mittell deemed it “the prototype for the widespread use of wikis across a range of sites.”
Wikis are entirely created by its contributors. Contributors of any given wiki, through a process of group decision and discussion, decide on norms of form, content, and edits of that wiki. The core nature of a wiki is the ability of any user to add, change or delete the content contributed by any other user. Each page has a "History" where users can see changes that other users have made, reverse those changes, or start discussions about them. The Main Page option allows for a list of pages included in the wiki, which is often supplemented by a "Search" option used for further navigation. Pages can be linked to each other, to other sources, or to other internet sites. Each page is usually supplemented by a Talk page where users can organize points of discussion about form or content. In this way, wikis create a sense of community among its users.
In fan wikis, for example, the environment can be very social and interactive. Contributors of the wiki share group chats about the show, artist or movie that they share a wiki about. They also share information that holds interest to other contributors of the site. In addition to the pages about the subject, talk pages allow space for conversation among other fans about the topic at hand.
Wiki users identify with the wiki that they edit. Though identity is not formed in the way it is on social media websites, wiki editors can create a certain personal profile based on their participation on the site. Editors of Wikipedia, for example have experience with Wikipedia and know how to back up what they say. Likewise, all types of wiki editors have enough confidence with the topic of the wiki to be able to add or change the content of the wiki. In this way, contributing to a wiki, especially with continued contribution, creates a sense of identity. Wiki users of a specific wiki form norms of language, usage, and overall literacy that create a sense of community. With the interactivity of its editing properties, users can search each others participation and establish collaborative relationships. The relative anonymity on wikis is also a very important aspect because it places user identity on commonly shared themes and information, whereas sites like Facebook provide a personal identity based on personal qualities.
On a Wiki page, there is very little interactivity among audience and collective authors. Rather, visitors of a wiki browse the content without contributing to or interacting with the community or the content. These "audience" members see only what exists at the time that they visit. The nature of wikis, however, allow for any visitor to become a contributor and to edit content.
Wikipedia and Wiki pages are revolutionizing the concept of encyclopedias. Encyclopedias have to be updated constantly due to their lack of temporal structure. Wikipedia can constantly be updated. For example, if there was suddenly a change in the dynamics of a current world issue, a Wikipedia editor would be able to adjust the information within a page in order to display the correct information. Encyclopedias like Britannica do not have this option because they are only available in a hard copy. This makes them harder to access for the general public and less reliable in their information, especially regarding current events. This is part of the reason that Wikipedia pages have gained prominence recently and are bringing the demise of the traditional encyclopedia.
Wikis can form a variety of communities online, but can also be the result of pre-exsisting communities. Many wikis and their communities are private, much like this very one that our DML class is using. Wikis can be found at the workplace in large companies. Documents that need revision by several different people will often be completed through collaboration 4.
Wiki communities can also be found in the academic world. Collaboration has become an integral part of today's education and online collaborative work using a wiki has become a popular trend 5.