Wikis

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What’s a Wiki? MediaWiki is an open-source wiki engine originally developed for use on Wikipedia, which remains the best-known use of it. MediaWiki is also used by tens of thousands of wikis around the world, and is "almost certainly the world’s most popular wiki software”[1]

Jason Mittell defines the principles of wikis as:

Freedom: wikis are open to a wide range of uses beyond creating an encyclopaedia, they can also be used for collaborative authoring, projects, organising documents or sharing information, for example. Wikis are non-hierarchical and are open to different contributors to create and post entries. Readers of wikis are free to navigate the pages via hyperlinks, key word searches, random pages, and so on, without a defined ‘route’ through the wiki (i.e. a contents page).

Transparency: wikis show and track what changes have been made to an entry and by who. As a community of users this is non-hierarchical and promotes non-hierarchical working based around the discussion components of the wiki that allow contributors to edit, re-edit and compare different versions of an entry while posting. Any contributor can make and edit an entry, without a ‘hierarchy’ enforcing an editorial policy. If there is a dispute then it is discussed in an open manner. Wikis trace and show the work that went into producing them.

Fluidity: Wikis are easy to display content that can be read on a wide range of browsers. Wikis can be edited and updated easily, while linked to different pages, sources of content or external media files. Pages in a wiki are always changing and being updated. Contributors then ‘watch’ a page to see if it is added to or amended by other contributors.

Emergence: Wikis are not organised centrally, and they are not planned. They rely instead on the posting of entries by participants who decide between themselves which entries should be made. The reader is free to navigate a wiki in a similar manner. The principles that shape the wiki are decided on by the users who form the community of interest based around the subjects and the topics covered. Disputes are managed through a process of resolution and compromise, which looks to other sources of information as a point of expression in an ongoing debate.

Collective Intelligence: Wikis allow for the tracking and discussion of ongoing projects. In this way wikis open up the possibility that we can manage a project by pooling the collective resources and knowledge of the different user’s active in the project. So, rather than relying on a centralised management authority to validate the knowledge demonstrated in a wiki, the users and the readers of a wiki are able to discuss and add comments and suggestions for improvements, and to mark instances of information that is yet to be verified for later updates. In this way a wiki is said to be able to exceed the capabilities of the individual and produce a wider-ranging model of knowledge that draws on a cognitively diverse range of sources.

Relative Anonymity: A wiki does not promote the name of the contributor or the work that they have done, rather a wiki allows statements and discussions to take place that are promoted on a more even-footing, with lower expectations about status and cultural capital. Expertise is tied to participation in a wiki rather than social roles and qualifications”[2]

Mittell goes on to state that in developing entries for a wiki:

  • Content needs to be presented with a neutral point of view, citing sources and avoiding original research” (Mittell, 2013, p. 38).
  • This ensures that information is accessible to a wide range of people that avoids political, religious or technical bias.
  • The entries might refer to other published sources that relate to the controversies discussed in a topic, but this is done on the basis of promoting verifiable ‘objectivity’.
  • By avoiding original research Wikipedia is able to sidestep the role of verifier of the information, and so relies on common sources of information that are otherwise already accepted as ‘common knowledge’.
  • If the subject being covered is contentious and subject to strident position-taking by different contributors, then the moderation process will be used to find a form of words to include both sides of a debate, or otherwise lock the entry so that it can’t be openly edited by anyone” (Mittell, 2013).

Wikis are useful because they allow people to build:

  • Collaborative organisations.
  • Collective knowledge.
  • Open & Transparent Processes.

Most of the Wiki hosting platforms that are available are free, and they are relatively simple to create and do not require a lot of technical knowledge to support and maintain. The interface of Mediawiki is designed to be simple and accessible on many different types of computers, and does not need complicated software to be accessed, just a basic web browser. Wikis can easily be accessed with an internet connection and do not use a lot of data.

Editing a wiki is relatively straightforward, with no programming involved. The results of a wiki page are instantaneous, so there is no need to wait for a publisher to approve any information that is uploaded. Wikis can be used as a practical collaboration tool because people can post content at different times and from different places.

The Wiki software keeps track of every edit made and it is a simple process to revert back to a previous version of an article. Wikis widen access to the power of web publishing to non-technical users. Wikis are flexible and do not have a predetermined structure meaning they can be used for a wide range of applications.

There are extensive help files that explain how Wiki Media Formatting works and examples of the different types of edits and page layouts that are possible.

References

  1. Koren, Y. (2012). Working with MediaWiki: Wikiworks Press.
  2. Mittell, J. (2013). Wikis and Participatory Fandom. In A. Delwiche & J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 35-42). London: Routledge.