A wiki is a great tool that enables groups of contributors to work together to quickly create and edit documents that pool their collective knowledge.
You’ve no doubt heard of Wikipedia, which is (to paraphrase the former Iraqi dictator) “the mother of all wikis.” The richness of this resource, produced entirely by collective voluntary effort, is truly amazing. Check out its entries on the Virginia Tech massacre and the 35W bridge collapse, and you’ll get a sense for the power of wikis to facilitate collaboration.
And these are only two of the more than 2.2 million articles in the English version of Wikipedia. So just how is Encylopaedia Britannica supposed to compete with that?
You’re no doubt already using Wikipedia. In fact, if you Google almost any relatively prominent proper noun, it’s highly like the Wikipedia entry will show up on the first page of results. So that’s one wiki already making your life easier (unless you work for an encyclopedia publisher.)
But how can wikis help you complete your projects?
If you have a work team, you can use a wiki to produce documents much more quickly and easily than you can with a Word document via email.
For example, say you have a 10-member team and you need to produce a two-page document. In the old way (or maybe what you’re doing today), you would produce a first draft and send it as an email attachment to your team members: Ann, Bob, Cindy, Doug, Eunice, Frank, Gail, Hal, Irene and Joe. You play it smart and turn on the track-changes mode, so edits are apparent.
- Ann adds to the document, hits “reply all” to the email, and sends her revision to the whole group.
- Bob bounces your original directly back to you with some modifications, but doesn’t copy the rest of the team.
- Cindy changes Ann’s version and hits reply all.
- Doug deletes Ann’s additions and inserts his own, and likewise sends to everyone.
- Eunice edits your original and sends it on to Frank for his thoughts on one particular section.
- Frank fails to respond, so Eunice’s edits are lost to the team.
- Gail groans at Cindy’s changes, adds her own ideas, and copies the whole team on her changes.
So at this point in this illustration you have 52 Word files in various team members’ email inboxes, and figuring out which is the latest version is, well…problematic at least. And even if you can track down the various versions, it’s a hassle to compare modifications in separate documents.
Feeling cross-eyed yet?
That’s why wikis are wonderful. Instead of sending an attachment, you send a link to a special Web site. You and your teammates make your edits in one common place, and each version is saved in the document history. So you capture all of the information, and you as the editor can compare the various versions.
1. Watch a Wiki Video. Honorary doctorate candidates Sachi and Lee LeFever again have an honorable contribution, with their Wikis in Plain English video. See it below:
2. Participate in our Class Wiki Demonstration. Visit the SMUG Curriculum wiki, and add your course ideas. This gives you hands-on experience with a wiki, and it also will help strengthen our curriculum.
3. Set up a wiki for your team or some other group. You have options to get these for free, like everything else in the SMUG curriculum. The one I picked for our class project is wikispaces. Using wiki technology to accomplish a practical project takes your experience to the next level.
4. Discussion: Please share your thoughts or questions about wikis, or what you’ve learned through your experiences with them, in the comments section below.
Extra Credit for Honors Students: Read this review of Wikinomics for broader background on the new ways of working made possible by technology like wikis.