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a website where users can collectively add or modify text
'Of all of the websites tracking the Katrina disaster, surely one of the most remarkable is Scipionus.com … it has become a giant visual "wiki" page, attracting tens of thousands of visitors who are collaborating in creating a public document of astonishing detail.'Wired News 2nd September 2005
'… there are now wikis – websites that anyone can edit – on everything from Tolkien to travel …'The Guardian 1st April 2004
First there were weblogs or blogs, web pages authored by individual users as a regular record of their thoughts, opinions and experiences. Now on the rise to widespread popularity is the wiki, a web page which allows not just one, but multiple users to contribute to its content.
Wikis are rapidly becoming a popular mechanism for building repositories of information accessible to Internet users across the globe. They differ from blogs in that, in addition to the opportunity to add text, they also allow users to edit text previously contributed by others. They can therefore be used collaboratively in building an information resource which can be enhanced, corrected and updated as an ongoing process.
wikis are increasingly being used in a wide range of business and educational contexts
The most well-known implementation of a wiki is the website Wikipedia, a free, web-based encyclopaedia containing around 2.3 million articles and written collaboratively by volunteers, sometimes referred to as Wikipedians. In 2005 Wikipedia has become one of the most popular reference sites on the web, traffic to the site rising by over 150% in the past year. Wikipedia has also spawned several sister wikis, such as Wiktionary (a wiki dictionary and thesaurus), and Wikinews (news reports on a wide variety of subjects). Despite its popularity and its potential as the largest encyclopaedia in history, Wikipedia's status as a reference work is controversial. Constantly edited by volunteers, its articles are subject to change by nearly anyone, which may lead to inaccuracies, unintentional bias and even vandalism.
Beyond the world of Wikipedia, wikis are increasingly being used in a wide range of business and educational contexts. New uses of wikis as a mechanism for online information sharing are emerging all the time. For example, in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, a visual wiki was created, allowing users to move over a map of the Gulf coast and read specific information about affected areas.
The term wiki and the concept behind it were invented by Ward Cunningham, a computer programmer in Oregon in the United States. Cunningham derived wiki from the Hawaiian expression wiki wiki, meaning 'quick' (wikis are 'quick' because both editing and reading text can be done by using the same standard web browser). Wiki wiki was the first Hawaiian term Cunningham learnt when arriving at Honolulu airport, where he was directed to take the wiki wiki bus (shuttle bus) between terminals.
On 25th March 1995, Cunningham founded the first ever wikis, the Portland Pattern Repository, a website containing a bank of computer programming patterns. By the late 1990s, people were recognising the more general potential of wikis in the collaborative development of online information repositories, and in January 2001, Wikipedia was launched.
As well as referring to an online knowledge base, wiki is also sometimes used to refer to the software that created it. Wiki has already had a very productive life as a catchy prefix in Internet-speak, for example wikitext, wikisite and wikipage.
This article was first published on 3rd October 2005.