A wiki is a website built by a community of contributors who create and edit the content and structure of the site collaboratively.
Are you familiar with Wikipedia? Sure you are! It's one of the ten most popular websites in the world and has information about nearly any topic you wish to learn more about. Wikipedia is the most popular wiki on the web. Every Wikipedia article has been created and edited by the Wikipedia community – a community you are welcome to join at any time.
All wikis are crowdsourced websites. A crowd, or community, of dedicated users, generate all of the content, provide editorial review, discuss the finer details to ensure a high level of accuracy, and ultimately determine what will appear on the website.
Wikis use special wiki applications, called wiki engines, that are designed to power this unique type of website. Wiki engines are designed to be user-friendly, and to leave the door open for non-technical contributors. All wikis are edited using a standard web browser, and wiki engine popularity is driven at least in part by how easy it is for contributors to make use of the platform.
Some of the most popular wiki engine's include:
- MediaWiki: The free and open source wiki engine written in PHP that powers Wikipedia.
- MoinMoinWiki: A free alternative to MediaWiki written in Python with greater emphasis placed on ease-of-use.
- TikiWiki: If you want to run a wiki, but think you might also want to incorporate a blog, integrate a shopping cart, and enable forums, TikiWiki is the CMS-like wiki engine you're looking for.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can the contents of a wiki site be trusted?
Every wiki is a reflection of the community that is responsible for building and maintaining it. In the case of Wikipedia, the answer is: yes, the contents can be trusted. While there are occasionally incidents where inaccuracies or strong bias make their way into entries, studies have found the quality of Wikipedia articles to be on-par with the Encylopedia Britannica. However, there are many other wikis that would not bear up under the same level of scrutiny. The takeaway is this: the trustworthiness of any website isn't predicated by whether or not it's a wiki, but rather by the pedigree of the contributors who contribute the content of the site.
If Wikipedia is highly accurate, why should I not use it as a reference for a research paper?
Wikipedia, and most other wiki sites are content aggregators rather than original sources of content. If you visit a random Wikipedia page and scroll to the very bottom of the page you will find a list of references. These are the original sources where the contents of the entry can be verified, and are a great starting point for finding referenceable sources. Don't cite Wikipedia as a source for your term paper, but do use Wikipedia to find original sources by using the list of references tucked away at the bottom of each entry.
How can I contribute to a wiki?
The policies of every wiki are a little bit different, so you will need to visit the site you wish to contribute to and research the specific details that apply to that wiki. Some wikis require that you create an account, while others will allow you contribute without logging in. The thing to keep in mind is that wikis are edited by the same users that contribute to the site, as a result you can expect any contribution you make to be seriously discussed and edited by other contributors. As a result, at no point will you be able to point to a page on any wiki and claim it as your own work. Every wiki entry is a collaborative product, and no one person can claim credit for the contents of a wiki.