Wednesday 20 June 2007

What is a Wiki?

The ultimate definition of a Wiki is a site where anyone can add, remove, and edit content. But the actual spirit of a Wiki is simply an ever-changing consensus on a given topic, and Wikipedia is just one example. Wikis are a step above forums and blogs, making equal content creators out of everyone, and sometimes leading to chaos, but in a fun way!

How chaotic it can get is shown by the Wikinovel experiment, started by Penguin Books and De Montfort University. When the project started, you could log in in five minute intervals and find the story was about a red lion, or a blue bear, or was a sitcom, or was a pornographic work… the upheaval continued until they had enough editors to regulate it somewhat. The reading of this work is an adventure in itself, almost coherent in places.

None less than Tim Berners-Lee, recognized “father” of the web, has pointed to Wikis as what he had in mind when he first implemented HTML. Wikis are one of those ideas which sound good on paper; the world-wide network of enlightened minds sharing all the good things they know until the zenith of collected human knowledge is achieved.

In practice… Well, judging by the long list of “bad jokes and deleted nonsense” on Wikipedia itself, global civil responsibility isn’t always benign. They’ve even had to put up a list of Things no one cares about. Just in case you were wondering.

But the Wiki is a handy tool that isn’t going away any time soon. There is a steep curve involved in charting the usefulness of a given Wiki: with only a few editors, it’s mostly worthless junk, but at a certain point it gains enough interest that it has sufficient volunteers so that it can be policed.
The global consensus method of organizing data is being applied to media, as well. Wikimedia Commons is currently at 1,518,406 media files, ranging from sound to image to video to free ebooks, that anyone can download and contribute to. The world is amassing quite a curio cabinet here, and we have room to wonder if maybe in another decade the concept of paid media creators will simply be outdated.

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