How Does a Newbie Find Out About Wikis?
June 23, 2006 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I really should post this anonymously, but what the hell... I'm at the level of tech savviness/cluelessness where I usually know the meaning of tech. terms but often have no idea what things really mean or how they're applied. So while I read all the references to wikis here on askme, I realize that, aside from wikipedia, I've never looked at a wiki and have no concrete idea what differentiates it from a forum, or a blog.

What's worse, I work in a complex school setting that just might benefit (from what I've been able to glean from the discussions here) from its own wiki. Or since I'm supposed to be the tech guy, maybe this is something I should be setting up to do with students.

So how can I most easily educate myself about wiki? Suggested sites that are either great examples or meta-wiki that explain the form... or heck, I'm willing to read a book, if there's a good one- or maybe there's a good magazine article. Help?
posted by carterk to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The original wiki has some resources that might be able to answer your questions.
posted by jjg at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2006

The Wiki entry on Wikipedia isn't half bad either.
posted by jedrek at 11:59 AM on June 23, 2006

First line of that wikipedia article is all you really need to know to understand what the technology is:

A Wiki is a type of website that allows users to add, remove, or otherwise edit and change all content very quickly and easily.

I'm working very hard at evangelizing a media wiki installation at my work, and it's a concept that a lot of people have a difficult time grasping. I think rather than read an article about it, just read that sentence about 3 or 4 times and then chew on it for a bit. After a while you'll start getting light bulbs at all the possible uses for such a technology.
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:08 PM on June 23, 2006

The major purpose of a wiki is to allow multiple people to edit the same document or article, and then archives the changes for reversion or historical reference. Forums and blogs generally give people their own sandbox to post an article in, with a trail of responses after that article.

To give an example, if AskMe were a wiki, I'd be able to edit your question for grammar, and then you'd be revert it back if you disagreed with my change.

This is especially valuable when you have multiple people on the same project, and each person is responsible for changing the documentation in regard to their own responsibilities. They all can do it, and if one makes a mistake, there's a disagreement, a clarification is needed or something needs to be added, it can be revised again by someone else (ad nauseum).
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 12:13 PM on June 23, 2006

See if the city or area that you live in has a local wiki. I used to be baffled by wikis, too. My city has a pretty good one (Rochester, NY) and I started adding some info to various pages, then building my own pages, and now I feel pretty comfortable with wikis in general.
posted by chr1sb0y at 12:28 PM on June 23, 2006

*note that "wiki" is a contribution to english from the hawaiian. other great hawaiian words: "aloha," which, poetically, means hello, goodbye, and i love you. also, one of my favorites: "hapa," which means half but is used to refer to people of mixed racial background.
posted by cubby at 12:39 PM on June 23, 2006

This is great, and thank you, but I still think my brain could get around this idea better if I could look at 3 or 4 representative wikis that show how it can be used in different contexts. Suggestions? Extra points for wikis used by kids/students...
posted by carterk at 12:46 PM on June 23, 2006

Here is a wiki that talks about using wiki in schools (with a few examples):

One great features of wiki is the fact that previous versions of a document are archived. One obvious advantage is the capacity to revert to a previous version in case of unwanted changes. It also means that you can see the "history" of a document.
posted by bluefrog at 12:59 PM on June 23, 2006

One useful way to think of the discussion is that a wiki page is a collaborative result of many people working together to create one document. A blog is a space owned by one or more authors, where people can respond to the original content, but can't modify it.

A wiki is ideal if everyone's working towards a single result, and a blog is ideal if you want comments and feedback. (In a wiki, comments are kind of a problem.)
posted by anildash at 1:31 PM on June 23, 2006

Wikipedia is the mother of all wiki's. Go along there and look something up ("Albert Einstein") and then click the shiny little 'edit' button at the top of the page and change/add some text (correct some typo's). You'll get the idea pretty quickly.

Ummm, for other examples, try and the multitude of wiki's at and These last two are also good sites to visit because they let you easily set up your own wiki, which might give you the chance to try out a wiki for your school kids.

If you want a really simple example of a wiki, check out ... A bunch of guys on set it up as a place to store all the information about the Moto e398 mobile phone, but it's not that well organised. Gives you the idea tho.... :)
posted by ranglin at 2:03 PM on June 23, 2006

Bluefrog's link appears to give some good examples of wikis in schools. Other representative wikis:
* As others have said, Wikipedia and the original WikiWikiWeb
* The Adjunct, which picks up a lot of off-topic material from the original WikiWikiWeb
* MeatballWiki, a wiki about online communities (more or less)--you might take a look at the WhatIsaWiki page there
* Sensei's Library, a wiki about the game of Go
* Seattle Wireless, the wiki of the Seattle Community Wireless Network project

(Hopefully this will also demonstrate a bit of the range of ways in which wikis can be used).
posted by moss at 2:09 PM on June 23, 2006

It's worth noting that there are a lot of ways in which Wikipedia isn't really typical of other wikis, because of things it does to be as encyclopedic as possible (neutral point of view, separate article and discussion pages, separate editable sections within a page) and to accomodate huge amounts of traffic (locks on some pages, community processes like VotesForDeletion, admins with special powers), and also just because of cultural differences that have developed over time (like the acceptability of handles rather than real names).
posted by moss at 2:19 PM on June 23, 2006

There's always the Metafilter Wiki.
posted by jacalata at 9:21 PM on June 23, 2006

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