What’s a Wiki Anyway?

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If you’ve ever wondered what a wiki was, simply put, a wiki is an open encyclopedia, to which anyone who accesses it can contribute. It’s main purpose is to remain un-biased and objective in an effort to store information that is correct and informative.

Wikis have many useful features and uses, as well as risks.

Perhaps the most famous Wiki is Wikipedia. Wikipedia was launched on the 15th January 2001, and since has expanded to being available in 236 languages. Wikipedia has around 1,000,000 articles available, most of which are editable by users, whether they are registered or not.

There are some misconceptions about the use of a wiki like Wikipedia. Many people, because of the site’s popularity, seek to use encyclopedia for self promotion or for advertising their websites. Fortunately, there are restrictions in place that prevent self-motivated editors from doing this including a “no-follow policy”. This means that if your website was linked from Wikipedia, it would not be recognized by Search Engines as a valid link to your website. By implementing this policy, Wikipedia is negating the incentive many people have for posting biased information.

Wikis have many uses, from project management systems to operations manuals. Other great uses for wikis are FAQ directories, a contact book, writing down notes and snippets, keeping progress reports and managing client work. The main reason people choose to use wikis is to collaborate and share information in a central, easy to access location. This way, everyone who is involved in a group project can add, delete and revise information as it becomes known.

Private wikis are great ways to work together. If you are planning to make your wiki public, be prepared to deal with some risks.

The number one issue with wikis, due to their shared nature is spamming. It’s also some unsavoury individuals mission to destroy articles written by other users for the sheer pleasure of it, as well as adding links to their own website to article pages for personal gain. This kind of online vandalism can be very annoying to users and may turn them away from your site.

The final risk of running a wiki is flame wars. When users do not post articles with a neutral point of view, other users may object to what they have posted. This may result in users arguing on a particular page, resulting in incorrect, damaging or un-necessary information being posted.

However, there are some systems that you can use to ensure that the perpetrators are stopped. On many wiki software packages a feature is installed where articles can be locked. This prevents users from editing an article. Often there
is an option to only allow registered users to edit. Again, that can be very useful for preventing spam.

These packages also come with edit history, which will display the IPs of users who have edited the article in question. This means that you can ban the IP of an offending user.

Now that you have heard about the uses and risks of wikis, you will probably want to get one for yourself. You have two options: Self hosting and hosted.

If you are planning to go down the route of self hosting, I highly recommend using MediaWiki. MediaWiki is used to run the most popular wiki on the internet, Wikipedia, so it is obviously a solid system with many great features. It’s simple to download and install. More details are available here.

However, if you do not have web hosting and would like a wiki hosted for you, PBwiki is recommended. It includes many of the features of MediaWiki, but as mentioned before, it is hosted. It has a really quick sign-up process, and you can sign up here.

Have your experiences with Wiki’s been good or bad? Let us know.