#16 Learn about wikis and discover some innovative ways that libraries are using them
So far we have explored blogging as a way to quickly and easily publish content to the web. While blogs can be undertaken as collaborative enterprises, a wiki, the 2.0 technology we will be looking at this week, is particularly suited to this task. Let’s explore what wikis are, how they are used, and what features are common to most.
Let’s start with “Wikis in Plain English” another enjoyable video from Common Craft.
A wiki is a collaborative website and authoring tool that allows users to easily add, remove and edit content that can be quickly published to the web. You do not need to know HTML (the language used to create web pages) or know how to use web page building software. Adding content on a wiki is, with just a few variations, just like using word processing software. Although many do allow for the use of HTML editing in addition to Wikitext or Wiki Markup, all you need to edit a wiki is an internet connection and a web browser.
Wikis typically work one of two ways – an open model where anyone is invited to contribute or a closed model where a select group are invited to contribute. Either way, it is an exercise in collaboration and trust – whomever contributes is expected to meet certain standards of quality and accuracy and should expect, should they not reach these standards, that another participant will edit their contributions. The goal is to use a wiki to create a collaborative piece of information, sharing the knowledge of all contributors.
Wikipedia, the online open-community encyclopedia, is the largest and perhaps the most well known of these knowledge sharing tools. Common Craft has created a video about Wikipedia, Wikipedia Explained By Common Craft.
As the use of wikis has grown over the last few years, libraries all over the country have begun to use them to collaborate and share knowledge. Among their applications are pathfinder or subject guide wikis, book review wikis, ALA conference wikis and even library best practices wikis.
Matthew Bejune, author of the article Wikis in Libraries (Information Technology and Libraries, 26(3), 2007, 27-39.) created a companion wiki as a place to learn about and share examples of library wikis. Included are examples of wikis used for:
- Collaboration between Libraries
- Collaboration between Library Staff
- Collaboration between Library Staff and Patrons
- Collaboration between Patrons
Some of the benefits that make wikis so attractive are:
- Anyone (registered or unregistered, if unrestricted) can add, edit or delete content.
- Users do not need to know HTML in order to add and edit content.
- Wikis allow you to assign different access permissions to different users. The site creator (Administrator) can assign other Administrators or Moderators to the Wiki. Wikis typically have several levels of contributors with varying degrees of access, such as Admin, Mod, Writer, Registered User, and Guest.
- Many wikis allow users to subscribe to them either via email or RSS feeds. Some allow users to subscribe to specific pages and keep apprised of recent edits.
- Tracking tools within wikis allow you to easily keep up on what been changed and by whom.
- Earlier versions of a page can be viewed. Many have more advanced edit comparison features that may allow users to compare the changes to an entry over time. Wikis also typically have a revert feature that allows those with sufficient access permissions to, if necessary, rollback a page to an earlier edit.
- Personalization of user accounts can be quite different from wiki to wiki; some allow for the creation of detail user profiles, private messaging, and commenting upon individual profiles.
- Many wikis are tiered with both free accounts and ‘premium memberships’ that often have added features such as a higher page limits or greater storage capacity.
There are numerous kinds of “wiki software” or “wiki engines”, these can vary widely in look and functionality. With all the different wiki software to choose from you might have a difficult time deciding which wiki is most suited to your project. A tool you might find useful for comparing the features of various wikis is Wikimatrix. The Wikimatrix website has several useful features for comparing any number of more than 80 wiki engines listed.
- How Stuff Works (a great site if you’ve never checked it out)
- New York Times article about the decision by the history department at Middlebury College’s to ban citations from Wikipedia in papers and exams.
1. For this exercise, you are asked to take a look at some library-related wikis and blog about your finding. Besides the examples above, here are a few more to get you started:
- Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust Wiki – a wiki based on the Book Lust books
- Book Lovers Wiki – developed by the Princeton Public Library
- Library Success: A best practices wiki – a one-stop shop for great ideas and information for all types of librarians
- Library Instruction Wiki – a resource for librarians involved with or interested in instruction
- The Bull Run Library wiki – a public library wiki
- Other library wiki examples
Wikis as library websites:
And some non-library examples:
- Wiktionary (a wiki dictionary)
- The Simpsons Wiki
- Fixpert – The Automotive Repair Wiki
- Music Wiki
- WikiIndex – a wiki guide to wikis
2. Create a blog post about your findings. What did you find interesting? Would you use a wiki for information? What are the benefits and drawbacks to finding information this way? What do you like or dislike about using a Wiki? What types of applications within libraries might work well with a wiki?
Optional: For an astute but PG-13 analysis of Wikipedia, here’s Stephen Colbert:
An Interview with Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia: