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Introduction and history

Page history last edited by PBworks 17 years, 8 months ago

Introduction and History


Wikis are an exciting and emerging new trend in libraries. Although the number of libraries using wikis at this time is fairly small, the number is consistently growing, and the wikis are being met with a positive response. The word is Hawaiian and literally is translated as “quick.” It is an abbreviated form of “wiki wiki” which also is slang for “what I know is.”


Wikis are essentially a type of website that allows for editing by a group of people. Sometimes the group is specifically chosen. For example, a work group may use a wiki to post policies and work online, meaning that only designated people may participate. In other instances, like Wikipedia, the new information can be posted by anyone, with very few or no restrictions.


Wikis are created with a simple markup language that allows for hypertext and crosslinking between pages. This allows pages to be edited and searched with ease. Changes are often tracked so that users can monitor information they’ve posted or accessed, and administrators can easily revert back to a page, especially if incorrect information is added. Users do not need to learn HTML to use wikis.


Wikis have been around in some form since the late 1980s. At that time, Ward Cunningham, creator of WikiWikiWeb (the first, most basic wikis) was looking for a way to develop an electronic database to increase knowledge in both the public and private sector. WikiWikiWeb grew out of this idea, becoming functional in the late 1990s, and eventually spawned the best known wiki site, Wikipedia.


Wikipedia began in 2001 as an offshoot to Nupedia, a now defunct project to develop an encyclopedia. A wiki was set up on Nupedia to promote a different format than the one currently used by Nupedia. The response to this action was unenthusiastic, so the creators decided to put the articles they had created under a new website named Wikipedia. The founders, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, added and solicited more articles, and eventually added separate divisions for different languages.


According to Wikipedia, there are now more than 48, 000 active contributors working on over 3,800,000 articles. 1,306,643 are in English. Thousands of new articles are created and edited each day. In light of the success of Wikipedia, the host, Wikimedia Foundation has expanded the wiki concept to include a dictionary, textbook source, news source, free content library, and collections of quotes and species. The possibilities for the format are endless.


There are a number of positive aspects of a wiki. The open format of the websites allows all users to share information and unique viewpoints, encouraging a fair and democratic approach to the web for everyone. A wiki such as Wikipedia is also typically much more up to date than a regular website, and certainly more up to date than a reference book. Many times, information that is popular in nature (such as a new movie star) can be found most quickly and reliably on a wiki. Also, because the wiki is open source, information and images can be used freely unless otherwise specified.


One of the most significant positive aspects of the wiki is the potential for collaboration. This type of learning is becoming more and more vital in the fast paced and sometimes fragmented society that we live in. Wikis allow people all over the world to work together to create a learning environment conducive to positive work experiences.


The use of wikis is often contentious, especially in libraries and educational settings. While wikis are undeniably informative, easy to use, and helpful, the information provided may or may not be reputable. Therefore, users must be perceptive and be able to support any type of serious research with additional resources. Librarians and educators must continue to serve users by helping them learn to use, evaluate, and improve the wikis they use.

Comments (1)

Anonymous said

at 10:51 am on Aug 11, 2006

Hi Liz,
I did some style changes on this page to make it a little easier to read - but I'm not sure if separated the paragraphs at the right place. Please adjust if needed.
Lots of good info!

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