Wikis (from the Hawaiian word for 'fast') are websites that are designed to be easily edited by a large number of people. The defining characteristics of a wiki have been defined as follows:

  • A wiki invites all users to edit any page or create new pages within the wiki website, using only a [basic] web browser.
  • A wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages by making link creation almost intuitively easy.
  • A wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the web site landscape.

Ward Cunningham and Bo Leuf, The Wiki Way: quick collaboration on the web, via Wikipedia.

Wikis can be used any time a 'quick and dirty' site is needed that multiple people want to be able to edit. There are many wiki hosting sites (often referred to as 'wikifarms'), such as Wetpaint, Wikispaces and Wikia, that offer a variety of privacy/access controls. Wikis can therefore be as restrictive or open as the creator chooses.

The largest and most well-known wiki is Wikipedia, a vast online encyclopedia in over 200 languages, built through the collective efforts of thousands of writers and editors. The English language version includes over 3 million articles on every subject imaginable, and has been up and running since 2001. The vast majority of articles on the site can be edited by anyone, although some articles have protected status meaning that registration is required, and a few can only be edited by trusted contributors. More on Wikipedia in Thing 18...