In brief, a Wiki is a computer-based collaboration system based on three major principles:
- Ease of Use Users shouldn't have to learn HTML or deal with complicated file upload/download protocols, and the inevitable file format incompatibilities, in order to create and maintain documents collaboratively. Typically, wikis solve these problems by using their own, easy formatting syntax (called wiki syntax) and by enabling users to create and maintain documents with a Web browser.
- Wide-Open Read/Write Access If you want wide-open collaboration within or across teams, then why not have every document in the knowledge base or intranet be instantly available for editing and revision? It's natural in a wiki — alternatively, with fully customizable permissions you can create multiple rooms and private pages for teams to work separately.
- Emergent Structure In physics and biology, the term emergent structure is used to describe the striking (and often beautiful) patterns that emerge from fundamentally chaotic processes, such as the spiral arms of our galaxy. In a Wiki, this term refers to the navigation structures that Wiki users invent as they create meaning, and knowledge within a collection of Wiki pages.
Don't let the wide-open read/write access philosophy scare you off. Throughout the world, leading corporations and universities are using Wiki software to facilitate team-based, collaborative writing — and they're reporting success after success. To be sure, authors need to know what they're getting into; after all, someone might come along and make changes to the "brilliant page" they just posted. (Of course, the original author can go back in an remove the changes, but it would be much better to revise the page to show that there are differing points of view!) To avoid ego-related squabbles, Tiki administrators need to explain the Wiki philosophy to team members (and provide plenty of tools that enable users to work through conflicts regarding page content).
Historical Note The term Wiki is short for wiki-wiki, which means quick in Hawaiian. The first Wiki was created (and dubbed "Wiki-Wiki") by Ward Cunningham, a Portland, OR computer programmer, in 1995. The largest Wiki is the remarkable Wikipedia, which now contains more than 300,000 publicly-contributed entries.