Or more properly: WhatisaWiki
Disclaimer: This is an attempt to record my initial understanding of wikis for the newcomer. The experienced wiki user can skip to the last paragraph for my thoughts on wikis and business.
Sometimes web logs and wikis are covered in the same conversation as similar tools. I have been looking at web logs as both a concept and a technology and from the perspective of knowledge management and learning. But what is a wiki? I will start with definitions from some of the more famous sources.
Wiki.org, maintained by Ward Cunningham, given credit for starting wikis, and Bo Leuf write that in Ward's original description a wiki “is the simplest online database that could possibly work.” It is seen as a piece of server software that allows users to freely create and edit Web page content using any Web browser. A wiki supports hyperlinks and uses a simple text syntax for creating new pages and crosslinks between internal pages on the fly. Wikis are unusual among group communication tools since you can edit both the organization of contributions, as well as the content itself.
The usemod site states that wiki is a collaboratively-edited website. The distinguishing feature is that all users can edit any page, with full freedom to edit, change and delete the work of previous authors. Other typical wiki features include a simple set of Text Formatting Rules which allow access to a subset of HTM, easy creation of links to wiki pages, easy creation of new wiki pages, and a Recent Changes page which lists newly edited pages. On many wikis a link to an undefined page is displayed with a question mark (like SampleUndefinedPage?). You click on the "?" link to create the new page.
According to Ward Cunningham, wikis began in 1995, with an Invitation To The Patterns List wiki. This wiki site was founded as an automated supplement to the Portland Pattern Repository. Ward and Bo Luef wrote a book, The Wiki Way and you can download a PDF of their chapter, Using Wiki, through this site. They also provide a set of wiki design principles on their site. The Wikipedia, a group written encyclopedia with over 280,000 articles in English, is probably the most ambitious wiki.
Wikis and web logs are alike in their simplicity and some of their features but different in their voice. Dave Winer writes that a web log is the unedited voice of single person and, in contrast, a wiki is the amalgam of many voices. Instead of providing comments to the posting of the web log owner, you simply go in and change the original content. This absolute flexibility promotes a consensus that is sometimes referred to as “emergent intelligence” by wiki advocates. Wikis seem to be particularly useful for brainstorming sessions and by definition, they are a group activity.
Some writers have suggested that wikis are more useful to business but I think that both web logs and wikis have they place in business. Web logs are useful when it is desirable for the original writer to maintain control and others simply comment. A community of web logs can exchange, link, and collaborate with each contributor maintaining their identity. Wikis are useful when a group voice and consensus is desired and the identity rests with the group. I actually think there are more possibilities for extensions of web logs than wikis in business since most people want to have a place for their unique voice. There is also often a practical need for the greater control that a web log offers for such tasks as project management, learning, and communication. Wikis seem to be particularly useful for the generation of ideas while web logs are better for the documentation, communication, and implementation of ideas. Both roles have their place in business.
I tried one yesterday and it was extremely easy to use. I am beginning to see the power. More to follow.