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The term wiki is pronounced wik' ee and comes from the Hawaiian language. In Hawaiian "wikiwiki" (sometimes "wiki wiki") means quickly. See "wikiwiki" - bottom of page. Ward Cunningham visited Hawaii where he was first exposed to the term. He applied the term by naming his idea and created the first wiki in 1995; see Free Online Dictionary - wiki Cunningham's book is available at [1] His idea was that a webpage could be modified by its readers, and the result of a reader's modification would immediately become the viewable page.

Through usage the term has shortened from wikiwiki, to wiki. A wiki is an internet website that uses hypertext to communicate its information. It uses software, including wiki software, to accomplish Mr. Cunningham's idea.


Characteristics of a Wiki

Mr. Cunningham's idea stemmed from "if a person can read the page then a person can modify the page with the same tools they read the page with". To accomplish this, a necessary wiki characteristic is that a reader be able to use the same tool they read a page with (the browser), to modify the page. An easy to learn markup enhances a page's article by making headings clear and by linking one article to others. The result is an interconnected group of web pages that allow a reader to explore a wiki's articles to their interest and pace. But a reader can modify pages, too. Therefore, a wiki's pages are a collaboration of authorship.

Many of today's wikis can be modified by the reading public. But some problems have arisen as wikis have become popular. Some disgraceful modifications have happened on wide-open wikis that mis-present the subject. Other vandalism included opinionated edits, or even false information placed into public view. Methods have been tried to insure a quality wiki, while likewise insuring the broadest possible user contribution. Some wikis - such as Wipipedia - require registration with the wiki web site before a reader can modify pages.

Controlling Users

While most wiki 'communities' shun mandatory registration procedures, virtually all large wiki engines provide some way to restrict users who consistently violate community rules. Administrators of wikis can also ban a user from editing, which can be accomplished by banning their particular IP address or their username.

As an emergency measure, some wikis allow switching the database to read-only mode, and some can allow only those users registered up to a cutoff date to continue editing. This may also be required during furious edit wars. Generally speaking, however, any damage done by vandalism can be reverted quite quickly. More problematic are the subtle errors inserted into pages which go undetected, or the man-hours required to monitor wikis, especially as they grow larger.

Controlling Content

Wikis generally follow a philosophy of making it easy to fix mistakes instead of making it hard to make them. Thus, while wikis are very open, they also provide various means to verify the validity of recent additions to the body of pages, to index them, and sift through them.

The most prominent one on almost every wiki is the so-called "Recent changes" page, listing recent additions and changed pages. Some wikis allow filtering the list to exclude edits that have been marked "minor", and some made by automatic importing scripts, or "bots".

From the change log, two other functions are accessible in most wikis: the revision history, which shows previous versions of the page, all saved inside the database, and the diff function, which displays the changes between two selected revisions. The revision history allows opening and saving a previous version of the page and thereby restoring the original content. The diff function can be used by an editor to decide whether this is necessary or not: An editor of the wiki can show the diff of a change listed on the "Recent changes" page and, if it is an unacceptable edit, load the history to restore a previous revision. This process has become more-or-less streamlined, depending upon the wiki software used.

In case unacceptable edits are missed on the "Recent changes" page, some wikis provide additional controls over content. Wikipedia was the first wiki to introduce "watchlists", a form of internal bookmarking, used to generate a list of recent changes to a set of specific pages only. Watchlists are used by editors to keep an eye on changes to articles of their choice.

Many wikis allow the protecting of pages from being edited by regular users. Protected pages can only be edited by the administrators or specially empowered sysops, who can also remove the protection. This is generally considered to violate the basic philosophy of WikiWiki, but the content policy of some wikis has made such protection almost a necessity and such protections may help the administration of a wiki without hindering the creativity of its editors.

Using a wiki search

Most wikis offer at least a title search, if not a full text search. The scalability of the search depends highly on whether the wiki engine uses a database or not; the indexed access of a database is necessary for high speed searches on large wikis. On some wikis, a "Go" button allows readers to directly view a page matching their search criteria, as closely as possible. To search several wikis at once, the MetaWiki search engine has been created, though it does not currently incorporate Wipipedia.

Editing a wiki - Technical Issues of Markup and Editing

In traditional wikis, every page has two representations: the form in which it is displayed (usually HTML/XHTML versions, rendered by a web browser) and the form in which it is edited (a simplified markup language, the style and syntax of which varies from wiki to wiki, called "wikitext").

The reasoning behind this design is that (X)HTML, with its large library of nested tags, is too complicated to allow fast-paced editing, even by webpage coders, and its wide variation of appearance would distract from the uniformity of appearance wanted. It is also sometimes viewed as beneficial that users cannot use all the functionality that (X)HTML allows, such as scripting - though Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) is increasingly allowed or even promoted by some wikis - because of the consistency in look and feel thereby enforced.

A wiki page therefore has two representation forms, the wiki syntax used by the user and saved by the wiki engine, and the (X)HTML rendered from the wikitext and sent to the user's browser, which in turn renders the formatted page.

wikitext syntax


rendered output

You call '''this''' a ''website''?

You call <strong>this</strong> a <em>website</em>?

You call this a website?

Some recent wiki engines provide "WYSIWYG" editing, usually requiring a separate program or browser plugin that translates graphically entered formatting instructions like "bold" and "italics" into HTML tags that are then transparently submitted to the server. In these cases, users who do not have the necessary program or plugin can only edit the page in its HTML source.

Creating and Linking Pages

Creating a new page in a wiki is usually done through the same process as linking to it: a link is created on a topically related page; if the link does not exist, it is in some way emphasized as a "broken" link. Following that link opens an editor window - or allows one to be opened - which then allows the user to begin entering text for the new page. This mechanism ensures that so-called "orphan" pages (which have no links pointing to them) are rarely created, and a generally high level of connectedness is retained. [2] was the first to use XML importing to provide wikitext "starter" content from another wiki instead of displaying a blank page.

History of wiki linking

Originally most wikis used CamelCase as a link pattern, produced by capitalising words in a phrase and removing the spaces between them (the word "CamelCase" is itself an example of CamelCase). While CamelCase makes linking very easy, it also leads to links which are written in a form that deviates from the standard spelling. CamelCase-based wikis are instantly recognizable by their large number of links with names such as "TableOfContents" and "BeginnerQuestions".

CamelCase has many critics, and it was the switch of the largest of wikis, Wikipedia, to "free links", words which are put in [[double square brackets]], which then encouraged enhanced linking solutions and features. Various wiki engines use single brackets (braces), angle brackets, curly brackets, underscores, slashes or other characters as a link pattern. Links across different wiki communities are possible using a special link pattern called InterWiki, in which each wiki keeps a list of other wikis and their URLs.

Wiki Engines

Given the relative simplicity of the wiki concept, a large number of implementations exist, ranging from very simple "hacks" implementing only the very basic functionality to highly sophisticated content management systems. The majority of wiki engines are open source software. Large packages, like TWiki or MediaWiki, are developed collaboratively by many developers, while others, like GetWiki are created and maintained by one or two dedicated developers. Many wikis are highly modular and enable programmers to develop new features without familiarity with the entire codebase.

See also

Wikiowl.gif This article on "Wiki" incorporates text from Wikinfo
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