Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wikis - Publicly Edited Encyclopedias

Wikis are a subset of web pages, consisting of submitted articles that are organized by category. Unlike traditional websites, these articles are edited through a community effort; a process called "collaborative editing." This type of web page is often used by corporations, and some martial arts organizations, for working together on projects and communicating ideas between writers all while maintaining a central source for a document and tracking changes. It has also been embraced by the public as a means of sharing information on a wide variety of topics. The largest example of this is Wikipedia.org which features 7,371,810 of articles in 252 languages on many number of topics. In addition to other martial arts, Wikipedia has articles about Tang Soo Do, the WTSDA and Kwan Chang Nim Jae Chul Shin.

Unlike a traditional encyclopedia, this tool allows the reader to also make their own unique contributions, potentially drawing from a greater pool of talented authors. Another strong advantage to Wikis is that a contributor does not have to know how to use HTML or any other programming language, as the software takes their text and conforms it to the look and feel of the site. Removing barriers to user participation is a key element of making Web 2.0 technologies work better.

The bad news: because Wikis are open in nature, they are also prone to vandalism and mistakes. For example, I could edit the entry for "Tang Soo Do" to say that I founded the art in 2007. Luckily, all edits are controlled by a vigilant Wikipedia community. A further check against vandals: previous versions are saved by the server, thus making it easy to quickly restore a previous version. Therefore, my tongue-in-cheek change to a wiki entry would be quickly removed. Some studies have been performed on the efficiency of the editing process, and have found that errors are often corrected within minutes or hours of publications. To contrast this to a normal web page, a page could be hacked and changed by a malicious user, and only the webmaster would be able to change the page. Depending on the content, this could take seconds or days.

As stated earlier, Wikis can also be created by other organizations for use by their own members. This can be an effective method for sharing information within an organization since edits can be quickly made, and the content in the wiki is search-able. This may hold some appeal to an international organization as some users may be more comfortable finding the answer to their question on a private website rather than "bothering" someone with an email or phone call. The staff of a large organization may find some relief if the answers to "common questions" could be answered once online rather than replying to 100 emails. Even better, answers to these common questions could be provided by a variety of experts within the organization. As with all Web 2.0 technologies, the success of the application hinges upon directing as many users as possible to the site and offering them not only the content they want, but the ability to add more as needed.

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