The term "wiki" refers to type of server software that allows visitors to easily create and edit web page content. Using a series of simple formatting codes, visitors on website can create their own content or add hyperlinks, headings, lists, tables, and images to existing pages. While HTML coding can be used to perform these functions as well, the wiki method of content management is easier for users with minimal computer skills to learn.
The wiki philosophy of “open editing” is a simple idea, but it has created a widespread change in patterns of Internet usage. Websites that use this content management system promote collaborative communication and a commitment to the open exchange of ideas among a diverse group of visitors. Most wiki websites are non-profit, although some attempt to generate income through the use of affiliate links and advertising.
The first known wiki website, the Portland Pattern Repository, was created in 1995. Today, Wikipedia®, an online encyclopedia project written and edited by volunteers, is perhaps the best known wiki on the Internet. The site has millions of articles written in several different languages, and it covers a diverse array of topics, including history, religion, politics, travel, and popular culture. It is a project of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit charitable organization that also runs a number of other collaborative websites.
While Wikipedia® is a phenomenally successful website, the wiki method of content creation does have disadvantages. Anyone can write and edit material on one of these websites, so the quality of the content is often questionable. Spelling errors, poor grammar, and factual inaccuracies are a common problem. Some sites have also had trouble with pranks, spam, vandalism, and unauthorized commercial content. Wiki websites that cover politics, religion, and other controversial topics often have issues with visitors submitting malicious content as well.
Because of the problems associated with the wiki method of website creation, people be cautious when using information obtained from Wikipedia® and other similar websites where content can be added and revised by the public. Generally, it is not a good idea for Internet users to rely medical, financial, or historical information unless they can verify the content through another source. For this reason, many colleges and universities now have formal policies that prohibit students from citing these websites as source material for term papers and research projects.