In many ways wikis sum up both the strengths and weaknesses of social media, and all the hype that has surrounded it.

In theory, the idea of a collaborative online platform which allows groups, teams and comunities to work together on shared resources has a tremendous appeal, and in some circumstances it can be extremely powerful. But at the same time, most people only really engage with one wiki, and the vast majority have only the haziest notion of what it is they are using.

Let’s begin by watching another CommonCraft video, then by turning to the most famous wiki of all, Wikipedia, for a definition.

Ward Cunningham, and co-author Bo Leuf, in their book The Wiki Way: Quick Collaboration on the Web described the essence of the Wiki concept as follows:

A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki Web site, using only a plain-vanilla Web browser without any extra add-ons.

Wiki promotes meaningful topic associations between different pages by making page link creation almost intuitively easy and showing whether an intended target page exists or not.

A wiki is not a carefully crafted site for casual visitors. Instead, it seeks to involve the visitor in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration that constantly changes the Web site landscape.
A wiki enables documents to be written collaboratively, in a simple markup language using a web browser. A single page in a wiki website is referred to as a “wiki page”, while the entire collection of pages, which are usually well interconnected by hyperlinks, is “the wiki”. A wiki is essentially a database for creating, browsing, and searching through information.

A defining characteristic of wiki technology is the ease with which pages can be created and updated. Generally, there is no review before modifications are accepted. Many wikis are open to alteration by the general public without requiring them to register user accounts. Sometimes logging in for a session is recommended, to create a “wiki-signature” cookie for signing edits automatically. Many edits, however, can be made in real-time and appear almost instantly online. This can facilitate abuse of the system. Private wiki servers require user authentication to edit pages, and sometimes even to read them.

Let’s try it. Look up the entry on something you know a lot about – perhaps your former school, or your hometown, or a relatively obscure music group. How useful is the entry?

Before we analyse the processes behind the entry and consider their implications for public relations and news journalism, let’s consider the claims made for wikis in Don Tapscott and Anmthony D Williams’ book Wikinomics, first published way back in 2006 and revised for the UK in 2008.

“While hierarchies are not vanishing, profound changes in the nature of technology, demographics and the global economyare giving rise to powerful new models of production based on community collaboration and self organisation rather than hierarchy and control (1).”

“Smart companies are encouraging, rather than fighting, teh heaving growth of massive onlione communities…”(1)

“The new art and science of wikinomics is based on four powerful new ideas

  • openness
  • peering
  • sharing
  • acting globally¬†(23)

“Conventional wisdom says you should control and protect propriety resources and innovations – especially intellectual property – through patents, copyright and trademarks. If someone infringes your IP, get the lawyers out…(25).”

Now let’s go back to Wikipedia, look under the bonnet, and begin to consider its implications for tose concerned with reputation management.