Wikis : when are they the right answer?

Jason Griffey of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga presented a brief, bright and breezy look at the basics of wikis and their use in libraries to an attentive group of about 60 attendees at the end of day two of the 2006 LITA National Forum.

The basic appeal of the wiki is that it is a modern day example of “Many people make for light work”.

Wikis are designed to allow contributors to add to and revise the information on the site, so that the shape and scope do not have to be predetermined. In fact, wikis are a good choice when the shape and scope cannot be predetermined, and they can grow organically as new facts are added. They are good for dealing with “fringe“ items.

Potential problems with wikis stem from the lack of control. Duplication, lack of cross references, and eventual entropy can make mature wikis less useful.

Wikis vs. Librarians

Wikis are foreign to the systems librarians are used to. They lack a preexisting classification scheme, they are always being organized, absolute control is not necessary– in fact, is usually impossible. This lack of control can be a problem for librarians.

Other “Web 2.0” technologies (folksonomies, tagging, del.icio.us) are similarly unstructured, and allow for “emergent order”

Wiki options

There are three different types of wiki: server-based, hosted remotely, or installed locally (on a desktop, not available to he world).

Leading wikis

Mediawiki – free, open source, based on php/mysql, most popular wiki by far), has many extensions (e.g. maps, citations, mp3,
Example: jasongriffey.net/wiki

PBwiki – remotely hosted, is fast, easy. Potential downside: the hosted site could someday get advertising

Tiddlywiki – local on a pc, has no web server. It can be used to create searchable, free-form notes.


Great library wikis:

Ohio University Libraries Biz Wiki – like a research portal, it’s a controlled wiki – creator and faculty only can edit, but not students.


Library Success wiki
– best practices for libraries


ALA Midwinter 2007 wiki

LITA wiki – very new

Lawrence Lessig’s collaborative book project on line – soliciting help in revising a book he doesn’t have time to revise on his own.

When is a wiki appropriate?

When the scope is big, but not too big (i.e. when the project has some focus, or scope).

When distributed creation is needed.

When you aren’t completely sure where you’re going with the project (i.e. when you are asking a fuzzy question).

Wiki best practices

Trust your users

Monitor the information

Seed your needs (make sure to include some content to invite input: a blank page is intimidating)

One thought on “Wikis : when are they the right answer?

  1. Just to clarify, the Biz Wiki can be edited by any faculty or staff member or student who requests an account to edit the wiki. I had to lock down the edits and limit account creation to the admin level because of the large amount of spam that I was getting. The wiki was originally wide open so that anyone could edit it, but I got a huge amount of spam. I then changed the code so that only those with accounts could edit, but the spammers created accounts. Now I have it so that only I can create accounts, and will gladly do so for anyone (faculty, staff, or student) who would like to contribute. However, since locking the wiki down, I have not had anyone request an account. I’ve since learned of some spam filters that I may install that should allow me to open the wiki up again.

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