Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Wiki

The creation of wiki's has lead to some dynamic changes in the way people can interact with information. Through the use of a wiki various people can work collaboratively on the content contained within a wiki enabled site. Being a web based application that doesn't require the use of markup language allows for creation and modification of web content in a way that the layperson never could previously have hoped. Having just gotten through the first of our readings on HTML, XHTML, and CSS I am beginning to better understand how this feature can make such a considerable difference for users, especially users that have little or no experience or knowledge in using this unique language. Wikis allow people to alter and modify web content with the same ease and fluidity that they alter and modify content on a word processor. This allows for huge groups of people to influence the content of these wiki pages.
Clearly the best known wiki to date is Wikipedia, an encyclopedia website which uses a wiki to allow users to constantly add, update, and amend content on the site. As I read more about this I was reminded of one of my favorite books, Douglass Adam's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
In this story, an interplanetary traveler to earth introduces the guide to a human friend. The book is basically a wiki, the content for the book is collaboratively modified and amended by countless "field agents" strewn throughout the galaxy. There is a part in the book which mentions a previous (and for the sake of my argument, non-wiki) galactic encyclopedia and how the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a clear improvement.

"In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitchhiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom, for though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate, it scores over the older, more pedestrian work in two important respects.

First, it is slightly cheaper; and second, it has the words "DON'T PANIC" inscribed in large friendly letters on its cover."

In some ways, the same holds true for wikis. Because wikis are modified and contributed to by members of the general population and not necessarily by experts in that particular field, the content on these sites may have "many omissions and contain much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate." There are systems set up to assist with that problem which can include standards for submissions as well as ways to access previous, earlier versions of the site. One thing is certain, it is far easier to share your knowledge and wisdom on a wiki than it is to have your thoughts published in a traditional encyclopedia. It is also cheaper to access a wiki than to purchase an encyclopedia set. As far as the words "DON'T PANIC" go, I'd like to see that added to the cover of Elizabeth Castro's HTML, XHTML, & CSS, 6th Edition.

I have also seen some interesting library applications for wikis. On the BookLoversWiki I found a variety of wiki applications in use. The first thing I noticed was the book reviews. Through the use of a wiki, readers can search through an index of review topics, contribute their review of a book, or make additions and amendments to previously posted reviews. In order to join the conversation I needed to establish an account through PBwiki. I also tinkered around on the Library Success Best Practice Wiki and was interested in the number of library topics available to read and contribute to. Some topics that caught my eye were "Selling Your Library," "Materials Selection and Collection Maintenance," and "Services to Specific Groups." The last one being of special significance to me because user groups are practically the main focus of my Human Information Behavior class. I also looked at a library wiki that was intended to become a staff manual. One problem expressed was that when these staff manuals come out in printed form they are often already outdated. In this case a wiki is an ideal way to post information that is subject to frequent change.

After that I went onto PBwiki and attempted to add my Learning 2.0 Blog onto their list of "favorite blogs." I follow the instructions and found myself on a page that said to click "EDIT" and add content to the bottom. When I clicked on that link I was shown this message: Failed to enter edit mode: $("wikiedit") is null. I did not run into the same trouble when I posted some of the books I have most enjoyed throughout the years on PBwiki's "Favorite Books" wiki. I used the edit option and was able to make my addition to the wiki. Clearly there are many applications for wiki use by libraries and other information providers not to mention applications outside of the realm of library science.

Lastly, here is a video about some of the benefits of using a wiki.

1 comment:

  1. I especially like this line:

    As far as the words "DON'T PANIC" go, I'd like to see that added to the cover of Elizabeth Castro's HTML, XHTML, & CSS, 6th Edition.


    Also, good for you for finding one of the "in plain english" videos - I LOVE those they are great!!