By the end of this week, participants should be able to:
INTRO TO WIKI
A wiki is a collaborative website and authoring tool that allows users to quickly easily add, remove, and edit content without knowledge of HTML. The term wiki means “fast” in the Hawaiian language. Wikipedia, the online open-community encyclopedia, is the largest and best known wiki. Some librarians deride its openness as too chaotic for any research; nevertheless, others (including many courts) now consider it a reliable source for general, uncontested knowledge (Courts Turn to Wikipedia, but Selectively). Researchers now use Wikipedia and other wikis to quickly find basic background material and links to authoritative sources.
Wikis can also be a great resource to find up-to-the minute analysis of current events (see the article on the 2009 Iranian presidential election<). When researching with wikis, especially any controversial topic, be sure to look at the discussion sections, where improvements to articles and related controversies are hashed out. It may be as enlightening as the entry itself. Likewise, the history section can show you all previous versions of any page on a wiki.
Not all wikis leave editing open to the public. Some wikis, including the popular legal research wiki Wex, heavily restrict authorship. These wikis are considered much more reliable, but they generally are not as dynamic as publicly edited wikis.
In addition to being able to identify which wikis are useful for legal research, many libraries now use wikis as organizational tools. Some benefits include:
Some library websites now feature subject pathfinders and guides created using wikis, such as these created by Nova Southeastern University law students. Such sites are generally editable only by the groups that created them. Other libraries are using wikis for book reviews (see the Princeton Pubic Library), to manage electronic resources (see Butler's WikiRef), or internal policy manuals.
Many libraries use wikis to organize library intranets. They are also helpful for project planning, maintaining circulation manuals, and collaborating on best practice guides. All library staff can be encouraged to participate, or control may be limited to only a few writers, depending on library needs (even in law firms). At least one law firm uses a wiki for its entire intranet (see also Connie Crosby’s article for Slaw about Hicks Morley).
Professional conferences, such as those held by ALA, have also created wikis so that attendees can share local knowledge and discuss conference issues before physically present at the conference site. This year, there was an unofficial conference wiki for AALL.
Most wikis are managed with a wiki application. Wikis can be created online through a "wiki farm" (similar to creating a weblog through Blogspot). Those who wish to exercise more control over their wikis can install the application themselves on a server.
Popular wiki farms include the easy-to-use PBWorks (formerly PBWiki), which offers both free and paid accounts. The paid accounts for business offer better security customization, more users, and additional storage. PBWorks also has educational workspaces as well as a new legal edition intended for law firms.
MediaWiki, the wiki application that powers Wikipedia, is one of the most popular wiki applications. The Editthis.info wiki farm offers MediaWiki sites, but MediaWiki can also be installed on many servers. MediaWiki is open source, and the vibrant community that has grown around it has created additional resources such as improved editing tools. Other popular server-based applications include PmWiki and TikiWiki.
Determining which wiki application or site to use can be a daunting task. Wikimatrix, a website with detailed information about dozens of wiki applications, is a great resource for finding useful wiki applications. It features a wizard tool to simplify the process of choosing an application by helping users focus on the features most important to them, such as the need for a Word-like editor, security options, or type of hosting options.
As useful as wikis can be, they are not always the best tool for any given project. While wikis do not require users to know HTML, many use their own esoteric syntax that can be challenging for even technologically-savvy users. Those who are not as comfortable with technology may balk at collaborating on wikis that use confusing syntax. Moreover, many people are not yet used to working collaboratively and therefore may be uncomfortable with contributing to wikis or opening them up to strangers.
Use these resources to learn more about wikis: