IT intelligence: Wikis

Robin Fisk looks at wikis, the eighth of his 10 technologies to watch.

How do you capture, share and improve your organisation's information? Folders full of Word documents are one way to keep track, but they're hard to navigate and then you need to open each document in turn to read them.

Recent years have seen the rise of the wiki. In Hawaii, 'wiki' means fast, but to the rest of us a wiki is a website whose content is maintained by a community of users who create and edit pages, without the need for knowledge of web programming. Wikipedia, for example, is an open wiki where anyone can comment on, update and initiate pages. This has led to its growth, but also left it open to criticism about its accuracy.

Famously, in October this year Wikipedia's entry on the life of recently deceased Ronnie Hazlehurst, writer of TV theme tunes, included the erroneous claim that he had co-written Reach by pop group SClub7. Journalists reproduced this information in obituaries that followed, then were forced to print embarrassing retractions when they realised that Wikipedia was wrong.

It is a strength and a weakness of community-developed information that it isn't subject to narrow editorial guidelines. The more open the wiki, the greater its susceptibility to such claims of inaccuracy. Malicious users can deliberately post misinformation; it can take some time before a page has been verified as accurate.

More commonly, wikis are private within a charity or a project team. This allows permitted users only to contribute, rapidly building the information into one resource. The philosophy of a wiki is to encourage contributions while correcting errors as you go.

It's easy to get started with your first wiki - available tools include the open-source Twiki and Microsoft's Sharepoint.

  • Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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