Basics of wikis (Slides, Wikipedia Editathon (Exeter, March 2017))

From Wye Waltz Wiki

Jump to: navigation, search
Basics of wikis · Culture and community · Editing · Where to find help · Editing career · Notability · Sourcing · Article choices · Copyright · Commons and media · Intranets and self-hosted wikis ·

What on earth is a wiki or a Wikipedia? Why are there so many similar words?

Why wikis?

The history of the Web, by numbers.

Web 1.0

The first web sites (early 1990s) were built by hand-coding individual pages. Soon it was realised that coding a page wasn't too hard (even if a new skill was needed), but coding a whole site of many pages was another matter. Even worse was the task of changing pages on a large existing site. The difficulty was in maintaining the links between pages. With a large site, the effort of adding or changing one page became a function of the overall site size, not a constant per page. The bigger a site grew, the more difficult it became to add the same new page.

Web 1.5

In the mid 1990s, large web sites were published through content management systems or CMS. These are a database back-end, with a templating system publishing pages from it. If anything changed, the affected pages were recreated automatically. Those changes could be editing changes to the content in the back-end database, style changes to the format of the templates, or automatic changes, such as selecting different articles for publication by date or simply to keep content fresh.

An editor adding a new page now had to add just that page; the interlinking and its growing overhead for updating could be handled by the CMS.

Web 2.0

By around 2000, it was realised that by allowing public web users to access the CMS, as well as editors from within the publishing organisation, to update the database, the web site could be written by its own users. This opened up a huge number of possibilities in web engineering: blog sites could be hosted centrally, and single users could use them through a bureau service. Social media is perhaps the most obvious instance of user-generated content today. It was also possible to engage users as writers, for the same centralised publishing projects as before, and "have the users write the content for free".

The term 'Web 2.0' was coined around then. The other numberings are back-formations from this. 'Web 3.0', referring to the Semantic Web, was coined almost simultaneously. SemWeb will be available Real Soon Now.


One form of CMS is a 'wiki', which first appeared as the WikiWikiWeb in 1995, an approach which began to become popular by 2000.

Wikis emphasised speed of editing for a heavily-linked hypertext, at the cost of stylistic control. They made linkage automatic, simply by entering words in CamelCase. This also led to the first deliberate redlinks, where the potential for a link was recognised and highlighted as such, even before there was content written for the far side of that link.

Early wikis had a number of features which have now been rejected. Automatic linking of CamelCase was one; links are now requested on explicit demand. Also the idea of hierarchical naming for page names, i.e. making the structure of content evident in the page names, has been rejected in favour of a simple flat namespace.

Once Wikipedia became popular, a monopoly position developed where the MediaWiki software which it used became the dominant wiki software in use for all wikis. MediaWiki is still not the only wiki software available, but this dominance is so strong that there is little use of the others.

Wikipedia and the wiki-based encyclopedia

From 1999, Nupedia had been started by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. It set out to be an encyclopedia based on user-generated content, but with a rigorously controlled publishing process. In its four years of operation, it managed to produce around a hundred articles. Wikipedia managed to beat this total in a few weeks.

Wales saw wikis as a way to accelerate content production for an encyclopedia project. This was to be a 'feeder' to Nupedia, where they would still be subject to much the same review. Over 2001, Wikipedia was established and Wales came to see direct content production as a workable process, where editors would work by review after content had been published. Sanger instead favoured a publishing pipeline, with control before release. He went on to found Citizendium, which has published nearly two hundred completed articles to date.

Nupedia can fairly be said to have failed. Wikipedia, by contrast, has been a great success. Even before Nupedia was wound up in 2003, Wikipedia had outstripped it - with 18,000 articles in its first year.

What is Wikipedia?

Five Pillars

The fundamental principles of Wikipedia may be summarized in five "pillars":
Wikipedia is an encyclopedia
It combines many features of general and specialized encyclopedias, almanacs, and gazetteers. Wikipedia is not a soapbox, an advertising platform, a vanity press, an experiment in anarchy or democracy, an indiscriminate collection of information, or a web directory. It is not a dictionary, a newspaper, or a collection of source documents, although some of its fellow Wikimedia projects are.
Wikipedia is written from a neutral point of view
We strive for articles that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone. We avoid advocacy and we characterize information and issues rather than debate them. In some areas there may be just one well-recognized point of view; in others, we describe multiple points of view, presenting each accurately and in context rather than as "the truth" or "the best view". All articles must strive for verifiable accuracy, citing reliable, authoritative sources, especially when the topic is controversial or is on living persons. Editors' personal experiences, interpretations, or opinions do not belong.
Wikipedia is free content that anyone can use, edit, and distribute
Since all editors freely license their work to the public, no editor owns an article and any contributions can and will be mercilessly edited and redistributed. Respect copyright laws, and never plagiarize from sources. Borrowing non-free media is sometimes allowed as fair use, but strive to find free alternatives first.
Wikipedia's editors should treat each other with respect and civility
Respect your fellow Wikipedians, even when you disagree. Apply Wikipedia etiquette, and don't engage in personal attacks. Seek consensus, avoid edit wars, and never disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point. Act in good faith, and assume good faith on the part of others. Be open and welcoming to newcomers. Should conflicts arise, discuss them calmly on the appropriate talk pages, follow dispute resolution procedures, and consider that there are 212 other articles on the English Wikipedia to improve and discuss.
Wikipedia has no firm rules
Wikipedia has policies and guidelines, but they are not carved in stone; their content and interpretation can evolve over time. The principles and spirit matter more than literal wording, and sometimes improving Wikipedia requires making exceptions. Be bold but not reckless in updating articles. And do not agonize over making mistakes: every past version of a page is saved, so mistakes can be easily corrected.

Content re-use and the importance of keeping it freely-licensed

Wikipedia's goal is not merely to be an encyclopedia, but to be a freely-licensed encyclopedia. All content there, both text and media, both content authored for the site and content already existing and included within it, is freely-licensed. This means that other users may not only read the encyclopedia, but they may also take copies of it and republish them: as articles, as parts of articles, or as an entire mirror of Wikipedia.

The licence used for this is the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 licence. This means that content may be re-used, that attribution is required, and that the re-used content must remain under a compatible licence. It also means that the content is already licensed, and can be re-used immediately, rather than needing to request permission.

Personal tools