Wiki or wiki (pronounced "wicky") is a website that can be edited by anyone. Wikis support online deliberation and collaboration - a single, well designed wiki is capable of supporting more participatory decision making for tends of thousands of people working nearly simultaneously. Wiki is thought to enable collective intelligence though this is disputed by vendors of less open systems, e.g. memeio.

why you care

openpolitics.ca itself is a tikiwiki-based service relying on free wiki software, tikiwiki, which enables users to create and edit any number of content pages using a simpler notation than HTML.

Surface wiki features just add and edit pages of a web service — but this view understates the significance. Wiki has organization protocol implications and job description implications and wiki best practices are not obvious.

A better grasp of how wiki works requires you to master the simple (but important) design philosophy that underlies all wiki software (see "wiki ideology," below). See also tikiwiki and fatal tikiwiki flaws for some of the technology issues, answers to which are summarized below as "why tikiwiki"). Finally there are separate articles on political wiki requirements, troll-friendly editorial policies and the requirements to put open politics in force in a large public wiki: open politics itself is more than a single Canadian web service debating all issues we know of - it extends wiki thinking to politics itself


wiki ideology

A Wiki is a computer-based collaboration system based on three major principles:
  • Ease of Use Users shouldn't have to learn HTML or deal with complicated file upload/download protocols, and the inevitable file format incompatibilities, in order to create and maintain documents collaboratively. Typically, wikis solve these problems by using their own, easy formatting syntax (called wiki syntax) and by enabling users to create and maintain documents with a Web browser.
  • Wide-Open Read/Write Access If the purpose of a wiki is wide-open collaboration, then every document in the wiki should be instantly available for editing and revision — and what's more, anyone should be able to edit an existing wiki document (or create a new one) without having to get permission from authors or supervisors.
  • Emergent Structure In physics and biology, the term emergent structure is used to describe the striking (and often beautiful) patterns that emerge from fundamentally chaotic processes, such as the spiral arms of our galaxy. In a Wiki, this term refers to the navigation structures that Wiki users invent as they try to impose pattern and meaning on a collection of Wiki pages.

Few would debate that online collaborative tools should be easier to use, but the second of these two principles — "Wide-Open Read/Write Access" — sounds risky to most people. But don't get scared off just yet. In TikiWiki (as in most other leading wiki packages), you don't have to throw open your Wiki pages to the whole, wild Internet. You can:
  • Use Permissions Restrict Wiki page-editing rights to registered users, or to more narrowly defined user groups, or to forbid page editing entirely, if you wish.
  • Lock Pages Any individual Wiki page can be locked by the site admin or page author so that the content can't be altered.
  • Monitor Important Pages You can monitor a page, which means that you're notified (via e-mail) whenever a change is made.
  • Restore from Page Histories If someone messes up a page, not to worry. TikiWiki (again, like most Wiki packages) keeps a detailed history of all the changes made to a given page. Previous versions can be quickly restored — typically, in less than one minute — without having to fuss with backup tapes.

Don't let the wide-open read/write access philosophy scare you off. Throughout the world, leading corporations and universities are quietly using Wiki software to facilitate team-based, collaborative writing — and they're reporting success after success. To be sure, authors need to know what they're getting into; after all, someone might come along and make changes to the "brilliant page" they just posted. (Of course, the original author can go back in an remove the changes, but it would be much better to revise the page to show that there are differing points of view!) To avoid ego-related squabbles, TikiWiki administrators need to explain the Wiki philosophy to team members (and provide plenty of tools that enable users to work through conflicts regarding page content).

Historical Note The term Wiki is short for wiki-wiki, which means quick in Hawaiian. The first Wiki was created (and dubbed "Wiki-Wiki") by Ward Cunningham, a Portland, OR computer programmer, in 1995. The largest Wiki is the remarkable Wikipedia, which now contains more than 300,000 publicly-contributed entries.

Feature Overview

TikiWiki's Wiki feature enables users as well as admins to create virtually limitless numbers of readable, Web-accessible pages without the need to learn HTML or master complicated file uploading protocols. No matter who originally created a given Wiki page, it is almost instantly accessible for editing, providing the user has the appropriate permissions and the page has not been locked.

When a Wiki page is opened for editing, authors can make use of Wiki Syntax, a set of formatting codes that is designed for maximum ease of use. If they have the appropriate permissions, they can also use HTML. Even if they use no formatting at all, the saved page will still look pretty much as the author intended — TikiWiki reproduces carriage returns and blank lines they way they look in the textarea input box. Optionally, Wiki pages can include graphics, and users (with the appropriate permissions) can attach files of any type. Users can include three types of links in Wiki pages: links to other Wiki pages within the same TikiWiki site, links to external Wikis, and Web links (see Wiki Linking ). Users can also draw from a large and growing list of Wiki Plugins, which provide a variety of enhancements (including split-page formats, a Jabber client, automatically included article text, and many more). They can also categorize pages using Categories, if these have been enabled and previously created by the site's administrator.

When a saved page is displayed, users (assuming they have the appropriate permissions) can save the page to their local systems, export the page to a PDF file, view the page in a format suitable for printing, or save the page to their MyTiki notepad. They can also monitor the page, which means that they'll receive e-mail if a change is made to the page. They can view the page's history, including previous versions of the page and differences among the various versions. They can see an automatically generated list of similar pages, as well as a list of pages (called backlinks) that contain links to the current page.

Standard Wiki Features

Controlling changes

Wikis generally follow a philosophy of making it easy to fix mistakes, rather than making it hard to make them. Thus, while wikis are very open, they also provide various opportunities for all users to verify recent additions to the body of pages.

Recent Changes

The most prominent one on almost every wiki is the so-called Recent changes page, which displays a list of either a specific number of recent edits or a list of all edits that have been made within a given timeframe. Some wikis allow the list to be filtered so that minor edits - or edits that have been made by automatic importing scripts ("bots") - can be excluded.

Page History

Two other functions from the change log are accessible in most wikis: the revision history, which shows previous versions of the page, and the diff feature, which can highlight the changes between two revisions. In openpolitics.ca this is accessible through the "history" button at the bottom of every page.

The revision history allows an editor to open and save a previous version of the page and thereby restore the original content. The diff feature (the "c" and "d" options in the right-hand column of the History page, on openpolitics.ca) can be used to decide whether this is necessary or not. A regular user of the wiki can view the diff of a change listed on the "Recent changes" page and, if it is an unacceptable edit, consult the history to restore a previous revision. This process is more or less streamlined, depending on the wiki software that is used.

History comparison reports highlight the changes between two revisions of a page. In case unacceptable edits are missed on the "Recent changes" page, some wiki engines provide additional control over content. To make sure that a page or a set of pages keep their quality, it can be monitored. A person who is willing to maintain pages will then be warned of modifications of those pages, allowing him to verify the validity of new editions quickly.

Spam, graffiti and vandalism

The open philosophy of most wikis of letting anyone modify the content does not ensure that the editors are well-intentioned. Most public wikis shun mandatory registration procedures - to use real names exclusively is explicitly forbidden by the rules of political wikis which put open politics in force, in line with wiki best practice as it developed at Wikipedia and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, many of the major wiki engines (including mediawiki, tikiwiki, MoinMoin, UseModWiki and TWiki) provide ways to limit write access. Some wiki engines allow individual users to be banned from editing, which can be accomplished by blocking their particular IP address or, if available, their username. Tikiwiki is unique in allowing elaborate permission structure which is counter-productive and entirely contrary to wiki ideals. The more typical methods are to lock pages and block IPs, both supported in mediawiki.

However, many Internet service providers (ISPs) assign a new IP address for each login, so to block IP is a relatively ineffective measure, and may prevent legitimate users from accessing features. To deal with this problem, temporary IP blocks are sometimes used and extended to all IP addresses within a particular range, thereby ensuring that the spammer or wiki vandal cannot edit pages within a given timeframe; the underlying assumption is that this is often sufficient as a deterrent. It may, however, still prevent some non-problem users from the same ISP from using the service for the duration of the ban.

A common defense against persistent wiki graffiti creators is to simply let them deface as many pages as they wish, knowing that they can easily be tracked and reverted after they tire and depart. This policy can quickly become impractical, however, in the face of systematic defacements born out of anger or frustration - see troll-formative injustice.

Such measures are the only known way to deal with wiki vandals who insert falsehoods that are hard to detect. But such measures are ineffective against vandalbots, spam and trolls who are especially determined. Compounding the problem greatly is sysop vandalism, which is an attempt to label contributions by known trolls as "spam" or "vandalism" and then applying overly heavy handed measures which in turn lead to anger or frustration. The Wikipedia Vicious Cycle is one good example of this process.

As an emergency measure, some wikis allow the database to be switched to read-only mode, while others enforce a policy in which only established users who have registered prior to some arbitrary cutoff date can continue editing. Generally speaking, however, any damage that is inflicted by any user in conflict can be reverted quickly and easily. It is actually harder to restrict the ability to revert without comment to those doing genuine harm as opposed to simply expressing an unpopular view.

More problematic are subtle errors inserted into pages which go undetected, for example changing of album release dates and discographies. These are the genuine wiki vandals and abuse of the term to describe trolls or spam is very strongly deprecated.

Many wikis allow pages to be locked to prevent editing; in most wikis, this is used only in extreme and rare cases. "Protected" pages on Wikipedia, for example, can only be edited by administrators, who can also revoke the protection. Such actions are generally considered to go against the basic philosophy of wikis and therefore, they are usually avoided and undone quickly. At any given time, the English Wikipedia has perhaps thirty protected pages out of hundreds of thousands. This is a good ratio.

To lock pages with open politics in force requires some due process - see administrator guidelines and senior editor guidelines.

wiki software

Given the relative simplicity of the wiki concept, many implementations now exist, ranging from very simple "hacks" implementing only core functionality to highly sophisticated "content management" systems.

For detailed discussions, along with a list of some of the systems available, see wiki software. They usually provide some kind of lightweight markup language. Mediawiki originated wikitext and it is the most common such format because it is used for the GFDL corpus, a vast number of documents which influence naming conventions everywhere on the web.


Wiki software originated in the design pattern community as a way of writing and discussing pattern languages. The Portland Pattern Repository was the first "true" wiki, established by Ward Cunningham in 1995 1 (http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiHistory). Cunningham invented the wiki name though the basic concept was universal among software "repository" and hypertext technologies. Cunningham produced the first implementation of a wiki engine that made internal page links easy to produce, using the WikiWord notation that is now deprecated - this notation was Cunningham's only actual innovation. Some people maintain that only the original wiki should be called Wiki (upper case) or the WikiWikiWeb.

Cunningham named the term wiki for the "wiki wiki" or "quick" shuttle buses at Honolulu Airport. Wiki wiki was the first Hawaiian term he learned on his first visit to the islands, when the airport counter agent directed him to take the wiki wiki bus between terminals. According to Cunningham, "I chose wiki-wiki as an alliterative substitute for quick and thereby avoided naming this stuff quick-web." http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WikiHistory See also net jargon.

As the 20th century ended, wikis were increasingly recognized as a promising way to develop private and public knowledge bases, and it was this potential that inspired the founders of the Nupedia encyclopedia project, Jim Wales and Larry Sanger, to use wiki technology as a basis for an electronic encyclopedia: Wikipedia, launched in January 2001. It was originally based on the UseMod software but later developed mediawiki which has since become the most popular and effective software.

English Wikipedia is by far the world's largest wiki; the German language Wikipedia is the second largest, and the other Wikipedias are also very popular. The GFDL corpus namespace evolved via these projects which de facto name and translate nearly one million concept names in English.

The fourth largest wiki, however, is Susning.nu, a Swedish language knowledge base running the UseMod software. The all-encompassing nature of Wikipedia has been a significant factor in its growth, while many other wikis are highly specialized.

Some have also attributed Wikipedia's rapid growth to its decision not to use CamelCase/WikiWords. In any case, its central role in the GFDL corpus has led to its contents being copied by other open content projects, especially those developing more specialized material, like SourceWatch, or those taking a different point of view, such as Wikinfo or Anarchopedia.

wiki user groups

Most known public wikis are listed at SwitchWiki (http://www.worldwidewiki.net/wiki/SwitchWiki), which currently lists about 1000 public wikis. as of 2004-06. Whether these have or can have a "community" attached is a different question.

The 30 largest wikis are listed at MeatballWiki: Biggest wikis.

A list of political wikis is maintained by openpolitics.ca itself. dowire.org is another good source of information on these.


Aigrain, Philippe (2003). The Individual and the Collective in Open Information Communities. Invited talk at the 16th Bled Electronic Commerce Conference, Bled, Slovenija, June 11th 2003. cite link http://www.debatpublic.net/Members/paigrain/texts/icoic.html

Aronsson, Lars (2002). Operation of a Large Scale, General Purpose Wiki Website: Experience from susning.nu's first nine months in service. Paper presented at the 6th International ICCC/IFIP Conference on Electronic Publishing, November 6 - 8, 2002, Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic. cite link http://aronsson.se/wikipaper.html

Benkler, Yochai (2002). Coase's penguin, or, Linux and The Nature of the Firm. The Yale Law Jounal. v.112, n.3, pp.369-446.

Cunningham, Ward and Leuf, Bo (2001): The Wiki Way. Quick Collaboration on the Web. Addison-Wesley, ISBN 0-201-71499-X.

Hubley, Craig, (2005): "open politics in force", a proposed ruleset for open politics itself and a political wiki.

Jansson, Kurt (2002): "Wikipedia. Die Freie Enzyklopädie." Lecture at the 19th Chaos Communications Congress (19C3), December 27, Berlin. refer link: http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benutzer:Kurt_Jansson/Vortrag_auf_dem_19C3

Nakisa, Ramin (2003). "Wiki Wiki Wah Wah". Linux User and Developer v.29, pp.42-48. cite link

Remy, Melanie. (2002). Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Online Information Review. v.26, n.6, pp.434.

Further Reading

External links

"Tour bus stop" at MeatballWiki
WikiWikiWeb (the first wiki)
Wiki Community List
Wiki Engines
EvoWiki: How wikis evolve
How did you come up with the idea for the Wiki? A video interview with Ward Cunningham
Wiki Science: How to start a wiki
(on Wikibooks) - help write the book on starting a wiki
Possible wiki features
Wikisearch: Blog about Wikis with multi-wiki search functions