I firmly believe in collaboration. I know I can accomplish much more in concert with others than on my own. Therein lies the main premise behind wikis.
(Econtent: If Two Heads are Better than One, Try 7,000 with Wikipedia)
But what exactly is a wiki, and as a practical matter, what is its reason for being? Those questions have taken me a little time to figure out. Luckily a recent article in PC Magazine, Take Back the Net, has helped clarify matters for me.
A wiki is web site that can be edited by any of its members. Many public wikis, such as Wikipedia, can be edited by anyone, making them the ultimate in collaborative endeavors.
Yes, that's right, anyone. I'll admit the librarian in me jumps up and exclaims, "What about accuracy, data quality, authoritativeness? How would you end up with a good product when just anybody can participate? Can that really work?"
In theory, universal editing rights allows information to be compiled quickly, and if an error makes its way onto the site someone else will spot it and correct it just as quickly. (By the way, if you're wondering what wiki means, it is a shortened version of wikiwiki which is Hawaiian for quick.) It most certainly opens up a whole new way of sharing and consolidating information.
Of course, I'm still stuck on that information quality thing. But for our purposes, the best thing is to let that go, and move on. Because I believe the more practical application of wikis is a bit more exclusive. Which gets us to the PC Magazine definition. "In many ways, wikis are the world's simplest Web sites. Any member can add or edit pages. Users need learn only a few simple formatting rules... The wiki's content is built by all the members working together."
And membership does NOT have to include everyone. It can be defined however you want to define it. Okay, now I'm on board.
To get a feel for how this would work, take a look at PC Magazine's Editor's Choice for wiki tools, EditMe. If you click through to the list of web sites using EditMe, you'll see a recipe site, a simple example of a public wiki. New pages are created by members for each new recipe. Users can view an index of all recipes. Now some people might get the urge to cook upon viewing this site, but not me. I got the urge to create a collaborative reference/research database. Call me crazy. And hungry.
There are obvious KM applications. A wiki could make it easier for a group to gather information on just about any topic. Of course, this could be done with a Word document as well, but that could get cumbersome quickly. An EditMe wiki comes with it's own search engine built right in and the site is designed to be organized in manageable chunks, complete with an index.
Sometimes a simple tool can solve a fairly complex problem.