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There’s nothing fancy about Wiki technology, which was the clear intent of its initial developer, Ward Cunningham, whose philosophy was that Wiki software should be have the properties of simplicity, openness, and accessibility. Consequently, Wiki technology is easily deployable, easy to use (its markup language was designed to be easier to code than HTML), and ideally suited to community-based editorial projects, the most famous and successful being Wikipedia.org.
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Technically speaking, Wiki entries are stored in unique rows within a SQL database. Each time that an entry is accessed and revised, a new database row is created. The result is that documents aren’t destructively over-written when revisions are made. Consequently it is possible to “roll back or revert to prior versions of entries when instances of vandalism (or incorrect revisions) are observed by the community.
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The idea that documents should store, in addition to their subject matter content, information about their own history is key to Wiki technology. This feature, which allows readers to discern the chain of additions and edits used to create entries in order to assess their trustworthiness and accuracy, owes its origin to the “track changes” feature originally incorporated in Microsoft Word 6.0.
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Wiki technology is regarded as a “Web 2.0” technology insofar as it leverages the power of communities to create large-scale cooperative works. Prior to Web 2.0, interactivity on the Web was generally limited to the click, and content was “push-oriented” from brand to consumer. Wiki technology allows for a truly grassroots publishing model where community arbitration replaces the traditional top-down editorial content management model.
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Like all Web 2.0 technologies, the success of projects based on Wiki technology is dependent on the existence of a community interested enough in a given topic to willingly contribute their own intellectual property to the common knowledge base. Without strong community support, even the best-conceived Wiki project will fail; but with it, high-quality content can be scaled very rapidly.
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Wiki technology is open-source, which means that it isn’t “frozen in time” but continually improving, thanks to access to a large population of volunteer developers. Consequently it is also deemed highly reliable Large companies running Wikis include Intel and Novell; in government, Wiki-powered knowledge bases are installed at the U.S., State Department, The United Nations, and the Central Intelligence Agency.
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Because of its open, accountable nature, information created/curated using Wiki technology is often highly trusted. This happy fact is a direct result of the philosophy of its initial developer, Ward Cunningham, who wrote: “This is the most important thing in a wiki. Trust the people, trust the process, enable trust-building. Everyone controls and checks the content. Wiki relies on the assumption that most readers have good intentions.”
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It’s important to note that the publishing model we most often associate with Wikis, the “anyone can edit anything” model popularized by Wikipedia.org, isn’t an integral feature of Wiki technology, but is a product of the philosophy of its intellectual founders, including Cunningham and, later, Richard Stallmann, who argued that free online encyclopedias should never be under centralized control. While Wikipedia continues to use this model, today its army of volunteer editors wields substantial influence over the final intellectual product (insofar as any Wiki-based content can be considered “final”). Wiki Technology itself permits other, more restrictive modes of publishing to exist should the proprietor demand it. In the same way that content management systems such as WordPress let the proprietor specify particular roles for each community member (administrator, contributor, editor, etc.), Wiki technology permits individualized editorial role assignments.
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