In brief, 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.
Mike Caulfield writes a great explanation about the value of having a wiki:
And over time the wiki became a representation of things you knew, connected to other people’s wikis about things they knew.
Note how different this sort of meaning making is from what we generally see on today’s web. The excitement here is in building complexity, not reducing it.
Over time these things you write up start to form a deep network that helps you think.
I am going to make the argument that the predominant form of the social web — that amalgam of blogging, Twitter, Facebook, forums, Reddit, Instagram — is an impoverished model for learning and research and that our survival as a species depends on us getting past the sweet, salty fat of “the web as conversation” and on to something more timeless, integrative, iterative, something less personal and less self-assertive, something more solitary yet more connected.