Monday, August 18, 2008

The Purpose of Wikis

In one of the email distribution lists I participate in, the inevitable discussion of whether we need a wiki came up. As usual, this suggestion was followed by arguments for and against, etc.

I won't even go into the issue of people suggesting technologies without any clear reason for using them. What particularly caught my attention was one message that began something like "As I see it, wikis are meant to be..." Why did that attract my attention? Because wikis are a technology. They aren't meant to be anything. they simply provide a set of functions that may or may not be useful for different purposes.

Of course, like all technology, wikis were dreamed up to solve a problem. So if they were meant to do anything, it was to solve that initial problem. In the case of wikis, it was to let a group of people -- anyone -- easily create and edit a website without worrying about versioning, permissions, ownership, HTML, complex formatting, etc. The goal was simple, collaborative creation.

Now, once the technology existed, people found more and more purposes for the technology. Collaborative encyclopedias (wikipedia), event scheduling (barcamp), team/business collaboration (SocialText) etc. To say wikis were meant for one of these purposes over another would be inaccurate... and limiting.

We don't know yet what innovative uses will be discovered for the technology. It is still too early to tell.

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