Why use a wiki, when anyone can change or delete anything there? What's to prevent someone from going berserk and wiping the whole site, or secretly changing the meaning of what people say, or clogging everything up with spam? The answer is the part of wikis that newcomers often miss: the community.
Most community web sites rely on technology to restrict the actions of community members. Elaborate schemes have been designed to moderate postings (such as SlashDot and KuroShin) or to establish a trust metric for community members to rate each other (such as AdvoGato).
There are several problems with this:
Wikis work better because they rely on the community, rather than technology, to police itself. Every change made to the site is observable by the active community. If someone comes along and deletes text or posts spam, someone else can just as easily fix the problem. Since an open environment encourages participation and a strong sense of community, the ratio of fixers to breakers tends to be very high, so the wiki stays stable.
There are technological protections, too -- they're just less obtrusive than having to "log in" or "rate" something. Most wikis store old versions of each page for at least a short period of time, allowing damage to be easily recovered. Many wikis provide a means to limit how quickly someone may edit a large number of pages. Most wikis also provide a means to lock out particularly abusive visitors without disturbing other visitors. UseModWiki, the software running MeatballWiki, provides all of these features.
In short, wikis work because of the community. For more background on this, see the following excellent pages: SoftSecurity, CommunitySolution, CommunityExpectation, Wiki:WhyWikiWorks. See also Wiki:WikiMindWipe, Wiki:WikiMindWipeDiscussion, and WikiMindWipeDiscussion for the story of several wiki participants who left -- taking all of their contributions with them.
All of this describes the basic nature of the wiki engine, but with one thing missing: the peculiar links it uses. It seems to me that when minimal use is made of these, or when the style of the link is changed much, then the wiki ends up being fairly diminished (although I hardly count as having much experience). Is the reason for this discussed someplace?
I am new to wikis and wonder how wikis on complex topics can remain navigable enough for people to read them and effectively find the information they are looking for. If a wiki veteran would explain how that can be managed with wikis, I would be a grateful reader. -- Roger
Is there an already established place that not only imagines, but also toys with, the PossibilitiesAndPitfalls of this system?
But see also WikiDisadvantages for ways in which wiki may not work
It might be interesting to document the tendency of wiki advocates, and advocates of other revolutionary technologies, to consider their pet ideas a MagicBullet. Especially for counter-intuitive or counter-cultural ideas, the wonder that the idea works at all can be followed to the extreme of expecting the idea to be perfect and unimpeachable. Another example would be FreeSoftware. The MagicBullet fallacy is related to the phenomenon that when your only tool is a hammer, EverythingLooksLikeANail?. -- EvanProdromou
As a developer I like to produce useful features. But I constantly observe how long it takes until they are learned and really used (if at all). On the other hand I know that a simple wiki can work wonders in the hands of wiki masters. So my mantra is "Wiki is primarily a social, not a technical phenomenon"; and "People count". -- HelmutLeitner
Why does wiki work? I think the Big 3 Principles on WhatIsaWiki help us frame this question in three distinct ways, that get a bit muddled by the single title, WhyWikiWorks.
Why does wiki work as a tool for information learning and exchange? Because it is organic: its structure mimics the way we learn. Provided those using it understand its strengths and weaknesses, it teaches those researching via the wiki (the community) just as it teaches those reading the work already done (TheAudience).
Why does wiki work as a way to spawn an interested community? Because it is open: anyone who reads the site and likes it can join the editing community. The only limit on what that new member can do is dictated by the existing community's response to their actions — a very human way of managing a growing community.
Why does wiki work in the face of vandalism, etc.? Because it is observable: the community monitors all changes to the site, and engages in active and rapid PeerReview. Provided the energy of the vandals does not exceed those of the community (see MotivationEnergyAndCommunity), wiki works because of its openness, not in despite of it.
Anyone else think restructuring this page, organizing into these three sections, would be helpful? -- ChrisPurcell
Wiki's must be of a certain critical mass to work! We setup a public Wiki to provide for the rapid gathering of enduser data for our computer game Computer Harpoon. For a long, long time this worked very well. Our new users received the most up to date How To's and FAQ's, Tutorials, and Special Guides. Then came the spammers. At the end the Sysop and I (as owner) were spending over an hour per day cleaning out the crap that the spammers put into Discussion Pages, randomly generated user account pages, and and hidden edits. The problem started small and just cascaded. In the end we were forced to shut down user access to the Wiki and now restrict it to individually authorized users. Our active registered base was only a few hundred with only a dozen or so actually helping out. So before you read this and think Nirvana remember - it is all about numbers. Enough people to contribute, and enough people to enforce.
Slow: The loading time of opening an edit page of a wiki page is painful. I would never enjoy vandalizing at such a slow pace. --IwanGabovitch