This chapter introduces wikis in the context of social software, focusing on their powerful information sharing and collaboration features. It begins by defining the wiki concept and then discussing the evolution of wikis, explaining how they first emerged and how they have evolved over time. The social software aspect of wikis is then analyzed, examining how wikis can engender collaborative efforts. It investigates ways in which wikis help to develop communities of users, and finally some of the features that enhance the appeal of wikis as social software. The authors hope that by examining a software tool that users may have already encountered, that they will be better able to understand the basic concepts and value of social software. Further, as future trends are discussed, it is hoped that readers will be able to see the value of incorporating social aspects into both existing and as yet undeveloped software applications.
A wiki is a collaborative and interactive website whose contents can be created and edited using a web browser by anyone granted access. It is one of many software tools that comprise Web 2.0, the emergent generation of web tools and applications (Adie, 2006). Web 2.0 complements, enhances, and adds new collaborative dimensions to social networking. Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and RSS feeds are commonly referred to as “social software” because they are characterized by a high degree of connectivity, affording users an opportunity to collaboratively develop web content (Alexander, 2006).
Web 2.0 tools are designed for ease of use and rapidity of deployment, making possible powerful information sharing and straightforward collaboration (Boulos et al., 2006). Further, these tools do not require advanced technical skills to use their features, allowing users to focus on the information exchange and collaborative tasks themselves without first mastering a difficult technological environment (Kirkpatrick, 2006). Such “transparent technologies” (Wheeler, Kelly, & Gale, 2005) allow the user to concentrate more on the task because they can “see through” the technology with which they are interacting.
As shown in Figure 1, the objective of this chapter is to explain the concept of wikis, how wikis evolved, and how wikis work. Once those concepts are understood the social aspects of wikis can be explored, including how they can be used for collaborative content creation, how they establish social relationships over a domain of social actions, and how they create communities of users.