Friday, July 9, 2010

Wiki this and wiki that

Today's blog will cover in a rudimentary fashion the concept of a wiki. The idea of collaboration between peers was the brainchild of what is now called a wiki. Some of you may have heard the term wiki, with its most famous web presence Wikipedia, but have never quite understood what it was. Consider the early days of computer networking. If one wanted to share data with a second or third party, he had to know what common applications were shared between users. An end user with Corel Word Perfect could compose a document, but if the people he sent the document to only had Microsoft Word, it was as if he were talking Chinese and they only understood Urdu. In order to allow all parties to share equally, the public document format was created, the best known application of which is the free Adobe reader. Documents created by the proprietary Adobe products can be read by those possessing the free reader, although there are several other free readers available too. Similarly, early collaborators using the hypertext markup language (HTML) of the Internet found content management very cumbersome. First, everything was written in that code. Brilliant websites of stunning design required myriad lines of code, which on first examination looked like a random collection of phrases, characters and cyphers. It looked like gobbeldy-gook, but when it was published, it was a work of beauty. Everyone with a browser could experience all of its brilliant colors, catchy animation and varying sounds. The computer browser became the common tool shared by web surfers and its importance to the development of the World Wide Web can never be overstated. When the public demanded more information be placed on the Internet for research purposes and when team members working on projects screamed for better ways to share materials, the genesis of the wiki was sparked. Browser end users imagined a content management software that would work with the browsers and resemble, more or less, what the final product would be. The term for this kind of program was borrowed from a famous character by the late comedian Flip Wilson. Geraldine, as his drag character was called, would occasionally utter the famous phrase "what you see is what you get!" This became the cute catchphrase - WYSIWYG - for the text editors that came about. The websites created by these text editors could approximate the look of what the final html code would render. Now, all collaborators could see the same thing at once and, if they were online and sharing a network with common protocols, they could equally contribute to an internal or external site. Wiki was the Hawaiian name for "fast" chosen by its developer as a kitschy phrase for others. Wiki sites are common today and used by corporations for sharing collaborative ideas between peers. Projects are commonly brainstormed using wikis with all submissions given equal weight, which is to say they are all treated as equally reasonable or equally preposterous. In the case of Wikipedia, there are more specific rules placed before a citation can be attributed and its verification is of supreme importance. Anyone can upload information to Wikipedia, but if that information is proved to be of questionable reliability, it can also be readily removed. In today's fast moving offices wikis are of great utility, especially in terms of group collaboration that is both immediate and productive. It is suspected that most wiki activity goes on in private networks rather than on public ones. But as to Wikipedia, keep in mind that what goes up on that site is not always reliable or verifiable. Although the volunteers of Wikipedia do a very good job of self-policing entries that are dubious, sometimes erroneous information or outright gossip can hit the website. It may take time before it is stricken from the site. As a result, most colleges won't consider a Wikipedia citation as worthy of scholarly research. So I ask you: what would a weary, wistful wiki worker want with wonderment? (wait...wait...wait) Writing with wholly wonderful wit, wisdom and weight.

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