Wiki here, Wiki there, Wiki Wiki everywhere

We all know about Wikipedia, the ubiquitous online encyclopedia of, well, everything.  A collaborative effort of thousands of experts and lay-experts who add and edit entries within their own areas of expertise, Wikipedia has overcome the few small accuracy questions raised about a tiny percentage of its content through an overall accuracy that rivals any other online information source.  While many people highlight the user-editing component to suggest it can be abused through malicious misinformation or simply accidental errors, they forget that the same mechanism also corrects for accuracy at the same time.  Because of the wide range of users, nearly every topic is of interest to someone, and so malicious or erroneous entries are usually identified and corrected very quickly.  While its certainly possible to post incorrect entries, if those entries are on a subject of any interest to others, the errors will be found and corrected quickly … if they aren’t of interest to others, the mis-information isn’t likely to cause much of a problem, lol.  Its not a perfect system, but neither is Britannica’s fact checking system … errors are regularly uncovered in its entries, at no lower rate than Wikipedia.

But Wikipedia is only the biggest and the brightest of the “Wikis” out there today.  Essentially, a wiki is a set of software that allows web-surfers to easily add and edit content on a website or other information source.  Wikipedia is the most prolific example of it on today’s internet, but there are literally thousands of other wikis out there to explore, some that attempt to cast as wide a net as Wikipedia, and some whose scope is very narrow.  The key characteristics of current modern wikis seems to be that, beyond the user-editing features, they warehouse, store and display information of importance to someone.  In essence, they are a form of online information database that is open to all of us, not just to use, but to improve and maintain.

If you have a specific interest in something, there is almost certainly a wiki out there about it where you will find not only information about your interest, but other people who are interested and knowledgeable about the subject.  Its no surprise that groups like Trekkers or science enthusiasts make such full use of a new tool like wikis … what is perhaps more surprising is that other subjects as diverse as basketball and motorcycles have their own wikis.

What prompted this post is a particular “wiki-farm” I found (a wiki-farm is a place that houses multiple wikis on different topics … a meta-wiki if you prefer, or wiki of wikis).  Wikia.com covers a wide range of subjects … I initially stumbled onto it through Memory-Alpha, one of the Star Wikis on Wikia.com.  Memory-Alpha is the best Star Trek related information site I have come across, outside of the “official” Paramount Star Trek universe.  The completeness of the database is stunning … I’ve yet to find a query where it doesn’t have some information.  For any of you Trekkers out there, Memory-Alpha is an excellent resource to have in your favorites list, but its not actually the purpose of this post, yet.

Poking around Memory-Alpha led me back to the main site, Wikia.com, and from there, I found the Alternate History Wiki, a fascinating little project where people imagine branch-off points from known history for Alternate Histories.  Some are quite small and minimal entries, but others are actually quite elaborate … some are played for laughs, but others are very serious considerations of certain events and their consequences.  It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but I found it fascinating, and I’m still looking through it.

Its an interesting new web out there, and one of the most interesting aspects of it is wikis.  They are a combination of social and information software, allowing real-world collaboration in a virtual setting for essentially the first time and I think we are only know starting to scratch the surface of what wiki-based software can and will do in the future.

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