Wiki, Wiki

Wiki is a Hawaiian word meaning "quick," but that’s not how it’s used today. Now, it refers to web sites which allow users to create and edit ALL the content on said site. Keep reading to find out why you need to pay attention to this trend.

wiki wiki (Quick, Quick) – Hawaiian phrase

All About Wikis

The user-generated content approach inherent in wikis is rapidly turning into the theme powering hundreds of web sites, and it may be defining Web 2.0 in a few years time. Already Wikipedia (which is pretty much the definitive wiki site) is expected by some to become the next major system used in information retrieval by users on the Internet.

Wiki is web 2.0 to the extreme. Most publishing websites expect users to generate some income or some level of "herd intelligence" to the system, or a way to improve the intelligence of a particular application by utilizing user contributions. Then they stand back and control the quality of the output. Arguably, a traditional web 2.0 platform is Google, whose PageRank algorithm is based on quantity and quality of links (something which defines the web but over which Google has no control). Google developed the application, let their crawlers run riot and continuously make sure that the results are not manipulated.

Wikipedia is run by wikimedia, and apart from a small army of volunteer editors, it is entirely based on user contributed content. Users write, users edit and users decide whether to add new pages or not. This is the premise of ALL wiki-powered sites. And wiki sites are predominantly publishing sites. In the past year several hundred wiki sites popped up randomly across the net, and (gasp!) newspapers are seriously considering turning over large sections of their sites to users in a wiki format. Just imagine, they’re going to allow users to write, edit and determine what comes on and what does not! Venture capital firms are betting millions on companies that build tools for wiki sites, and I am wondering whether the wiki is going to be the next big web 2.0 formats for websites.

First off, a wiki not just a new name; it is a whole new paradigm in online publishing. Forums and content management systems have had the same principle of operation, albeit with a closed clique of administrators and editors running the sites. The closest site to a wiki that isn’t a wiki is Digg (which is a news aggregator) but a wiki cedes power to the user. While Digg users go around and tag and ping write ups, wiki users create the content, unsupervised and unregulated (to some extent) at the first stages and then other users edit and add to the existing content.

Enough of the detailed preamble, let’s look at some assumptions made by wiki sites and why wikis may become the ultimate web publishing tool. After that we will look at various successful models of wiki sites and the tools they use. Finally I will look at the major feature among netizens which will make sure that only the top wiki sites will survive the coming wiki flood.

One Out Of Fifty

Whether put in biological terms and called "Darwinism" or put in economic terms and called "Paretos," the basic fact is a lot of sites (wiki, web 2.0 or whatever) will be part of the churn rate of failed web sites. According to Sitesell only two percent of web sites succeed in generating the necessary traffic that ensures their success; the other 98 percent are "failed" sites. If you want to take a look at my own personal indicator of "churn" rate, check out how many domain names are deleted daily at http://www.deleteddomains.com/

Even if you jump on the web 2.0  bandwagon via a wiki site, you have to ensure that you understand the technology, and that you make the numbers work for you. As I mentioned previously, the most successful wiki site is wikipedia.org , with over sixteen million pages in English and NO adverts (it is a non profit site run on donations). If Wikipedia started taking adverts they would still be extremely successful but the point is, if the pursuit of money is your primary aim for starting a web site, and you’re considering a wiki, then you may have problems along the way.

To be the one out of fifty your web site has to make a difference to the user, but for a wiki site you have to make sure that the numbers work for you. Only a tiny percentage of users of your site will become contributors. For web 2.0 sites, less than one percent (in a lot of cases less than 0.5 percent) of users become contributors. According to Hitwise, only 0.2 percent of Flickr users are contributors while only 0.16 percent of YouTube users are contributors. A notable exception is Wikipedia which has a large four percent of users as "editors" and "contributors."

What the statistics simply means is that you have to assume you will have one contributor for every 200 users on a slow day and one contributor for every 20 users on a good day (note that it is assumed you are running a successful site). If you are stuck with a low traffic wiki site you will probably have to do all the contributing and editing yourself, which more or less defeats the whole purpose of the exercise.

"Participatory" sites, as Reuters calls Web 2.0 sites, are responsible for 12 percent of all online activity in the United States. This is up from two percent only two years ago. So Web 2.0 is a growth market; it follows that so are wikis. Since wikis hinge on the basic tenet of the Internet (interactivity), they may just be in their birth phase. As one analyst said, brochure sites are almost archaic. Web 2.0 web sites are growing in use, but are the numbers good enough to guarantee that if a wiki site is launched it will generate enough traffic? 

SEO More Important Than Ever

With wiki-built sites, search engine optimization is more important than ever. It will generate a circle of traffic which should make the numbers profitable, with SEO drawing in more traffic which ensures that the number of contributors increase. Remember, 4.6 percent with a thousand users a day differs from 4.6 percent with ten thousand users per day. But increasing the numbers of contributors has its down side too, as Wikipedia and several other wiki explorers have discovered.

The Dark Side Of The Wiki Trip

The good thing about any wiki site is that it taps into the "intelligence of the herd" to deliver content, but when it comes to objectivity, the herd is not always so "intelligent." When Anna Nicole Smith died, her wiki page was was edited by thousands of people. Those edits included defacement of the entry, clear falsehoods and lurid jokes. It was only the efforts of the hard working teams of volunteer editors on the non profit site that ensured that the necessary corrections were made in a timely fashion. 

First off, you can write your own wiki page, using PHP/MySQL or any other scripting language/database. You can also write a wiki module for content management systems such as WordPress. There are also off the shelf and — best of all — open source packages that should be more than adequate for your needs. If you are a developer and you need a flexible tool to build wiki pages, but you have no budget and limited time, open source projects on Source Forge will be more than adequate.

There are also tools for non-developers. Some work with advertisements, but all in all they work excellently. One is PB wiki; it’s free, but charges for extra options. Another is wet paint; it’s also free, but comes with advertisements. JotSpot is going to be a big contender soon, once they start accepting new members. If you are creating a for-profit wiki site, an open source project or hiring a developer may be the best way for you to go, so as to avoid branding other peoples products for free on your web site. On the other hand, as Wordpress has proved, you can use free software successfully on commercial sites. Another powerful tool is Nexus which was created by start up software firm Mindtouch; alas, it is not free.

Why Wiki?

Why should a web site utilize a wiki approach? I say it should be done for content and for money. It should be done for content because turning the site over to users ensures timeliness of content and constant refreshing. With users contributing from all over the world on a wide variety of related topics, publishers will be able to have content which is accurate and up-to-date. With so much content generation turned over to users, overhead costs are kept low with staff kept at the barest minimum (admin and managers only). Also, since all production (apart from oversight) has been turned over to the users, you will find that you get information from locations you don’t have the fiscal resources to cover.

Another advantage is that targeted traffic becomes a reality, as wiki pages will attract experts into that community. If as a publisher you cross your T’s and dot your Ia’s, don’t expect great literary tools to be used on wiki sites. But you definitely will be more up to date than so-called "expert sites" in the same category. Note that sometimes a wiki site can take forever to complete its content, and also that ALL the content needs to be seriously edited for the readers (not every one that contributes will have good writing skills). In short, a wiki approach is well worth considering for building a new site or injecting life into an old one.

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