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Wiki – What?!

"A ‘wiki’ is a webpage with an edit button*"

The AIDS.gov team loves wikis—but we aren’t so crazy about the term "wiki" itself. Why? Because we get blank stares when we tell others how wikis have made our lives easier. Many of our colleagues do not know what a wiki is—and neither did we, six months ago. But now we’re hooked!

We have also been impressed by how wikis have dramatically improved communication and collaboration among public health officials—particularly among those working on pandemic flu. To help us learn more, we talked with Dr. Greg Dworkin, the founding editor of the well-known Flu Wiki Exit Disclaimer. We also talked to David Weekly, CEO and co-founder of PBwiki Exit Disclaimer.

What is a wiki?
The term "wiki" comes from the Hawaiian word for "fast." Wiki technology essentially creates a webpage that anyone with access to it can modify—quickly and easily. "’Wiki’ is a webpage with an edit button," explained David.

Dr. Dworkin made an analogy with newspapers and blogs to help us understand how wikis work: "A newspaper publishes its stories in print or online. If you find an error, or want to express an opinion about something in the paper, your option has traditionally been to write a letter to the editor," he explained. "With a blog, you can comment directly on what someone else has written." (want to leave a comment about this post?) These were the precursors to the wiki, Dr. Dworkin said. "With a wiki, you write the story and people get to edit you in real time." He added, "It’s kind of like democracy."

Wikipedia Exit Disclaimer is the largest wiki on the planet. It has more than 75,000 active contributors, who work on more than 9,000,000 articles. According to Nature Exit Disclaimer, Wikipedia is about as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica Exit Disclaimer. Dr. Dworkin emphasized, "You have to believe that the wisdom of crowds will eventually get it right."

We encourage you to visit the Wikipedia entry on AIDS.gov Exit Disclaimer.

How can you use wikis in the fight against HIV/AIDS?
We use a wiki to create this blog, and we started doing this because several members of the AIDS.gov team collaborate to create the posts.  We found that it was difficult to keep up with all the e-mails flying back and forth. We were never sure who had the last version, or how things had changed since the last edit.

With a wiki, we can easily edit a document and there is no confusion about which is the latest version, or who was the last person to edit. In addition, the wiki gives us the option to go back to earlier versions if we decide we like them better!

There are many other possible uses for wikis in the fight against HIV/AIDS. You can:

  • Work with others to create resources like Web sites, fact sheets, and policy papers on HIV prevention, testing, and treatment
  • Maintain up-to-date resource lists for your HIV/AIDS directory
  • Create calendars for your World AIDS Day events (or any HIV/AIDS Awareness Day)
  • Manage a project among individuals in geographically dispersed locations
  • Create an on-line journal for a youth support group or other social network
  • Write a grant application

How do you create a wiki?
For our colleagues who are interested in starting their own wikis, please know that hosted wikis are available and usually free. At AIDS.gov we use PBwiki Exit Disclaimer, but there are many other hosted wiki solutions, such as Wetpaint Exit Disclaimer and Wikispaces Exit Disclaimer. You can also download and host free software from companies like MediaWiki Exit Disclaimer (the software used to run Wikipedia). Find a wiki to match your personal needs at wikimatrix.com Exit Disclaimer.

We encourage you to do two things:

  1. Get the feel of what a wiki is and how it functions by exploring the wealth of information on sites like Wikipedia Exit Disclaimer.
  2. Watch the Common Craft video, Wikis in Plain English [NOTE: View captioned/subtitled Exit Disclaimer version].

Ultimately, despite the unusual name, wikis are a serious tool that helps us to work effectively and inclusively.

Let us know how you are using wikis!

Stay tuned for next week’s discussion of usability.

*Quote from David Weekly of PBwiki

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