Like blogging and RSS, wikis are part of a technology wave that is giving us the ability to work together via internet in ways people never dreamed when email and web browsing first became mainstream.
Wikis are websites that allow users -and not just the website administrator- to change the content of the site. The most famous example is Wikipedia, an online encyclopedia that lets users
update and edit its information. That sounds risky, but actually it's not.
If a wiki attracts a lot of regular traffic, visitors begin to share the responsibility of keeping the site free of improper material. Wikis usually allow some restriction of activity, for example by requiring registration or a password in order to allow editing. But both more open and more closed wikis seem to share a feeling of a neighborhood that watches its parks and playgrounds to make sure they stay safe and clean.
Here's a wiki you can try out: it's The Teacher's Lounge, hosted by Rob Lucas. Rob designed the site for teachers to share lesson plans and ideas with other teachers. Instead of sending material to Rob for him to add to the website when he has time, he is allowing you to directly add the material yourself.
After Hurricane Katrina in the US, dozens of wikis were created to use as bulletin boards to reunite families, match evacuees with people willing to provide housing, and to share other critical but constantly changing information quickly and to a widely diverse audience. Two of these are Think New Orleans and the Hurricane Katrina Help Page. While the content is sobering, it is worth thinking as well about other vital applications for this technology.
And the name? Wiki is short for wikiwiki, which in Hawaiian means something like quick.