Ward Cunningham - Commons-1.jpg
The decisions I made designing wiki were very much inspired by my desire to create a model for the collaborative process.

—Ward Cunningham[1]

The name ‘wiki’ was chosen by Ward Cunningham (shown above), who was the creator of the first wiki. It is a shortened form of ‘wiki-wiki’, the Hawaiian word for ‘quick’, as illustrated by the Wiki-Wiki sign (shown below) for the inter-terminal shuttle at Honolulu International Airport.

A wiki is a web site that is generally editable by anyone with a computing device, a web browser, and an internet connection. Wikis use a quick and easy syntax to allow users to format text and create links between pages. This simple formatting syntax (sometimes called ‘semantic markup’ in the computer world) means that authors no longer need to learn HTML to create content on the web, while still maintaining consistency for formatting and display online.

The main strength of a wiki is that it gives people the ability to work collaboratively on the same document. The only software you need is an Internet browser. Consequently, wikis are used for a variety of purposes. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to revert back to an earlier version of the document. The wiki is the preferred tool for collaborative authoring of OER online content because it provides an accurate version history, with consistent semantic markup for online publishing.


  • Anyone who sets themselves up with a wiki account can edit.
  • Wikis are instantaneous, so there is no need to wait for a publisher to create a new edition or update information.
  • People located in different parts of the world can work on the same document.
  • The wiki software keeps track of every edit made and it’s a simple process to revert back to a previous version of an article.
  • Wikis are not difficult to use, once you understand how they are different to the tools you may already be famililar with.
  • Wikis widen access to the power of web publishing to non-technical users.
  • The wiki has no pre-determined structure. It is a flexible tool which can be used for a wide range of applications.
  • There are a wide range of open source software wikis to choose from, so licensing costs shouldn’t be a barrier to installing an institutional wiki.


Advantages in one context may be disadvantages in another.

  • Anyone can edit, so a wiki may be too open for some applications, for example confidential documentation. However, it is possible to regulate user access.
  • Open to SPAM and vandalism if not managed properly. However, there are easy ways to restore a page, and on WikiEducator, which we will be using for this course, you must be logged in to edit pages, so this reduces vandalism by automated spam bots. The community also monitors and deletes any spam postings.
  • Requires internet connectivity to collaborate, so not ideal for developing content offline.
  • The flexibility of a wiki’s structure can mean that information becomes disorganised. As a wiki grows, the community plans and administers the structure collaboratively.
  • The usual guidelines for healthy computer use apply. (See for example: Is your workstation healthy? by BeWell@Stanford and Ergonomics and computer use by Princeton University.)

Microblog activity

Let us know what you think by posting a comment on WEnotes below.

  • Do any of the advantages lend themselves to open design?
  • Do you find any of the disadvantages particularly problematic for OER development?
  • How does your own experience in using wikis compare?
  • Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

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Optional reading

  1. Wikipedia article on wiki (we recommend the video interview with Ward Cunningham)
  2. Wikipedia article on Ward Cunningham


  1. http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Ward_Cunningham