While online search has made it easier to catalog and index the wealth of knowledge to be found across the entirety of the Web, wikis have consolidated this vast volume of information into well-organized online references built around user-based communities.
Created in 1994 by Ward Cunningham, a wiki is a platform in which multiple users are able to collectively contribute to a shared knowledge base. The crowdsourced nature of wikis gives individual users the ability to shape and inform the content in authentic ways that traditional information sources historically have not. Rather than presenting its information through the filter or with the bias of a centralized editorial control, wikis rely on peer-based writing, fact checking, editing, and moderation.
Many people find it uncomfortable that any random user can edit the content in a wiki unchecked, assuming that such lack of oversight reduces the reliability of the site. However, most wikis develop strong communities of dedicated volunteers to moderate the content on their sites and help to keep vandalism and other disruptive behavior in check. As Ward Cunningham himself has said, “Wikis work best in environments where you’re comfortable delegating control to the users of the system,” although he has also stated that, “With wiki, you have to trust people more than you have any reason to trust them. In 1995, it was a safer environment, don’t know if I could have launched wiki today.”
While Wikipedia is perhaps the most well-known and visited wiki, it is by no means the only one. Across the Web, thousands of wikis have been created that specialize in a broad range of special interests serving smaller, often underrepresented populations, giving each one a global voice that they would not have otherwise had.