Wikis: Tools for information work and collaboration

by Jane E Klobas (Chandos Publishing, 2006): 229pp, £42.50 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 84334 178 9.

Reviewed by John Espirian

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For the uninitiated, a wiki – from the Hawaiian word for 'quick' – is a special type of website that allows some or all of its users to edit the content of each of the site's pages. In this book, the author and a collection of well-qualified contributors show how this simple concept gives rise to a powerful way to engage and empower online communities.

Buzzing with ideas

As someone who has contributed to and administered wikis for some time, I was sceptical about whether I would learn a great deal from this book. How refreshing, then, that before I had even polished off the first chapter my head was buzzing with ideas. But don't let that put off those who know little or even nothing about what wikis are, how they work and how they can be used to great effect. No prior knowledge of wikis is assumed.

The book starts by setting out how the design of wikis is geared towards creating a collaborative and rewarding relationship between users. There is a detailed discussion about how they can be used in various fields, including business, education and information science, along with a veritable mountain-load of references to wikis that serve a wide range of interests, from academic research to cider appreciation.

And, of course, there are guides to help newcomers plan and set up their own wikis. I appreciated the thought that went into this part of the book. The reader is encouraged to consider the purpose and scope of a new wiki, along with the budget (if there is one), users' roles and responsibilities, and other factors that could just as easily apply to the deployment of any modern communications tool.

Not all plain sailing

Punctuation and typographical errors aside (an error on the spine of the book didn't make for a great start), I have to mention a niggle or three with the content.

The extensive array of links to real-world wikis, along with the accompanying blurb about purpose and audience, added very little value. Many of these examples could have been housed in an appendix or, preferably, removed altogether. Given the price of the book, readers are unlikely to be enthused by what appear at times to be snippets from a wiki directory.

Creating separate chapters dedicated to some of the fields in which wikis can be deployed was a perfectly reasonable approach. However, the contributors often repeated each other's points, making the content somewhat repetitive.

Although the fundamental nature of wikis hasn't changed since the concept was first dreamt up, it's important to bear in mind that the pace of change of the web is such that a book about wikis that was written in 2006 is, quite understandably, outdated in some areas. There does seem to be a paucity of more recent alternatives for the bookshelf, but those searching for more up-to-date information might be better off looking to another medium altogether – perhaps a wiki?

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