Social Media 103: Intro to Wikis


Note:  This course is part of the general education requirements for Social Media University, Global (SMUG).


A wiki is a great tool that enables groups of contributors to work together to quickly create and edit documents that pool their collective knowledge.

You’ve no doubt heard of Wikipedia, which is (to paraphrase the former Iraqi dictator) “the mother of all wikis.” The richness of this resource, produced entirely by collective voluntary effort, is truly amazing. Check out its entries on the Virginia Tech massacre and the 35W bridge collapse, and you’ll get a sense for the power of wikis to facilitate collaboration.

And these are only two of the more than 2.2 million articles in the English version of Wikipedia. So just how is Encylopaedia Britannica supposed to compete with that?

You’re no doubt already using Wikipedia. In fact, if you Google almost any relatively prominent proper noun, it’s highly like the Wikipedia entry will show up on the first page of results. So that’s one wiki already making your life easier (unless you work for an encyclopedia publisher.)

But how can wikis help you complete your projects?

If you have a work team, you can use a wiki to produce documents much more quickly and easily than you can with a Word document via email.

For example, say you have a 10-member team and you need to produce a two-page document. In the old way (or maybe what you’re doing today), you would produce a first draft and send it as an email attachment to your team members: Ann, Bob, Cindy, Doug, Eunice, Frank, Gail, Hal, Irene and Joe. You play it smart and turn on the track-changes mode, so edits are apparent.

  • Ann adds to the document, hits “reply all” to the email, and sends her revision to the whole group.
  • Bob bounces your original directly back to you with some modifications, but doesn’t copy the rest of the team.
  • Cindy changes Ann’s version and hits reply all.
  • Doug deletes Ann’s additions and inserts his own, and likewise sends to everyone.
  • Eunice edits your original and sends it on to Frank for his thoughts on one particular section.
  • Frank fails to respond, so Eunice’s edits are lost to the team.
  • Gail groans at Cindy’s changes, adds her own ideas, and copies the whole team on her changes.

So at this point in this illustration you have 52 Word files in various team members’ email inboxes, and figuring out which is the latest version is, well…problematic at least. And even if you can track down the various versions, it’s a hassle to compare modifications in separate documents.

Feeling cross-eyed yet?

That’s why wikis are wonderful. Instead of sending an attachment, you send a link to a special Web site. You and your teammates make your edits in one common place, and each version is saved in the document history. So you capture all of the information, and you as the editor can compare the various versions.

Homework Assignments:

1. Watch a Wiki Video. Honorary doctorate candidates Sachi and Lee LeFever again have an honorable contribution, with their Wikis in Plain English video. See it below:


2. Participate in our Class Wiki Demonstration. Visit the SMUG Curriculum wiki, and add your course ideas. This gives you hands-on experience with a wiki, and it also will help strengthen our curriculum.

3. Set up a wiki for your team or some other group. You have options to get these for free, like everything else in the SMUG curriculum. The one I picked for our class project is wikispaces. Using wiki technology to accomplish a practical project takes your experience to the next level.

4. Discussion: Please share your thoughts or questions about wikis, or what you’ve learned through your experiences with them, in the comments section below.

Extra Credit for Honors Students: Read this review of Wikinomics for broader background on the new ways of working made possible by technology like wikis.

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Author: Lee Aase

Married father of six and grandfather of seven, and the Chancellor of SMUG - Social Media University, Global. By day I'm the Director of the Mayo Clinic Social Media Network. Whatever I say here is my personal opinion, and doesn't reflect the positions of my employer.

47 thoughts on “Social Media 103: Intro to Wikis”

  1. Sometime in the near future, I am going to have to create a bunch of Wikipedia pages for work. From my research so far, using Wikipedia seems to be a little more difficult than regular wikis. Does anyone have any advice or useful websites for working with Wikipedia?

  2. What happens if you post a document for five people to update and two people make changes at the same time? Is that allowed or will the wiki say “STOP – someone is currently editing this document!”?

  3. The wiki software will usually catch these conflicts and give a warning. Another good way to manage it is to break your document into sub-sections, and encourage users to edit the smallest section they can. That way you will be less likely to have conflicts.

  4. Is there a way (as in a Microsoft WORD document) to track changes so that all team members can see what changes were made and who made them? Or, to add comments/questions related to certain portions of a document?

    1. There are tools available that allow for that. The most prominent one would be Google Docs (think of it as a web-based MS Word). With that tool you can all be in the same document at the same time, and can see what the other are typing in as they type.

  5. I have always thought that wikis were difficult to use. However, after reading through this lesson and giving it a try, wikis are pretty easy to use and follow.

  6. I have never heard of the term wiki before this section. I find them very similar to google docs which makes learning about them much easier to understand

  7. I am digging this wiki thing. I am planning my wedding right now and emailing with my Mom has turned into this nightmare whirlwind of emails and I don’t know what has been accomplished and what hasn’t. When I watched that video tutorial I knew this was my out.

  8. I like wiki’s except I definitely need more practice with them. I am using one for a class and am still trying to figure out the best way to load documents.

  9. Wikis are pretty rad!! They are definitely more easy to use than I anticipated. Also, I could be wrong, but by definition, doesn’t that make GoogleDocs a wiki?

  10. I guess Google Docs would be a form of wiki, but probably more user-friendly than some of the wiki platforms. But yes, a wiki is a quick way of collaborative document creation, so if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

  11. I used Googledocs for school collaboration, keeping track of documents online rather than my personal computer so I can access them anywhere. they are a life saver!

  12. This was really easy to set up and as I browsed, it looks like it has a lot of good options, and will make online discussions much easier.

  13. I use Google Docs for lots of group projects in my classes. I have also used them for research purposes because they are an easy way to gather data and allow multiple people to edit it at once. I hadn’t understood that there are other types of wikis available. For now, I think I’ll just keep using Google Docs but I’m going to keep in mind other wiki options for future projects. Thanks for the great information! Also, the video explains it so well.

  14. This was interesting. I personally use google docs. It’s very easy and useful, but sometimes I’ve found glitches in the system if more than one person are on at a time.

  15. I personally like using Google Docs better, but that may be because I am more familiar with that program. I can see how Wiki’s would be really nice with big groups, but I have found that Google Docs is equally as useful. I didn’t really know about Wiki’s so, I suppose I will have to become more familiar with them so they are not so much of an enigma to me!

  16. I have never used Wiki before but after watching the video, i am very interested in using it. It does not look that hard to access and learn about.

  17. I am a big fan of google docs, but it is always nice to learn about something new like Wiki. It is interesting how certain colleges have themes I think. BYU is more google doc, but maybe we can break into the world of Wiki?!

  18. I don’t have much experience with Wiki but I love google docs and I feel like it is easier to use. It saves everything automatically and you can watch as people make the edits. I really like that aspect of google docs.

    1. I agree that this seems to be essentially the same as Google Docs, but without the ability to watch others work. I’m not sure if it’s an older technology, but I think I’ll stick to my Google Docs.

  19. I didn’t even think about using a wiki as a way to have others edit papers and projects instead of constantly having them emailed back and forth. It is a quick and resourceful way to get things done simply and efficiently.

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