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The wonderful world of the wiki

  • By Paul Crichton
  • 1 Dec 06, 08:05 PM

The people who we are expecting will save the planet today may not be the people doing it in the future. Technology means we can, and should, all play a part says a noted futorologist.

In an interview in New Scientist, Thomas Homer-Dixon predicted that “open-source democracy” – or, put another way, getting lots of people together online - would be key to finding solutions to some of the major issues facing the world today, like climate change.

His theory is that with something like climate change, we shouldn’t expect experts to tell us what to do. Instead we should all learn about the issues and share our knowledge. This world wide conversation, where we all identify what we can do to make a difference – and perhaps buy into it more because we are participating and identifying the solutions ourselves – is a better model for bringing about real change than waiting to be told what to do.

Homer-Dixon thinks that this global conversation might take place in a wiki. He may be right, as a wiki seems perfectly suited to such a task. A wiki is a type of website that allows visitors to add, edit or remove content.

For some people, the wiki is the very epitome of what “web 2.0” means. User-generated content has to lie at the centre of any definition, and some people even prefer the term, ‘read-write web’ to web 2.0.

There is nothing fundamentally inaccessible about a wiki, either. There is no use of inaccessible random images to confirm registration, and no use of Ajax code to update pages without screen reader users noticing, and so on. And wikis certainly need to be accessible if they are to be an important platform to discuss big issues, because a debate that doesn't include everyone, just won't adequately reflect the views of society as a whole.

Wikis are hugely popular as well. Wikipedia, the best known one, has been created and maintained not by professionals, but by the internet community as a whole. According to The Times, It attracts more visitors than The New York Times online, and carries more content than almost all other encyclopaedias combined.

Wikis are being used in ever more imaginative ways. Another forward thinker, Charles Leadbetter, is also using a wiki in a new way. Next year, he is publishing a book called 'We-Think', in which he explores the idea of collective creativity. He’s practising what he preaches, as a draft of the book is available as the 'we-think wiki' for people to comment on. When the book is published next year, it will include the comments as footnotes. Leadbetter believes that this kind of online collaboration will become an ever more popular way to write books.

So all hail the wiki and the potential it offers to us all to have a voice, and a platform to shape our own futures.

Comments   Post your comment

All power to the WIKI - I believe it is a very powerful way of sharing knowledge - particularly in such small fields as Assistive Technology for people with disabilities.

We have setup a WIKI for AT:

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