Can someone explain to me what’s to love about Wikis?

I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but there’s a new web-based collaborative tool that’s starting to establish a beachhead online called a Wiki. O’Reilly uses it for some of their sites, for example, including their new User Group Exchange area (which is way cool: why aren’t other publishers creating this sort of thing?). But reading the Wiki Help Pages I’m amazed to learn about the ridiculously rudimentary formatting instructions…

To make something appear in bold, surround it with asterisks. To italicize it, surround it with slashes. and underlined content is prefaced and ended with underscores: *bold* /italics/ and _underlined_. Want to combine them? It’ll /*look like this*/, and if you want the equivalent of an HTML <tt> (or a CSS font-family:monospace) for so-called “inline code”, you should use square brackets: [typewriter text].

It all seems so deliciously retro on one hand, but so … antiquated on the other hand. There are plenty of different markup languages in common use online nowadays, even the now-common “BB Markup” of discussion boards with [b] for bold, and [link] or [url] for Web links, so why another markup variation? Why Wikis at all?

So can someone explain to me what’s so interesting about Wikis? I just don’t see it…

5 comments on “Can someone explain to me what’s to love about Wikis?

  1. The mark-up is deliberately simple. It’s part of the wiki philosophy of paring everything down, and accepting that things aren’t going to be perfect.
    The best way of getting a feel for it is to start contributing to a successful wiki yourself, or run a few until you get one that “pops” (starts self-sustaining itself).
    It’s not the tech that’s interesting about wikis – it’s almost the lack of tech.

  2. I can see what you’re both saying, but it seems to me that a weblog would be an easier solution to the problem, with entries on specific topics and comments added from subsequent visitors. The number of times that the main content itself needs to be modified seems quite small, in my online experience.
    But, again, perhaps I’m still not getting it. 🙂

  3. They’re cool because they are the simplest workable solution to open coauthoring on the Web. has become the prime example of when it works well. Large support/discussion forum sites have also adopted wiki-based solutions to managing information contributed from many sources. is likely the largest well-known one there. Many other sites develop online documentation on a wiki.
    I co-authored a book about Wikis too:
    / Bo

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