What a Wonderful Wiki World

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Posted At: May 1, 2009 8:47 AM
by Chelsea Worley, Contributing Writer

Have you ever wanted to know what the Average Joe thought about his trip to Jamaica, how to remove tomato sauce from your favorite shirt or what the product review on the new digital camera you just bought says? The answer to these questions and many more can be found through wikis. WikiTravel, WikiHow and ProductWiki are just three of many wikis available to let online users read about facts or add and edit opinions about whatever subject is at the wiki’s focus. Wikis create opportunities for collaboration with individuals who share similar interests and opinions.

Wikis versus blogs
The fact that wikis allow users to edit and add content makes them the better tool over other resources to serve online communities. A big mistake made by online visitors is that they confuse wikis and blogs, thinking they are basically the same resource offering users the same experience. Let’s make it clear — they are very different.

Blogs are heavily opinion based and content is permanent. Only the author of the post can edit its content. A blog post only becomes interactive when others comment on the post and a dialogue begins.

Wikis are the opposite. Wikis tend to be heavily factual and content can be added to or edited by all users. Generally, wikis are used to define and outline specific things, ideas or processes. Sometimes the personal reveals itself, but, in general, wikis tend to be objective.

Because any user can add to or edit content, if something inaccurate is published then whoever sees the mistake can make the correction himself, saving future visitors from gaining false knowledge or perspective. The existing ability for users to monitor content keeps mistakes at a minimum and provides communities with the capability to create a credible and trustworthy resource. For this reason, a growing trend in the PR community is the development of internal wikis within organizations, which give employees of a business a place to voice their opinions, strategize or socialize on a day-to-day basis.

prhistorywiki.org: the PRimary source
A great resource for those of us in the public relations community is the recently developed prhistorywiki.org: the PRimary source. In 2007, the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations provided a grant for the site’s creation. University of Alabama Associate Professor Dr. Meg Lamme and doctoral candidate Jennifer Land went to work to build a site that focuses on public relations history and made it multi-functional to serve the interests of a variety of users.

prhistorywiki.org provides links to theses and dissertations, recent scholarship, a list of PR organizations and an ongoing index to PR history information sources that grows with every contribution to the site. By simply creating a user profile, a visitor to the site can browse multitudes of pages about PR history-related material, add or edit content and find out what others in the PR history community are thinking and debating.

Lamme originally thought building a PR history database would be a way to achieve her vision. However, after some debate, it was decided that a wiki would best suit the development of an interactive community. Lamme said, “The choice of a wiki works because wikis are fluid and flexible forums that give all users a sense of ownership of the content.” She also noted the evolutionary qualities of wikis and said they were a smart choice because they keep things from getting too “static.”

Web sites like prhistorywiki.org with the same accessibility allow users to get to know one another and build connections. Don’t they say that networking is key to being a success in the PR field?

A wiki inspiration
According to an article Lamme (2008) published in Journal of Communication Management, her creation of the site was inspired by a similar project of University of Maryland Professor Dr. Elizabeth Toth. In 2002, while a professor at Syracuse University, Toth explored the possibility of a women’s history archive after the passing of Denny Griswold Sullivan, founder of PR News and Women Executives in Public Relations. Toth felt it important that influential works not be lost. “Historians and researchers of the future will want to know how public relations is developing as a managed communication function and the people who have enriched it through their practice,” she said.

Similarly, Lamme recognized the importance of including a page on the site that gives step-by-step guidelines to paper donation. By preserving influential PR papers and works, educational legacies are passed on to new generations and significant pieces of history are preserved.

Another benefit of connecting to others in the online community through wikis is that, by doing so, you’re opening yourself up to a global connection. The Internet invites users from across the world, and many wikis are expanding their accessibility to allow international visitors easier usability. Gaining a global perspective, in many cases, can help you to develop stronger opinions on a variety of topics and better solutions for a range of problems. As a PR practitioner, knowledge of global perspective can help in strategizing and planning for various campaigns and projects. Plus, how cool is it to say that you have connections in Australia or Japan?

If the growing number of users for prhistorywiki.org proves anything, it’s that people are definitely willing to adopt the new trend. Dr. Karla Gower, director of the Plank Center, stated, “It just keeps growing. With each new promotion of the site, more users come. People like fluidity and the easy-to-update quality of wikis.”

So, whether you’re looking to find the dish about the latest release in a series of bestsellers or trying to pitch an idea to a fellow employee, wikis seem to be the new way of getting it done.

Source:
Lamme, M.O., and J.M. Land. (2008). Launching PRimary Source: www.prhistorywiki.org, a clearinghouse for public relations history. Journal of Communication Management, 12(4), 374.

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