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Comparing Wikis with Other Online Communication Tools

Wikis are toolkits for creating Web pages. Here's how a wiki differs from other forms of Internet collaborative tools, such as e-mail, blogs, bulletin boards, forums, content management systems, and Web publishing systems.

  • Wikis are not e-mail. Individual e-mails share some wiki properties — they are easy to create, they can be quickly formatted, and almost anyone can create an e-mail. And, e-mail can also be used for one-to-one or multiple communication by sending mail to many people or by using mailing lists. However, e-mail lacks a central place where everyone can work at once. And e-mail also doesn't allow many authors to work on the same page or for pages to be linked. E-mails are also usually short whereas wiki pages can be as long as needed.
  • Wikis are not blogs. A blog is a set of pages on which short entries are posted, usually appearing in a list with the most recent entries on top. Comments can appear attached to each posting. RSS (really simple syndication, a format for live online data feeds) feeds allow people to be notified when new blog content appears. (Note that RSS feeds can apply to any sort of content, but they seem to be wildly popular with blogs.)
    Wiki pages can be made to look like blog pages, but they don't come out of the box with all the pages needed to automatically write and publish blog entries. Blogs are usually focused on one-to-many communication, but wikis are more oriented to many-to-many communication about shared content.
  • Wikis are not bulletin boards or forums. Bulletin boards (sometimes called forums) are Web pages where you can ask a question, make a comment, or put forth a proposition to which others can respond. The list of comments about a topic appears in a long list of entries, which sometimes branches into subtopics.
    Wiki pages can be used like bulletin boards in a style called thread mode, in which new comments are added to the bottom of a wiki page, but this is a style (not a structure) that is enforced by the wiki. In bulletin boards, the structure of the pages and the communication are always the same and cannot be changed by the people using the board.
  • Wikis are not content management or Web publishing systems. Content management and Web publishing systems are general purpose engines for creating all sorts of Web sites. Like wikis, content management systems are toolkits; unlike wikis, though, they aren't governed by the rules set down to define wikis.
    Almost any kind of Web site, blog, bulletin board system, and wiki can be built by a content management system. Many content management systems have extensions to allow wikis to be included in the Web sites that are built. Usually, content management systems can only be used by expert programmers, but wikis can be used right away by almost anyone.
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