Excerpts from an interview with Ward Cunningham, the Wiki’s creator:
I had…general goals for wiki. First, I think there’s a compelling nature about talking. People like to talk. In creating wiki, I wanted to stroke that story-telling nature in all of us. Second, and perhaps most important, I wanted people who wouldn’t normally author to find it comfortable authoring, so that there stood a chance of us discovering the structure of what they had to say.
Someone not familiar with authoring may have an idea, and the idea is a paragraph’s worth of idea. They would write an editorial for a magazine, except a paragraph is too small. To write for a magazine, they would have to establish the context, say something important, say it in a way that a wide variety of people can understand it, and then bring it to a close. That’s more than most people want to invest…But if you’re reading somebody else’s work, and you think, “Yeah, but there’s another point,” being able to drop in a paragraph that says, “Well, yeah, but there’s actually this.” There’s an awful lot of counterpoint, the “Yeah, but…” kind of thought, on wiki. Discussion groups do the same thing, but with discussion groups it all gets lost.
A wiki works best where you’re trying to answer a question that you can’t easily pose, where there’s not a natural structure that’s known in advance to what you need to know.
Wiki pages are very much free form. Across the whole wiki there is a hypertext structure, but on a given page, within the versatility of your command of your natural language, you can say whatever needs to be said. So wikis are a good way to track project status.
In addition, wikis work best in environments where you’re comfortable delegating control to the users of the system. There isn’t a lot of logic in wiki about who can do what when, because wiki doesn’t really understand what you’re doing. It’s just holding pages for you.
What you get as a wiki reader is access to people who had no voice before. The people to whom we are giving voice have a lot of instinct about what it’s like to write, and ship, a computer program. Our industry honors certain traditions in its publications. If you want to contribute to a scientific journal, for example, you should be peer reviewed. Part of peer review is that you’re familiar with all the other literature. And the other literature somehow that spiraled off into irrelevance. What was being written about programming didn’t match what practicing programmers felt. With wiki, practicing programmers who don’t have time to master the literature and get a column in a journal that’s going to be read have a place where they could say things that are important to them. The wiki provides a different view. In fact you can tell when someone is writing on wiki from their personal experience versus when they are quoting what they last read.