dictionary What is a wiki?

Wikis provide a space to collaborate on documentation, one piece at a time.

The term wiki is the Hawai'ian word for "to do something quickly," so it's a suitable name for a documentation platform that allows members of a team to quickly collaborate on documentation. A wiki is usually implemented as a website, with accounts for each member of the team. While most wikis allow you to define separate roles for each member, such as "contributor" or "editor," most team-based wikis function best if everyone can make changes equally.

Each entry in a wiki is a separate topic, providing a definition of a thing or process. Think of each wiki entry as a topic in an old-style encyclopedia: the wiki topic describes the thing or process, usually with links to other topics in the wiki.

It's not unusual for a single wiki entry to have many links to other topics in the system. This interconnectedness of wiki entries is what makes wikis so powerful yet flexible. A wiki entry should be self-contained, describing everything about that topic. But if the description needs to refer to other topics in the wiki, the wiki article can simply link to that other topic. If the reader wants to learn more, the details of the other topic are just a click away.

Examples of wikis

The most well-known wiki is Wikipedia, which contains a vast collection of topics. Every entry is created and maintained by volunteers, using a model similar to open source software.

screenshot of Wikipedia
The "technical writing" entry at Wikipedia

Wikis are so useful in sharing the load of documentation that other projects have adopted wikis. This is especially prevalent where the topics might be considered a "database" of information. The Fandom Wiki hosts several of these wikis for fan groups. One popular wiki is Wookieepedia, the wiki that acts as a warehouse of Star Wars trivia.

screenshot of the Star Wars Wiki
The "Ahsoka Tano" entry at Wookieepedia
Another popular wiki is Memory Alpha, storing information about the Star Trek franchise. Memory Alpha gets its name from a Star Trek planet that contained the Federation's central library.

screenshot of the Star Trek Wiki
The "LCARS" entry at Memory Alpha

Teams can also set up their own private wiki by downloading MediaWiki, a popular open source wiki platform. MediaWiki is the same wiki software that supports Wikipedia.