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How Wikis Work

Wiki Communities

Revision history for "Wing warping" entry
Revision history for "Wing warping" entry

The heart of any wiki is its community. Literally millions of people visit Wikipedia every month, and together they form Wikipedia's community. Each person who arrives is able to play one or more roles on the site. For example:

  • The large majority of people who visit Wikipedia are readers. They arrive at Wikipedia for whatever reason and read one or more articles.
  • Some people who visit Wikipedia become writers. They add a new section to an existing article or create a brand new article.
  • Many people act as editors. If they see an error on a page they are reading, they correct it. If they can make a small addition that is helpful, they will do it on the spot.
  • Several hundred visitors who have been contributing to Wikipedia for a period of time are granted administrator privileges. These privileges give them the right to do things like deleting and un-deleting pages, blocking and unblocking IP addresses, etc.

Writers, editors and admins work together to solve almost all of the problems that you would expect to arise in an open platform like Wikipedia. They also work collaboratively create some really well-written and in-depth articles.


The best way to understand how the community works is to add something to Wikipedia and see what happens.

Experiment: Changing a Page

­ The very best way to understand how a wiki community works is to go to a place like Wikipedia and add something. Here is an experiment for you to try:

  • Go to Wikipedia and find a topic that you know something about.
  • Search for and read the page about that topic on Wikipedia.
  • Find something that you feel is missing in the article, or find something that you disagree with.
  • Edit the page and add/change a sentence or two in the article. Simply click on "Edit this page" at the top of the article, and make your changes.
  • Submit your change.
  • Come back in a day or two and see what has happened to your change.

What will happen is that the Wikipedia community will react to your change in some way. If the community has no problem with what you wrote, then your change may still be there completely unaltered one day later. If what you entered was wrong or vandalistic, you will find that it has been removed. If you make a typo or two (try it), chances are that someone will come along and fix your typos. If you format your entries incorrectly or speak in the wrong voice, someone will edit your addition. In other words, your change will be either accepted, altered or rejected by the community. In that way, pages on Wikipedia are expanding and changing all the time.

How did the community know that you made the change? There are several tools available in most wikis that help the community to see what is changing.

Community Tools After making your change, look up at the tabs at the top of the article and click "History." What you will find is that your entry on the page (including your IP address if you made the submission anonymously) has been recorded in the system. In other words, each page in Wikipedia has a revision history that anyone can see.

A list of all changed pages is also compiled on a Recent Changes page. Anyone can go to this page at any time to see all of the pages that are changing in Wikipedia.

On a big wiki like Wikipedia, the recent changes page is impressive. Thousands of pages change every day. During peak hours, there can be 50 or more pages changing every minute. Therefore, Wikipedia has a more personal tool called a watchlist. Here's how it works:

Let's say that you create a new article topic on Wikipedia, or you make some additions and modifications to an article. Once you do that, chances are that you have a certain attachment to the page -- a certain interest in it -- and you would like to know when other people change the page. By adding that page to your watchlist, you will get notified every time that page changes.

Now you can see why a change that you make will not go unnoticed for very long. After you make the change, many people in the Wikipedia community will see what you have done. Some of them may have a strong attachment to the page that you have changed. If they do not like the changes you make, they will remove or modify them. If they do like the changes you make, they will leave them alone or add to them.