The so-called wiki phenomenon — where you set up a website based on a niche database and let your users create all your content while you do very little — has become widespread in the last few years. Though not the first wiki, the granddaddy of them all, of course, is Wikipedia, which has by now spawned Wiktionary, Wikiquote, Wikibooks, Wikisource, Wikinews, Wikispecies, Wikiuniversity, all of which fall under the Wikimedia umbrella. Other wiki-style websites include YouTube and Flickr (and doubtless others of which I haven’t yet heard). The fanciful word wiki is Hawaiian and means fast, which refers not to the rapid growth of such websites but to the software and style of communication they use.
Critics of Wikipedia point out that because the source is editable by users who may not possess proper academic training or credentials, the content found there is often unreliable. The website is replete with disclaimers that facts have not been checked or verified. Indeed, enough examples of editing wars between competing writers promulgating their own versions of content have been observed that some editors have been banned and some articles have been locked and made uneditable. It has also been observed that some articles have considerable political influence brought to bear on them.
Last year, the U.S. Patent Office banned Wikipedia as a source to aid in the determination of the patentability of inventions. More recently, teachers and librarians at schools in Easton, Pennsylvania, have adopted policies similar to those at Centenary College and Lehigh University to discourage students from consulting or citing Wikipedia. Some schools have gone so far as to block access to Wikipedia from their computer networks.
We have discussed the uses of Wikipedia in this venue in the past, and as memory serves, most commentators were favorably disposed. Without launching into a major epistemological debate, I pause now to observe that perhaps the worm has turned and academics have begun to insist on the integrity of their sources of information. I for one heartily agree. As for the straightforward entertainment wikis such as YouTube and Flickr, well, by all means enjoy without conflict.