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Article started by pieterh
25 Oct 2009 12:39

The Wiki pattern is a recipe for creating knowledge bases. A knowledge base is a set of articles in some domain, edited and discussed by collaboration between many individuals, and organized in different ways.

The Wiki pattern is widely used and was the original pattern for all Wikidot sites. Wiki makes it easy for people to start helping with writing, editing, and improving articles. This means that successful wikis attract many editors, which makes the articles more balanced, deeper, and accurate. However the lack of structure makes maintenance costly and less popular wikis stagnate and die without excessive work from their creators.

General structure

We can use Wiki as part of a site, or more commonly as a whole site. The wiki consists of pages that are linked together in a cloud. There is minimal structure, making Wiki easier to learn and use. Wiki does not typically use live templates. Structure emerges by convention between editors. Pages are often tagged to be easier to find.

Content model

The content model is one of a cloud of pages with no explicit overall structure. Pages link to each other organically. Page structure emerges as editors agree on conventions. This content model scales to millions of pages but Wiki editors often try to create a common content model by using tag clouds, hand-managed lists of articles, and so on.

Discussion model

Comments are corrections to, proposals, and discussions of individual articles. Wiki does not use a separate forum, although this is typically used for discussions of the knowledge base as a whole. We typically use the Talk action (which creates a :talk page) or we enable per-page discussions and access them via the Comments action.


Users navigate using Search, links, and tags. Editors may manually maintain lists of interesting pages but there is no automation for this.

Life cycle

Pages have no life cycle: they exist indefinitely unless they are deleted, which is an exceptional action (usually reserved for spam and other inappropriate content).


Wiki uses the Benevolent Dictator authority pattern. The site creator sets the rules, and may delegate authority to moderators. The site members do most of the work. A page is owned by its most active editors, who are all equal.

The standard Wiki permissions model is:

  • Site access policy is usually "open"
  • Anyone can edit anything, or revert any edits
  • Often, anonymous edits are allowed


Wiki encourages the growth of an ad-hoc structure that maps the natural organic navigation paths that users expect. When structure is missing, users create it. When structure is wrong, they change it. In Wiki, structure is implicit in content, and impossible to map explicitly. Wiki imposes a linear, uniform structure that is separate from content, and its explicit mapping is the first thing visitors see. Wiki imposes no specific page structure while Wiki uses live templates to impose structure and navigation.

Since there is no overall view of the data, abandoned and unused pages accumulate. Wiki is simple to start, simple to join, but expensive to maintain over time. Older wikis tend to be either very popular and obsessively maintained, or filled with junk, and useless.

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