Wikipedia.com, the encyclopedia Web site created and operated with contributions from online users around the world, is a resourceful tool. Though accuracy isn’t guaranteed, it reflects a collection of knowledge contributed and edited by many users.
A “wiki” is a Web site or similar online resource that allows anyone to add and edit content collectively. But while the idea behind Wikipedia.com and other collaborative sites is a good one, the process of contributing content can be intimidating for nontechies. Instead, many people opt to publish their writing and digital media on personal blogs or Web sites. Yet these don’t do much to encourage online communities and interaction.
This week, I tested a free program from Wetpaint.com Inc. that helps regular users create wikis, which encourage interaction because they’re constantly changed by contributors. Wetpaint’s wikis ease the process of adding Web links, digital images, digital videos and additional text to sites made with Wetpaint. Likewise, your site can easily be adjusted and enhanced by anyone who views it. Compared with blogs or normal Web sites, my Wetpaint wiki felt much more alive and exciting.
Wetpaint has room for improvement. Nothing created on its site can be kept private from random viewers. Some of its functions — like adding content at the same time as someone else — can be a bit confusing. And it has advertisements because it’s free, but these aren’t overly intrusive. The Seattle-based company has plans for upgrades, including introducing more privacy options this summer. But most of its features are overwhelmingly simple to use, and built-in tutorial videos demonstrate steps.
In less than five minutes, my own wiki — a site devoted to discussing television programs, compiling digital photos and video clips from shows, all of which could be added to or deleted by anyone at any time — was up and running. I noticed other Wetpaint wikis for organizing sports teams, assisting with dog rescues and discussing favorite books. Setup was divided into three steps playfully termed The Easy Part, The Fun Part and The Other Part.
I named my wiki and its URL, and considered the options for who I wanted to contribute to it: everyone (even anonymously); anyone with a Wetpaint.com account; or only those whom I invited. I chose to allow everyone’s contributions in order to get the full feel of a wiki. Twenty-four style templates provide a starting point for the color and overall look.
I invited others to see my site so that they, too, could contribute their ruminations. When inviting others, you must designate how much authority you’ll give each invitee. Whoever creates the wiki is an administrator with the ability to change everything, including the template and permission settings. You can give others the same ranking, or you might opt to make them moderators, letting them move and delete pages but not change settings. The least amount of power is given to registered users; they can’t move or delete pages, but they, like everyone else, can still delete, change or add content on each page, by default.
Every change made to the site is tracked in detail, letting everyone see which page was altered and by whom, the time and date of the change and the scope of each adjustment. Special views can compare how a page looked before and after changes, so you know whether you liked the way you had it or the new version. These details are important in the world of wikis, where changes can be slight, frequent and barely noticeable.
The home page of your wiki allows space for explaining what you’d like to do. I used mine to say how much I like chatting about recent TV show episodes, and encouraged others to contribute anything relevant to the discussion, including write-in opinions, photos of show characters and clips from favorite scenes.
Each page has a section for navigation in the top left, showing which page is currently in view and how it relates to Home — as a subcategory of Home, or a subcategory within a category and so on. A toolbox on the far right offers one-click help for editing, adding attachments, inviting others and emailing a page. At the top of each page, an Easy Edit tool can be expanded to help you add digital photos from your PC or from specific URLs, hyperlinks or short video clips from sites like YouTube.com.
I never saw any confusing jargon while adding content to my wiki. I just followed suggested links, searched for the right content online or on my computer and pasted that information into the right spot.
Within a few hours, the friends I invited to my wiki caught on and added content to my pages or created pages of their own to be listed under my wiki. In addition to my pages for “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Amazing Race” and “Friday Night Lights,” others added pages for “American Idol” and “Battlestar Galactica.” I even got into a fun back-and-forth battle with a friend as he and I each posted pictures of our favorite doctors on “Grey’s Anatomy.” Each of us had the ability to delete the other’s posting or to add our own.
I ran into some trouble when I tried to save a post and was told that someone else was simultaneously changing content on the same page. I chose to manually merge my content with the other person’s content, but couldn’t figure out how to do so and lost my entire post. This problem isn’t likely to crop up often, but it’s worth noting.
When I had questions about other sections, a help section walked me through the wiki-building steps. I also watched how-to videos that demonstrated the way certain aspects of Wetpaint worked.
If you’re tired of reading blogs that only let you post comments in an obscure section of the page, the interactive community aspect of Wetpaint’s wikis will appeal to you. Just be sure you’re aware that until later this summer, nothing on your wiki can be made private.
Edited by Walter S. Mossberg
- Email: MossbergSolution@wsj.com.