Impact of Wikis, Wikipedia and WikiLeaks

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Chapter 19 of Jack Myers' book Hooked UP: A New Generation's Surprising Take on Sex, Politics and Saving the World focuses on how the Hooked UP Generation -- born 1991-95 and the first generation to grow up with the Internet – uses and perceives wikis, Wikipedia and WikiLeaks. Hooked UP was published in 2012 prior to the Edward Snowden revelations; Jack's observations and predictions are even more relevant in this new context. Hooked Up is winner of the International Book Award for Youth Issues and finalist for the USA Book Award for Pop Culture

Of all the applications that have emerged from the Internet, wikis may prove to be the most important and influential in impacting almost every aspect of society––from the individual and family unit to governments and global relationships. The ability to freely gather and communicate information is an awe-inspiring freedom that we have only begun to understand, deal with and integrate into our lives.

User-generated content is all around us, from Wikipedia to WikiLeaks, from comments on Yelp to the Huffington Post and your average, everyday blogger. It's the world we live in, the air we breathe, the culture that surrounds us. The ability to instantaneously self-publish writing, photos and videos has become commonplace––both in the U.S. and throughout the world.

The result has been a boon for free speech, education and communication, even as it has raised issues regarding security, privacy and verifiability.

A Brief History of the Wiki and Wikipedia

Wikis are named after "wiki wiki," the Hawaiian word for "quick," and they officially date back to 1995. Ward Cunningham, aSmalltalk developer, created the first wiki, The Portland Pattern Repository,as part of his company's website. The wiki improved communication between software developers discussing programs and identifying software patterns.

That first wiki is still active, and includes over thirty thousand pages. As with all wikis since, it had the hallmark feature of pages that could be edited within a browser. The concept was simple yet revolutionary: allow multiple users to edit or add to a site, and enable them to see what others added.

Wikis are used for a variety of projects and purposes: companies can create collaborative wikis to enable managers around the world to work together on programs, proposals and initiatives; teachers use wikis so students can collaborate on projects; and co-authors use wikis to write books together.

Wikis and Wiki-Like Sites

In fact, wikis and wiki-like sites have become ubiquitous in our daily lives. Even social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn have a wiki-ish quality. On these sites, people can contribute to the content of their friends' walls and collaborate to create what social media experts call an " ambient awareness" of each other's doings, as discussed in a 2008 article by Clive Thompson in The New York Times, " Brave New World of Digital Intimacy." The comment function common in blogs, news articles and social media is modeled on the wiki world as well, since "comments" enable users to participate in the processing and delivery of content.

In 2001, Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia of everything, was launched, and since then it has garnered much acclaim and become one of the most-visited sites on the web. In 2011, Wikipedia raised twenty million dollars in funding support directly from the site's users, testifying to the value it offers to a large and passionately connected user-base. Due in part to Wikipedia's success, today there are thousands of public––and private––wiki sites

Wiki Tools

There are a variety of tools available for people wanting to start their own wikis. Some, like PBworks, are geared toward corporations wanting to facilitate communication between employees. Others, such as Wikispaces and Google Docs, offer free individual wiki hosting for small groups. Even blog hosting companies, such as, provide blog options that allow for multiple users and editable websites.

This use of wikis is mirrored in the corporate world, where private wikis are used to facilitate projects that may have players in many different parts of the world. For that matter, Google Docs allows editing by multiple parties and gives all of them instant access to the edits and changes of others. Wikis are ideal for recording conversations, debates and arguments among collaborators. Wikis are living documents, and they allow for a living, breathing discussion among participants while recording that discussion as part of the creating, editing and revising process.

WikiLeaks: Too Much Sharing?

There are downsides to wikis, however. For one thing, not everyone wants everything instantaneously shared.

Take WikiLeaks, for example. This site, founded in 2007, is devoted to publishing and sharing government and corporate secrets. It has come under fire for releasing documents and information that compromise military security. Numerous documents related to U.S. military actions and secrets have been published on the site, drawing the criticism of many who would like to see the site shut down or censored.

For its part, WikiLeaks defends its practices, saying on its site that its "goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box). One of our most important activities is to publish original source material alongside our news stories so readers and historians alike can see evidence of the truth."

This argument––that it is providing the truth––is a powerful one. In fact, the reason WikiLeaks has made commentators, government officials and corporate leaders so uneasy is that it is revealing the truth. And the truth can, potentially, endanger others: diplomats, the military and national security. (Ed. Note: very prescient in the context of Snowden's theft and publication of government documents and communications.)

WikiLeaks allows people to post information without providing any context or explanation, making it difficult for readers to interpret and understand it. Open access to information is appealing and, in many ways, is a hallmark of an open, democratic society. There are legitimate arguments to be made, however, for protecting national security.

In the court case against Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, accused of posting secret documents on WikiLeaks, defense attorneys argued that the fact that these documents were available revealed lax security measures on the part of the military. WikiLeaks raises questions about who has access to what, and how it should be publicized. Wikileaks illustrates how informational wikis have changed more quickly than the laws that might regulate them.

Within these limited parameters, however, the possibilities and promise of wikis are almost endless.

Wikis and Education

Security breaches and political battles aside, wikis are dramatically transforming education. They provide an ideal platform for sharing and collaboration. Teachers are using them to facilitate learning in and outside of the classroom. Wikis will help a new generation of students learn how to work together and increase their productivity.

Educational wikis differ from sites like Wikipedia in that participation is limited to a private group or community. The group then uses the wiki for a pre-determined purpose or project. Only group members can edit and share the information on the wiki.

Wikis and Citizen Journalism

Journalism has experienced the greatest impact from user-generated content and the wiki revolution. The availability and accessibility of wiki-like platforms for reporting the news has transformed how journalism is practiced, who practices it, and why.

News organizations realize that everyone who carries a cell phone can, in some way, report unfolding news. As a result, many of them have designed platforms specifically for capturing this content.

CNN, for instance, has iReport, which allows users to upload their videos, pictures and stories about ongoing or breaking news events. CNN describes this service as follows: "iReport is an invitation for you to be a part of CNN's coverage of the stories you care about and an opportunity to be a part of a global community of men and women who are as passionate about the news as you are."

Other news organizations have followed suit, calling for news tips, stories, photos, audio files, blogs and other content from users.

The Yahoo! Contributor Network (Y!CN ) is a growing platform that publishes content from users including freelance journalists, business owners, wine experts and many more. The Y!CN model, unlike CNN's iReport, also pays users for their content..

Curating and Controlling Wiki-Content

Nevertheless, legitimate news organizations cannot simply publish or broadcast anything that comes along. If a news organization is going to stamp its brand on content, the content needs to be verified and curated. Curating involves controlling, filtering, shaping and distributing content. Curation of user-generated content has become key to using and distributing this content responsibly.

Wikipedia is an example of how curating has grown out of an early wiki model: many people have specific Wikipedia entries they watch, ready to fix or edit anything that is erroneously changed in those entries.

New models of journalism will need more stringent gatekeepers, professionals who will sort through the content, decide what gets published, what gets featured and what gets removed. After all, contributors aren't necessarily equipped with the skills to report or package news or other content. CNN's iReport staff curates when it decides what videos to endorse, highlight and feature on its site.

News content also needs to be put into context––blurry cell phone videos of riots and audio recordings of meetings are often meaningless on their own.

There is a fine line between curating and censorship, but that has always been the case in publishing.

Wikis and Marketing

Businesses are publishing and distributing user-generated content as their primary content. Sites like Yelp rely almost entirely on the reviews submitted by users. Other sites, like Kaboodle, combine social networking with user-generated content. The site encourages users to post information about their entertainment choices and purchases, find and compare merchandise, and network with other shoppers.

In fact, all social networking sites, from Facebook to Flickr, rely on content created by and shared between users. Though users generally can't change each other's content, as they can in a true wiki model, the contributors do influence other users with the content they post and distribute.

Just as the Hooked Up Generation expect their friends, relatives and colleagues to be engaged proactively on social networks and in interactive wikis, they also expect the opportunity to be engaged with business colleagues, marketers, retailers and governmental agencies.


Wikis and Business

As members of the Hooked Up Gen enter the workforce, they will bring with them an understanding of social engagement and wikis and will begin integrating them more and more into the day-to-day processes and operations of their employers.

Wikis will emerge not only as a tool for communicating with customers, but will become a required component of the human resources management of companies large and small. Employee and executive wikis will enable active communications among teams and whole workforces. Auto assembly plants will have their own quality control wikis and auto companies will have a wiki for all employees. Wikis of auto dealers will enable best practices to be shared and consumer complaints to be addressed quickly. Wikis for owners of specific auto models will allow owners to voice complaints easily and will assure that auto companies cannot hide these complaints as they have done in the past.

Whistle-blowing remains an offense in most corporate and governmental cultures today, with whistle-blowers often being discredited and fired from their jobs. In the case of WikiLeaks' founder Julian Assange, whistle-blowers can become internationally wanted criminals. But in the evolving wiki-centric culture, whistle-blowing will be a day-to-day reality that enables individuals to openly voice their concerns within a community. Individuals will be safe from retribution when their concerns are supported (or voted down) by the community. Involved parties will have an opportunity to respond quickly. Organizations need to establish wikis and social connections among their employees and teams or have the networks forced upon them by employees who develop them. There are no restrictions or costs to prevent anyone from establishing a wiki and socializing it to small and large groups.

In the 20th century, society shifted from an unconnected series of small communities in which everyone knew everyone else's business to a disconnected world in which societies and organizations could control the flow of information to and from their members. Wikis are a powerful force for returning communities to an interconnected web of shared knowledge and common interests.

Wikification of the World


New applications for wiki-like applications will further enable sharing, editing, curating, commenting and socializing. Internet Natives will quickly adopt these applications into their work and personal lives. Applications including user-created and curated content will be a normal part of decision-making as the Hooked Up Gen depend increasingly on recommendation engines, curated user-generated content, and socialized content for their news, information, shopping, entertainment and day-to-day decision-making.

Today's 18-24 generation, the first to grow up with the Internet as an embedded part of their lives, will be leaders in developing and implementing wikis and social networks within companies, non-profits, governmental agencies, global societies, religious congregations, schools and classrooms, fan clubs and associations. Wikis will become ubiquitous as a basic communication resource for building links among people with common interests and enabling them to share their perspectives and points of view, while at the same time enabling immediate feedback from others within their wiki community.

To Internet Natives, wikis are more than another source of information and knowledge. The great challenge will be to introduce these tools to older generations who have grown up in a world in which privacy of information––whether personal, corporate or governmental––has been a right.

Of all the applications that have emerged from the Internet, wikis may prove to be the most important and influential in impacting almost every aspect of society––from the individual and family unit to governments and global relationships. The ability to freely gather and communicate information is an awe-inspiring freedom that we have only begun to understand, deal with and integrate into our lives.

Chapter 20:Class of 2014: Job Market and Career Opportunities

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