Understanding wikis and Wikipedia A

This is chapter A „General“ of my book „Understanding wikis and Wikipedia“. Follow this link to the introducing page with the full table of contents.

Note that this page is still unfinished. For example, it lacks charts, tables and footnotes.

A General

  • A.1 By way of introduction
    • A.1.1 An overview of the Wiki model
    • A.1.2 About the wikis discussed here
    • A.1.3 Technical, social, and cultural dimensions
    • A.1.4 Scientific research
  • A.2 Wikis as media
    • A.2.1 Social media
    • A.2.2 Nature and characteristics of wikis
    • A.2.3 Definition
    • A.2.4 Wiki types
    • A.2.5 Orientation
  • A.3 General aspects
    • A.3.1 Identity, continuity and connectedness.
    • A.3.2 Openness and closedness
    • A.3.3 Wiki cycles
    • A.3.4 Chronological aspects
    • A.3.5 Excursus: The development of Wikipedia
    • A.3.6 A wiki’s name
  • A.4 Wiki as a technical medium
    • A.4.1 MediaWiki software
    • A.4.2 User account
    • A.4.3 Page
    • A.4.4 Editing
    • A.4.5 Code and types of edits
    • A.4.6 Communication
  • A.5 Summary

A General

The first chapter of this book presents the subject of wikis and Wikipedia and introduces the later chapters, which examine the individual components of the wiki model. It begins with an overview to get you started with the book and the wiki model. It also introduces a number of important wikis to give an impression of the diversity of wikis. These wikis are referred to frequently in the book.

This is followed by a treatment of different scientific approaches to the topic. Partly because of this diversity, no attempt has been made here to present a general current state of research (also Groß 2016: 63, fn. 91). To do so, one would have to trace, in part, the development in each individual discipline. Instead, this book outlines what an emerging field of research on „wikis and the Wikipedia“ might look like.

Drawing from media in general, wikis are considered here primarily as a subcategory of social media. This derivation leads to an attempt to define wikis. The difficulty here is to distinguish wikis from other social media and collaboration platforms without thereby unnecessarily excluding many real-life wikis. A wiki typology may be a way to better deal with the diversity of wikis.

Furthermore, the chapter discusses some other general aspects of wikis that appear repeatedly in the book and that cannot be easily attached to one of the elements in the wiki model. Nevertheless, one of these elements concludes the chapter: the wiki as a technical medium. Research suggests that this technical basis has a significant impact on how a wiki functions as a medium in its entirety.

A.1 By way of introduction

It has been a certain challenge to outline the present book. There seems to be no undisputed starting point for the treatment of wikis, no natural place from which it would find its way further by itself.

  • In the structure finally chosen, Chapter A introduces the topic, classifies wikis in the media or social media, ventures a definition and presents general aspects as well as the wiki as a technical medium.
  • Chapter B deals with the actors: the wiki owner and questions of ownership, the recipients who consume the wiki content, and finally the modificients (i.e., editors, participants) of the wiki and their community.
  • Chapter C is about legal matters. It introduces wiki-relevant law and wiki rules. In addition, the most important types of rule violations and the problems of handling them are discussed. Furthermore, the topic of copyright including the concept of free content, which is used in many wikis, is given a broader scope.
  • Chapter D deals with the content of the wiki, including its origin, its nature, and the structured representation of the world in the wiki.
  • Thus prepared, the book reaches Chapter E on collaboration, the central characteristic of wikis. There are different forms of collaboration in the wiki and several ways of dealing with the consequences of this characteristic.

In cross-references, the top-level outline elements are called chapters, and those at the second or third level are called sections. At the end of a chapter there is always a summary. Furthermore, there is a subject index at the end of the book as well as a glossary with the most important technical terms for quick reference.

A.1.1 An overview of the Wiki model

Chart: wiki model

Chart nr. 1: wiki model, an overview

The above overview already mentions components and concepts that are derived from the wiki model that was developed for this book. This descriptive model is meant to provide orientation for talking about wikis: on the one hand, about the concept of wiki in general, and on the other hand, for observing, analyzing, and comparing concrete wikis. In order to make it easier to get started with this book, the model will be presented here in its basic outlines right at the beginning. In the later parts of the book you will find more details about the chosen terminology, the derivation, approaches to a system and advice for the practice.

A wiki is a medium that enables the production and distribution of collaborative content. By production is meant both creation and modification. When the wiki model is concerned with this platform, we speak of the wiki as a technical medium (see Section A.4). This requires wiki software whose functions meet the requirements of a wiki. Essentially, the wiki as a technical medium is a database (Mayer 2013: 27): On the one hand, it administers the pages with their content, and on the other hand, it administers access rights via user accounts.

In wikis, an edit means that a page is changed. This creates a new version of the page. During this process, the wiki as a technical medium registers and documents additional data (metadata), namely the time of the edit and the account from which the edit was made. The older versions are permanently preserved and can be accessed. Thanks to this versioning, it is possible to retrace who edited the page and how.

There are several actors involved in the wiki. The most important ones are described here as owners, recipients or modificients. Other actors are, for example, partners of the owner or sponsors who support a wiki in one way or another. All actors operate within a social environment.

The owner of the wiki (see Section B.1) has the necessary technical infrastructure and masters the basic settings of the wiki as a technical medium. He has probably registered the name of the wiki as a trademark. Some wiki owners also have the rights to use the content in the wiki and are the employers of those who edit the wiki. In other wikis such as Wikipedia, however, the content is user-generated content (UGC, see Section D.1.2), which is also based on the concept of Free Content, and the editors are volunteers. Owners are embedded in an environment that includes a meso-level, an exo-level, and a macro-level (see Section B.1.5).

The people who edit a wiki are called modificients in the wiki model (see Section B.3). A modificient interacts with other modificients, who are co-modificients from his perspective. Recipients (see Section B.2) consume the content of wikis. For most wikis, the number of recipients is much higher than the number of modificients. For clarity, if a recipient does not assume any role other than that of a recipient, then he can be called a pure recipient. Some recipients, on the other hand, switch roles and (also) become modificients. In practice, these actors constantly switch between the roles of recipient and modificient, because a modificient will at least see his own edits and then become a recipient again.

The content in the wiki is divided into main content and subsidiary content. Some pages of a wiki contain main content, i.e. the content for which the wiki was created in the first place. Main content is usually aimed at (pure) recipients. In the case of Wikipedia, this is encyclopedic articles such as „Siberian Tiger“, „Ella Fitzgerald“ or „Greifswalder Bodden“, in Wikidata it is statements about data objects, in Wikimedia Commons media files, in Wiktionary dictionary articles. Subsidiary content, on the other hand, directly or indirectly supports the main content and is primarily aimed at modificients. Typical subsidiary content includes rules and technical explanation pages, as well as discussion pages (see Section D.2.1).

Especially the main content is about the modificients describing the world or objects of the world (see section D.1). They do this on the basis of their own observation of the world or on the basis of knowledge conveyed by media, using sources. In this book, „information source“ is used as a general term. These are primary, secondary and tertiary sources (see Section D.1.3). What content and what sources are welcomed in a wiki depends on its goals.

„Wiki-relevant law and wiki rules“ (see Section C.1) includes the totality of norms that are relevant to a specific wiki. Law here means state law; wiki rules are established either by the owner or by the modificients. Furthermore, owners and modificients can also adapt third-party rules – for example, those of other organizations. Rules must eventually be handled to punish violations, including typical misuses of the wiki (Section C.2.6).

Collaboration between modificients is usually called collaboration. In terms of content, this means that more than one person can, may, and should edit content. Instead of collaborative content, this book often refers to the communality of content (see Section E.1.3). The model distinguishes between different levels of collaboration: insular collaboration is when modificients work independently on content, but contribute to a common wiki. Weak collaboration is when a lead or „main“ author plays a central role for a wiki page, while the co-modificients offer him suggestions. Strong collaboration is when the modificients work equally on collaborative content, which can lead to negotiation costs and deadlocks (see especially Section E.2.4).

A.1.2 About the wikis discussed here

This book attempts to make generalizations about wikis. Nevertheless, it is unavoidable to refer to concrete, individual wikis initially, although this carries the risk that a pre-selection of wikis may have an undesirable influence on the perspective and consequently on the definition of wikis. The wikis briefly presented here are given preference or at least repeated treatment in the book. The focus is on the open-public wikis and there especially on the wikis of the Wikimedia movement such as Wikipedia.

Wikipedia was founded or co-founded by American Jimmy Wales. He was the co-owner and CEO of the Internet startup Bomis. In the early 2000s, Wales, a knowledge enthusiast, founded an online encyclopedia called Nupedia. It was based on traditional reference works and had an elaborate peer review process to check the content. The authors were specially selected academics who contributed on a volunteer basis. In the near future, Bomis planned to make money from Nupedia thanks to advertisements (Rijshouwer 2019: 56/67).

But Wales and his collaborator for the encyclopedia, philosopher Larry Sanger, saw that few Nupedia articles were being created. That is why they launched a new website on January 15, 2001, which they called Wikipedia. It was intended to serve as an experimental platform for future Nupedia articles. The wiki quickly attracted volunteers who contributed more and more articles. Eventually, Wales and Sanger abandoned Nupedia and focused on Wikipedia (Lih 2009: 88, 136, 171; Gross 2016: 31-33; Rijshouwer 2019: 57-61). Sanger left Wikipedia in 2002 to start other projects such as the encyclopedia Citizendium (Citizendium/Welcome 2020).

As activity in Wikipedia grew, so did the cost of running it. Because many Wikipedia modificients found advertising on the pages unacceptable, Wales finally decided to take a radical step in June 2003: he handed over the trademark rights for Wikipedia, domain names, and servers from Bomis to a new organization, the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF; Rijshouwer 2019: 61). The nonprofit organization, based in the United States, has since survived on donations and the work of wiki volunteers. It is a foundation with a board of trustees as its supreme body. The ten-member foundation board decides on guidelines and appoints a director who manages the administration of the Wikimedia Foundation. The WMF is thus the supporting organization of Wikipedia.

Furthermore, formally independent associations have been founded in various countries to assist the work of the WMF. One can classify these chapters as support organizations: They help the modificients in their country and engage in public relations. The first of these associations was Wikimedia Deutschland e.V. (WMDE) in 2004. The associations have signed cooperation agreements with the Wikimedia Foundation, which allows them to use brand names such as „Wikimedia“ and „Wikipedia.“

For outsiders, the exact relationship between the Foundation, Wikimedia wikis, and state associations may be difficult to understand. Hamann points out that WMDE does not run the Wikipedia website, does not produce Wikipedia content, and is not „an official representative of the German Wikipedia community.“ „There is no such official representation.“ However, WMDE appears in public and also in court „frequently as a representative of Wikipedia,“ so that the association is sometimes definitely perceived as a representative (Hamann 2019: 464).

Since 2011, there are other Wikimedia organizations that do not focus on a country, but on a specific topic. Examples are Wikimedia Medicine, the group of Tatar-speaking Wikimedians, Wikigrannies, AfroCROWD, and the group interested in classical antiquity. The Wikimedia Foundation, the national associations, and the other organizations and volunteers are collectively called the Wikimedia Movement (see Jemielniak 2014: 128).

Wikipedia is the best-known Wikimedia wiki. It officially exists in about 300 language versions (Meta-Wiki/List of Wikipedias 2020), which can differ significantly from one another despite all their similarities. If nothing else is stated in this book, statements refer to the German Wikipedia or all language versions. At times, language versions in English, Dutch, Afrikaans, and Frisian are also referenced, representing both very large and very small language communities.

Furthermore, WMF has established other wikis besides Wikipedia, which are called „sister projects“ (of Wikipedia). In this book, the clearer term „Wikimedia wikis“ is preferred. Many of these wikis can be understood as spin-offs from Wikipedia. For example, the Wikipedia people did not want to see news articles, collections of quotations, and historical source texts published in the Wikipedia. That is why Wikinews, Wikiquote and Wikisource were founded.

Wikivoyage is a travel guide (Wikivoyage/main page: 2020) that is interesting partly because of its changes in ownership. Originally, a private individual, Evan Prodromou, founded a wiki called Wikitravel in 2003. However, he sold the wiki in April 2006. Dissatisfied Wikitravel modificients from Germany established the Wikivoyage e.V. association in September of the same year as a supporting organization for a new wiki. The wiki Wikivoyage went online in December, taking over much of the content of the original wiki Wikitravel, which continued to exist. In 2012, the general meeting of Wikivoyage e.V. decided to ask WMF to take over the wiki.

Other Wikimedia wikis derive their importance not least from their auxiliary function for Wikipedia:

  • Wikimedia Commons is the name of the common collection of media files for all Wikimedia wikis. Pretty much all the photos you see in Wikipedia articles are actually stored on Wikimedia Commons and are just embedded in Wikipedia. This makes more sense than having to upload the photos – and check them for legal issues there – to the respective Wikipedia language versions or other wikis (Storrer 2018: 404; Commons/main page 2020).
  • Wikidata is a shared database, some of whose information is already incorporated into Wikipedia language versions and other platforms (Wikidata/Main Page 2020).
  • Meta-Wiki was originally created for cooperation between different Wikipedia language versions. In the meantime, it serves to better organize the international Wikimedia movement. Here, for example, discussions take place about the strategy of the WMF, and individual individual activities from the Wikimedia movement are presented (Meta-Wiki/Main Page 2020).

The list is not complete; there are a number of other wikis as well, sometimes referred to as sister projects, sometimes not. One example is the wiki Mediawiki.org for developers and users of the MediaWiki software (MediaWiki/Main Page 2020; see a list on: Meta-Wiki/Complete list of Wikimedia projects 2020).

In addition to the Wikimedia Foundation, there are other organizations that operate more than a single wiki. One example from the German-speaking world is ZUM, the Zentrale für Unterrichtsmedien im Internet. This registered association promotes Open Educational Resources (OER) based on the concept of free content. To this end, the association has set up several websites, including wikis. ZUM’s services include setting up individual wikis, for example for schools, which pay a fee for them.

ZUM’s most significant wiki is or was the ZUM Wiki as a collaboration platform for OER; since 2018, it has been gradually replaced by the ZUM Teaching wiki. ZUM also includes the Grundschulwiki (since 2005), a learning platform for elementary school children practicing nonfiction writing, and the Klexikon (since 2014). In the latter, mainly adults write encyclopedic articles for young readers aged six to twelve. The Grundschulwiki is thus primarily geared toward modificients, the Klexikon toward recipients.

In 2004, Jimmy Wales founded Wikia Inc. together with Angela Beesley, which has since been renamed Fandom. Among other things, the company operates the Fandom platform of the same name, on which anyone can set up a wiki. According to Wikia, the initiator must make fundamental decisions together with other stakeholders. The company seems to retain the right to make final decisions about the wiki, such as a possible shutdown.

Fandom primarily provides a platform for so-called fan wikis that offer content on pop culture topics such as TV series or computer games. Memory Alpha, which deals with the science fiction franchise Star Trek, was used here as an example of a successful wiki. It was created in 2003 while still outside of Fandom and migrated to Fandom two years later. Another wiki on Fandom has a more serious background: the VroniPlag wiki from 2011 made it its business to check scientific theses for plagiarism (Weber-Wulff 2014: 31-36). It eventually moved to another corporate platform, wikia.org .

Likewise, a commercially oriented wiki owner is behind wikiHow, a much-received advice website. Originally an English-language wiki with offshoots in several languages, it was founded in 2005. One tends to find short articles there on topics such as „cleaning rusty tools,“ „reducing body fat through bodybuilding,“ or „finding the grave of a deceased person.“

One of the most successful wikis is TV Tropes. „Tropes“ here refers to metaphors, stereotypes, and generally recurring modes of representation in pop culture. „Chirping crickets“ describes how the sound of chirping crickets is used in movies to express boredom or disinterest. „Immortal Immaturity“ refers to immortal gods or aliens behaving childishly, and „New Media Are Evil“ refers to how even reasonable characters make negative comments about new media such as the Internet. To this end, it lists numerous examples of the use of such tropes in comics, movies, animated series, novels, etc. The website was founded in 2004 by a pseudonymous programmer and purchased in 2014 by Drew Schoentrup and Chris Richmond.

An example of the city or region wikis is the Stadtwiki Karlsruhe. It dates from 2004 and is owned by the Bildungsverein Region Karlsruhe e.V. Some other city wikis, such as the FürthWiki, have chosen a similar path. Other city wikis are owned by publishers or public authorities. The RegioWiki of the HNA, for example, belongs to the publishing house Dierichs GmbH & Co. which also publishes the daily newspaper Hessische/Niedersächsische Allgemeine (HNA). The idea behind the founding of the wiki was to make further use of the newspaper’s content in the wiki.

Many large organizations such as NASA, the CIA, or MOMA have internal wikis that, like corporate wikis, are more difficult to access for research than open-public wikis. One organization with a closed-public wiki is the Mozilla Foundation with the MozillaWiki (Mozilla Wiki/Main Page 2020). It produces open source software such as the Firefox browser. According to its own statement, the wiki is intended to provide an overall picture of Mozilla’s tasks and history. It is intended to make the organization „navigable“ and provide a connecting point for new contributors to Mozilla products.

Table 1 attempts to provide an overview of the most important wikis, or some that are given preferential treatment here. Statistics on wikis, and on websites in general, are difficult to interpret because the bases for calculations are not always the same. They are nevertheless used here to give some sense of size relationships among wikis.

A.1.3 Technical, social and cultural dimension

Anyone who observes or researches a medium and communicates about it repeatedly encounters the problem of viewing phenomena from different scientific viewpoints. Those who have been trained in a particular discipline sometimes find it difficult to understand the ways of thinking and expressing things from other disciplines. Even within a discipline, there are often different approaches. This makes collaboration with researchers from other fields, and any transdisciplinary approach in general, more difficult.

The diversity of these ways of thinking and expressing has repeatedly been made an issue by philosophers of science, such as Max Weber, who distinguished the social sciences from both the humanities and the natural sciences (Müller 2007: 51-55). Kagan speaks of „three cultures“ that offer different approaches to reality. The three cultures differ in what are the main questions asked in a discipline, what sources one collects and what control one has over the circumstances under which evidence is collected, to what degree one generalizes, to what extent one takes historical phenomena into account, and what importance one assigns to ethical values. Kagan suggests, incidentally, that humanists and social scientists are more similar in their ideas and methods than either is to natural scientists (Kagan 2009: 2/3). If necessary, one can speak of a sociocultural approach.

Natural scientists, according to Kagan, are concerned with predicting and explaining natural phenomena. One observes the material in a controlled way in experiments and works together in both small and large groups. Humanists, on the other hand, are interested in how people respond to events and the meaning they ascribe to an experience. Historical circumstances and the influence of the ethical are of paramount importance to them. They usually work alone and enjoy „semantically coherent arguments described in elegant prose.“ Social scientists are concerned with the predictability and explanation of human behavior (ibid.: 4/5).

In this book, therefore, the following three levels or dimensions are distinguished in which wiki-related phenomena take place or can be described:

  • The technical dimension refers to the technical and scientific subjects together with computer science and mathematics. One focus is the wiki as a technical medium including user accounts and pages.
  • The cultural dimension deals with typical humanities issues especially with regard to the wiki content.
  • The (human) social dimension revolves around the social relations between the actors. This dimension, which is also communicative, is to be understood comprehensively and concerns not only questions of the social sciences proper, but also of law and politics; it also deals with the motives of the participants.

Two examples will illustrate what the three dimensions can mean when analyzing wikis. A footnote in a wiki can be viewed as follows:

  • In the technical dimension, the footnote is a particular way of displaying characters. This is made possible by a certain instruction in the source code of the page.
  • In the cultural dimension, the issue is what kind of content belongs in the footnote. Some modificients want to limit the footnote content strictly to supporting information, while others want to use it also for mere remarks that did not fit into the body text.
  • Socially, the footnote serves to legitimize the content in the eyes of recipients and co-modificients and to make deletion of that content less likely. Moreover, someone who knows how to footnote presents himself as a competent modificient to his co-modificients.

The second example: Wikipedia exists in different „language versions“ like the Wikipedia in English, the Wikipedia in German or the Wikipedia in Dutch. One likes to list them in the ranking order of the number of articles. In a way, this ranking is supposed to reflect the importance of a language version. In order to know which language version has the most articles, however, one must first ask oneself what one wants to understand by an article:

  • A computer scientist would try to use a simple search query to count all the pages that are in the article namespace. After all, this namespace is explicitly for articles (see Section A.4.3). Arguably, the computer scientist would not actually count all pages in the article namespace as articles: For example, she would not count redirects and disambiguation pages. Such pages can be easily recognized and filtered out via the source code. This approach is in the technical dimension.
  • A philologist, on the other hand, sees the encyclopedic article primarily as a particular type of text. A text is not simply a string of sentences. Rather, the sentences must be interwoven by text coherence and text cohesion. In addition, there are criteria for the encyclopedic as a text genre, such as factual style. The ultimate distinction as to whether a given text is encyclopedic in writing or as to its textual quality can probably only be made by a human being. Such a distinction probably could not be made as precisely as mathematically and scientifically trained researchers would like. Because of the size of the large Wikipedia language versions, one has to work with random samples (see also Rosenzweig 2006: 119). This approach is typical of the cultural dimension.
  • A social scientist might well apply a different criterion: She leaves the decision of what is an article to the modificients, i.e. the contributors in the wiki. So she would have to ask the modificients which pages to include in her count. Alternatively, one can ask recipients for their assessment. Here, the social dimension of Wikipedia is considered.

All three approaches have their respective merits. The technical approach impresses with its ability to process large amounts of data, the cultural one helps to better understand data sets. One approach tells us how many pages the article namespace has, the other how large the substantive encyclopedic content may be. Combining both, one gets a useful impression of the size of the language version in question. With the social dimension, one takes into account that it is people who create or also delete pages in the article namespace, thus influencing what researchers find (see Breiter/Hepp 2018 on the problem of interpreting the digital traces in „Big Data“).

The designations „technical,“ „cultural,“ and „social“ at least roughly identify different areas or levels and avoid being tied to overly concrete individual disciplines. Interesting in the observation – and sometimes a source of misunderstanding – are not least the references between the levels: An edit such as a simple typo fix initially appears to other contributors to the wiki as just a technical change to a page. The modificient and the co-modificients judge the change in accordance with the wiki rules according to whether the change complies with the rules in terms of content (in the cultural dimension). The relevant action of the modificient leads to conjectures of the co-modificients about his motives and competences (social dimension). For example, the co-modificients see that a modificient has inserted an unfinished sentence into a text. They wonder whether this was an oversight, whether the modificient will complete the sentence soon, or whether it is vandalism, a willful degradation of the content.

A.1.4 Scientific research

Research on wikis and the Wikipedia takes place in different scientific fields. Table 2 gives an incomplete picture of this. Thus, researchers are usually bound to a specific discipline and refer to its questions and approaches. However, many researchers take an interdisciplinary approach, so that their work sometimes serves as a contribution to other fields. For general presentations or overviews of Wikipedia, the author’s professional affiliation is less important anyway: Lih (2009) teaches journalism, Reagle (2010) comes from communication studies, and Jemielniak (2014) studied management.

A separate academic discipline on wikis has not been established. Because of the diversity of approaches, the emergence of such a subject remains unlikely. But it is conceivable that a research field or research area on the topic would emerge more strongly. It would promote the exchange between interested researchers and lead to a shared canon of basic assumptions, research paradigms, and standard literature (after Astleitner 2011: 31-34).

Neither has a separate name for the research field been established. Admittedly, the German term Wikipedistik (Wikipedistics) came into existence a few years after the founding of Wikipedia in 2001. According to Gredel, the term has become established for the „interdisciplinary field“ with Wikipedia as a „scientific object of study“ (Gredel 2019a: 39-41). But it remains limited to the German-speaking world and refers, strictly speaking, to only one wiki, Wikipedia.

Because of Wikipedia’s great importance, it is justifiable to explicitly include it in the name of the research field: Wikis and Wikipedia. However, one could also speak of wiki studies (Mayer 2013: 48) or wiki research, while, for example, wikicology would sound more like a discipline of its own. The Wikimedia Foundation tends to use simply the word research, as it does on a Meta-Wiki page with materials and links to scholarly literature and conferences (Meta-Wiki/Research Index 2020).

A research area „Wikis and Wikipedia“ also needs to be delineated; it is necessary to consider what literature one wants to include. According to a (obviously very incomplete) bibliography by the Wikimedia Foundation Research Group on Meta-Wiki, 337 titles on wikis in general and Wikipedia in particular appeared through 2019 (Meta-Wiki/Wiki Research Bibliography 2020). Wozniak lists 502 titles in his „Selection Bibliography on Wikipedia and Science“ (2015a). In 2020, a Scholia query on the Wikidata object „Wiki“ (Q171) revealed that between 100 and 200 books or articles have always appeared each year since 2008. Here it is necessary to ask what the selection criteria were in each case.

In addition, there are numerous studies on topics in the area of social media, online communities, peer production, etc., in which wikis, and Wikipedia in particular, are discussed. Furthermore, in order to understand wikis, one needs knowledge from a wide variety of subjects: from psychology to motivation research, from sociology to community building, from educational history to the development of the encyclopedia (if the wiki in question is an encyclopedia), from lexicography to the creation of dictionaries (if the wiki is a dictionary), and so on.

Thus, if one were to try to organize the research literature and the research field, one could follow different principles and viewpoints:

  • Existing fields: one starts from existing fields such as sociology or linguistics (see Table 2) and elaborates questions from the perspective of these fields. Possibly one would like to integrate wiki research into such fields.
  • Existing literature: In this case, one examines the specialized literature on wikis and divides it into thematic groups. To do this, however, one must already

Existing literature: This involves examining the specialist literature on wikis and dividing it into thematic groups. For this, however, one must already know which literature one would like to consider at all.

  • Wiki types: Many wikis, such as Wikipedia, can be appropriately described as media as they are treated by media studies. However, for other wiki types (see Section A.2.4) such as learning wikis, the character as a medium is secondary to that as a teaching tool. Questions relating to didactics are more appropriate here. For corporate wikis, organizational sociology may be a better fit.
  • Method: The literature differs depending on the approaches and methodologies used. Some researchers conduct interviews, others analyze wiki data. However, researchers also combine multiple methods.
  • Centrality: some papers are very explicit about wikis or a specific wiki, others deal with peripheral issues such as the dissemination of fake news or anonymity on the Internet.
  • Wiki model: one can follow the components of the model and then talk about owner research, content research, collaboration research, research on the wiki as a technical medium, and so on. Another choice of structuring would be the three dimensions. Both the components and the dimensions can be assumed to overlap.

One might think that wikis and Wikipedia are primarily a research interest for computer science. After all, people who edit or receive a wiki need a computer or, more generally, an Internet-enabled device to do so. However, this is true for many human actions today without automatically falling to computer scientists as a research interest. Since wikis are technically just content management systems, one might even wonder how significant or innovative they are from a computer science perspective at all. What is interesting are novel protocols or procedures and the very way people interact with wiki software.

Wozniak has evaluated university events and theses in German-speaking countries. He found that Wikipedia is not only predominantly studied in computer science, but also in cultural studies, media studies, and history (Wozniak 2015b: 34-36). According to Gredel, a „considerable part“ of the work on Wikipedia can be attributed to linguistic Wikipedistics (Gredel 2019a: 41). Establishing and indexing the research field of wikis and the Wikipedia thus remains a major challenge because of this span. However, it not only enriches the disciplines involved, but also advances knowledge about wikis and their utility for practice. Moreover, given the previous research literature and structures, as seen, one does not need to start from scratch.

A.2 Wikis as media

This book presents wikis primarily as media. However, media studies has still not come up with a generally accepted, sharply defined definition for media (Saxer 1999: 4/5; Petko 2014: 13). If one thinks, for example, of the letter as it was sent in the 19th century, one can ask what exactly constitutes the medium: the writing material, i.e., the paper used; the content, the letter as a genre of text or even the sign system of writing itself; or the post office, which as an organization follows clear rules to ensure that the paper is transported from the sender to the recipient. Thus, explanations of the research subject of media studies often tend to take a comprehensive approach so as not to overlook individual aspects.

Thus, for Saxer, media are on the one hand „channels of communication“ that „transport certain sign systems,“ but on the other hand they are also „organizations,“ social systems for certain purposes. In order to fulfill their many functions, media must fit „into the social regulatory system.“ In short, „media are complex institutionalized systems around organized communication channels of specific capacity.“ (Saxer 1999: 5/6) According to Beck, communication media are „means to the end of communication (symbolic interaction) between people on a technical basis.“ Institutions provide a social framework with rules and structures of expectations that the „use of media techniques and the use of signs“ must follow (Beck 2010: 17).

Different terms can be found in communication and media studies and neighboring disciplines for the people involved, for the organization and institutions, and for the message transmitted. In this book, the conceptual pair of sender and receiver is represented as modificient and recipient. The subject of organization is deliberately concentrated in the concept of ownership. The message, i.e., the communicate or media content, appears in the wiki model as content; the sign systems or forms of knowledge representation used are also treated in the corresponding sections of this book. The communication channel is the wiki as a technical medium, the actual website.

A.2.1 Social media

Wikis are usually classified as a category of social media. However, this remains a „woolly term“ (Schmidt 2013: 11-14) without a generally accepted definition. It is probably no coincidence that social media are rarely paraphrased or defined in everyday usage. Instead, they are prototypically referred to by their best-known representatives: „something like Facebook and Twitter.“

Alternative expressions do not necessarily create more clarity, if only because it remains questionable whether they are purely synonymous or whether they narrow, broaden or shift the meaning of the term „social media.“ In the case of the term „social networks,“ for example, it should be borne in mind that a social network is fundamentally a network of relationships between people and not, for example, between sites or user accounts (Weyer 2014: 48). A website that serves a network, a „social network site,“ would therefore have to be distinguished from the social network as such. Other terms are „social web“, „social software“ and „sociotechnical system“.

Especially the term Web 2.0 has been discussed controversially in the context of social media. It goes back to a speech by Tim O’Reilly in 2004. The media entrepreneur distinguished between an „old“ and a „new“ Internet:

  • Classical websites, according to this, are oriented to the old dissemination media of newspaper, radio and television and allow communication in only one direction: the owner of the website, as gatekeeper, determines what the readers or users of the website can consume there.
  • A social website, on the other hand, allows communication in the opposite direction as well: from the user to the owner, but also between users. The difference between sender and receiver is eliminated. One even speaks of the prosumer, who replaces the producer and consumer.

From his entrepreneurial perspective, O’Reilly found it very attractive for content to be contributed inexpensively by users. This was subsequently criticized as a potential exploitation of users. Here, then, we are concerned with practices of so-called crowdsourcing (see Section E.1.1) and user-generated content (UGC, see Section D.1.2).

From his business perspective, O’Reilly found it very attractive that content was contributed inexpensively by users. This was subsequently criticized as a possible exploitation of users. So this is about practices of so-called crowdsourcing (see Section E.1.1) and user-generated content (UGC, see Section D.1.2).

There has also been criticism of the juxtaposition of old and new media, as it presents the historical development of the Internet in a very simplistic or even distorted way (Mehler/Sutter 2008: 267-269; Jers 2012: 33-35). In fact, participants in the early Internet communicated a lot with each other since the 1970s, for example in chat groups and later on mailing lists. On a typical website of the 1990s, visitors could not only send an email to the owner, comparable to a newspaper reader’s letter to the editor, but also write in a „guestbook.“ The entries there were also viewable by other visitors, so they could refer to each other for comment. Whether or not a visitor wrote something in the guestbook was up to the individual, the situation, and the website.

Despite this criticism, the above classification seems to help capture the essence of social media. In traditional media, production and distribution (one-to-many) of the content are in the hands of the website owner. They are purely on-demand media (see Beck 2010: 2). In social media, on the other hand, production (UGC) and distribution (many-to-many) are the responsibility of the participants. They are participatory media (Pscheida 2010: 286; see also Bilandzic/Schramm/Matthes 2015: 19).

In addition, there is a mixed form: some owners enrich their classic website with elements of social media. Examples are online newspapers such as Faz.net or Spiegel Online. Only the owner or his editorial team is allowed to create new pages. There he publishes his own editorial, privileged content, the newspaper article. Visitors to the website are only allowed to publish their own content in a special area of the site. Here it is irrelevant whether such content is indeed called „comments“, whether it relates to the editorial content or to other comments, and whether the commenters form a community.

The situation is different again for actual social media, such as YouTube, Wikipedia or a traditional online forum. There, participants are allowed to create a new page, which makes it much more likely that participants will relate to other participants in their posts. This fosters community building. Insofar as there is any significant editorial content at all in such a medium, UGC doesn’t just enrich it: UGC is its main focus.

Another challenge is categorizing social media into groups. Common categorizations of social media have formed historically-randomly. Moreover, as the media landscape changes, so does the categorization of social media. For example, virtual worlds such as Second Life were hardly included in the literature after 2007.

Relevant to distinguishing wikis from other social media is how the relationship between content and creator is presented. Contributions on Facebook or Twitter or in a forum are identified by name and graphically separated from each other. A wiki, on the other hand, is about the production and distribution of communal content (see below).

It is worth mentioning here a widely used functional approach according to Jan Schmidt. According to this, social media support three services:

  • „Making aspects of oneself accessible“ he calls identity management.
  • „Maintaining existing social relationships or establishing new ones“ is relationship management.
  • „Routines and expectations that affect the reception of information“ are called information management.

These three functions each require different media competencies on the part of those involved, for example in assessing content or profiles on a contact platform (Schmidt 2008: 23/24, 35). Depending on the group of social media or, even better, on the individual medium, it would then have to be determined which management and which actions are of primary importance.

In the case of Wikipedia, it is probably indisputable that information management is the most important function. By contrast, someone who posts a personal contribution on a „network platform“ such as Facebook is primarily concerned with highlighting his own identity and cultivating relationships. Compared to other social media, Wikipedia has another layer of complexity because of the content production (Miquel de Ribé 2016: 39). According to Van de Belt, wikis have strong collaborative writing elements and weak conversational elements, while Twitter is the opposite (2015: 93, 101).

A.2.2 The nature and characteristics of wikis

Wikis differ from other social media because participants can, are allowed to, and should change the entire content of a page – including content that someone else has added. In this way, not just a collection of many individual contributions can emerge, but content that is actually communal. Other social media may allow or encourage insular or weak collaboration, i.e., a shared contribution in which people create their own content side by side or give each other feedback. A typical feature of wikis is the possibility of strong collaboration, in which participants also modify other people’s content on an equal footing (see Section E.2.3).

An American computer scientist, Ward Cunningham, is considered to be the inventor of wikis. In 1995, he developed a website that could be edited easily and quickly. He was working in software development at the time and was dissatisfied with the communication on mailing lists (Cummings 2008: 3). A wiki, in his words, is „a composition system; it’s a discussion medium; it’s a repository; it’s a mail system; it’s a tool for collaboration. We don’t know quite what it is, but we do know it’s a fun way to communicate asynchronously across the network.“ (ContentCreationWiki/Welcome Visitors 2020)

Cunningham came up with the name by accident: on a vacation to Hawaii, he saw a bus with „Wiki Wiki“ written on it. This means „quick-quick“ in Hawaiian. The word „wiki“ appealed to him because it was unconventional and emphasized rapid editing without preconceived concepts (Pscheida 2010: 351). Cunningham wrote on a mailing list in those days: One should think of his new tool as a kind of moderated mailing list, where each participant can be a moderator and everything is archived (Cummings 2008: 5). For a definition, Cunningham’s remarks are at best an initial starting point. The vagueness prevailed at the time, as if the wiki had yet to find its usefulness.

In the literature on social media and wikis, one finds a number of more or less detailed definitions. Depending on their own research interests, authors sometimes refer to a wiki concept 21 and sometimes to the wiki as a technical medium, as a concrete application in the browser. 22 Some authors introduce the definition by referring to the people involved and their interaction, 23 others rather start from the emerging product, the content as hypertext. 24

In most cases, however, the authors cover several of these elements; 25 in general, the similarities outweigh the differences. Wikis are sometimes presented as a website and sometimes as the concept of a website, sometimes the software used is meant. This can be easily clarified conceptually: A specific website is a concrete wiki or single wiki. A concept for an already existing or yet to be established website according to certain criteria is a wiki concept. A software that meets the requirements of a wiki is a wiki software.

Particularly the older literature lists some features as wiki-typical, which in retrospect lose their specialty. For example, it was considered worth mentioning that a wiki can be edited as a website directly in the browser without having to install a program on one’s own computer. Generally, people praised the simplicity of editing, for which they did not need to know HTML, the complicated markup language of the Internet, but only a very reduced variant, the wiki code (see Section A.4.5). 26

Nowadays, however, most people who publish something on the Internet no longer need HTML knowledge (and hardly did before). And whether editing a website, or more specifically a wiki, is „easy“ depends on many factors – such as what kind of content is being sought. Petko points out that in general, every new widely used service on the Internet influences people’s usage habits, that usability always has to be redefined (Petko 2014: 50). A defining characteristic for wikis can hardly be constructed from simplicity, otherwise, strictly speaking, one would have to deny Wikipedia being a wiki, should it turn out that it is not „easy“ to edit.

The literature cites a number of other features as typical of wikis. Often, on closer inspection, they turn out to be ill-suited to distinguish wikis from other websites or social media. Otherwise, the characteristic would hastily exclude many wikis by definition:

  • Linking: many authors mention linking and cross-linking content or pages in the wiki. In this way, a hypertext can be created. 27 However, linking is widespread on the Internet.
  • Versioning: Modern wiki pages preserve the earlier versions of the page and thus the earlier content. This makes it possible to trace who is responsible for the content. However, there were and are wikis without versioning (see Section A.4.3).
  • Versioning: Modern wiki pages preserve the earlier versions of the page and thus the earlier content. This makes it possible to trace who is responsible for the content. However, there were and are wikis without versioning (see Section A.4.3).
  • Openness: A radically open wiki would have to allow any Internet user to edit pages in the technical dimension, tolerate any content in the cultural dimension, and any behavior in the social dimension. However, such openness has probably not been realized anywhere. Some wikis, such as corporate wikis, are explicitly closed and non-public (see Section A.3.2).
  • Self-determination: If one tries to explain why volunteers participate in wikis, then self-determination seems to be the decisive motive. Nevertheless, wiki modifiers must communicate with their co-modifiers and abide by the law and rules. In general, self-determination in corporate wikis and in learning wikis in schools and universities is likely to be severely limited anyway (see sections B.3.2 and B.3.3).

The central function of a wiki is indisputably to work together on collaborative, community content. Features for a wiki definition (see Section A.2.3) should therefore be measured by whether they promote collaboration. In this book, the features presented as such are:

  • the communality of content (see Section E.1.4), such that content can be edited by more than one person (technical dimension), is allowed to be edited by more than one person (social dimension), and should be edited by more than one person (cultural dimension, in the sense that the content is suitable for collaboration);
  • the separation of content into main content and subsidiary content (see Section D.2.1), that is, into the main content that is of real interest to recipients and into subsidiary content such as rules pages, discussion pages, etc., that support the production of main content;
  • and the principle of unicality (see Section D.2.4), according to which a content item should be treated only once in the wiki.

Further functions and features have been omitted here in order not to overload the definition with details. However, this does not mean that further functions and features cannot be highlighted depending on one’s own research interest or context of application. In addition, the Internet, including the wiki landscape, continues to develop and then makes it necessary to adapt the definition.

A.2.3 Definition

The functions and characteristics discussed so far lead to the following attempt at a definition of wikis:

  • A wiki is a medium for the production and reception of collaborative content. Content is collaborative if it can, may, and should be created and modified by more than one person.
  • Content is separated into the wiki into main content and the subsidiary content; the latter is used to communicate about the main content and the wiki.
  • A wiki has a macro structure that allows only one segment on one and the same topic (principle of unicality).

The definition deliberately excludes multiple media or websites or applications. No wikis, even if they use wiki-suitable software, are installations to which only a single person has access. Excluded are publishing-only platforms or distribution media (such as blogs) where content is not collaboratively edited. Also excluded are collaborative platforms (such as a digital workspace) whose results are published or consumed elsewhere.

The separation of main content and subsidiary content is important so that the platform actually enables collaboration. The subsidiary content is where rules are established, social relationships are maintained, and content and behaviors are discussed. These details were not explicitly included in the definition above so as not to make the definition too narrow. The principle of unicality also serves to promote collaboration: it prevents the parallel existence of different segments from different participants on the same topic. Such a co-existence would not be in the spirit of collaboration (see Section D.2.4).

Apart from that, a system to be called a wiki must meet at least two requirements: It must, first, allow at least two different people access to edit it. In principle, a single person cannot collaborate with himself, because there is then no counterpart to introduce his own dissenting opinions and to demand negotiation. Only when two people can edit a wiki content is it potentially collaborative. This is how a platform for the production of collaborative content is created.

In addition to these two people, second, there must be at least one other person who has access to at least receiving the wiki content. Without this third person, there may be collaborative content. But only through a third person who has not collaborated on this content, the wiki also becomes a platform for the distribution of collaborative content.

Consequently, the smallest conceivable wiki would be a system that is open (editable) to at least two people and public (viewable) to a total of at least three people. In addition, there must be a main content, however rudimentary, that can be edited by more than one person , regardless of whether it has already been edited by a second person .

An example will further clarify the difference between a mere collaboration platform and a wiki. Google Docs is a platform provided by Google for individuals and organizations to edit pages in a dedicated space. This platform is normally not considered a wiki. But would it be usable as a wiki?

Suppose in a company, both the supervisor and one of her employees are editing Google Docs to create a document. The supervisor has written the text and shared it with the employee. Both communicate via email and by phone about the text. The supervisor wants the employee to read the text and fix minor issues such as typos immediately, but only suggest more extensive changes to her via email. After a final review by the supervisor, the text is published elsewhere, for example in a newsletter.

According to the above definition, this would not be considered a wiki: There is main content, but no subsidiary content, for example, with rules to refer to. The participants do not communicate via the wiki and the recipients are missing. However, Google Docs could very well be used for a wiki: There would have to be another Google page with subsidiary content, and the Google page with main content would have to be unlocked for future recipients.

So Google Docs, WordPress, Microsoft Word, Dropbox, and other applications like Etherpad certainly have features that enable collaboration. One can speak with some justification of wiki functions or a wiki functionality (Mayer 2013: 45). So pages in Google Docs, etc., do not automatically constitute a wiki – but this is equally true for pages using MediaWiki software, a widely used wiki software. The decisive factor is how the software is used.

A.2.4 Wiki types

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to define wikis is that the term wiki is used for so many different websites. For this reason, attempts have often been made to divide wikis into types in order to make it easier to make general statements at least about the individual types of wikis. These attempts refer to certain characteristics of a wiki, such as openness, or to the place or purpose of use. This book also uses a typology based on the wiki model.

The literature already lists many groups of wikis that have been formed on the basis of their topic or place of use (see Table 4).

These groups or their names are not always unambiguous. Schools and universities, for example, operate different types of wikis:

  • The first group, the closed, non-public „school wikis“ or „seminar wikis“, are actual learning platforms for use mostly in a manageable learning group. For example, „Ortho & Graf“ at the University of Duisburg-Essen is used to promote competences in spelling (Beißwenger/Meyer 2020).
  • A second group includes closed-public wikis, where teaching materials can be downloaded or also some results of the learners are presented. One example is the RMG Wiki of the Regiomontanus-Gymnasium Haßfurt (hosted by ZUM; RMG Wiki/Hauptseite 2020).
  • A third group is made up of closed-public wikis that serve as normal websites with which the institution presents itself or provides practical information. One example is the wiki studiger at the Technical University of Dortmund. This „information platform for students of German Studies in Dortmund“ with information about scheduled seminars, exams and lecturers has an editorial team, but can also be edited by lecturers (Studiger/Hauptseite 2020). In addition to such wikis, there are often „classic“ websites that look more official.

One can ask not only about the institutional connection, but also about many other characteristics: is the wiki used commercially, is communication strongly synchronous, where does the motivation of the modificients [contributors, editors; note of the translator] come from (are the modificients „self-determined“ or „externally controlled“; Bremer 2012: 96), etc. Table 5 shows dichotomies or juxtapositions of relevant characteristics. The characteristics in the left column largely result in a wiki like Wikipedia: for example, it is open and non-profit. At least many of the features in the right-hand column are typical of a corporate wiki, such as closed and commercial. As a consequence, one could formulate two ideal types, the wikis modelled on Wikipedia and the corporate wikis.

Such a dichotomy is often found in the literature. Schmalz has already suggested talking about network wikis and project wikis. The network wikis are open, while project wikis are socially and thematically closed. Project wikis are used by an already existing group to achieve a usually concrete goal. Once achieved, the wiki activity ends (Schmalz 2007: 6/7). In Ebersbach/Glaser/Heigl (2016: 41/42) the two types are called public wiki and corporate wiki.

Moskaliuk distinguishes between self-directed wikis (such as Wikipedia) and externally controlled ones. In the case of self-directed wikis with volunteers, the „psychosocial principles“ established by Moskaliuk apply, namely openness, flat hierarchies, self-organisation, self-determination, interest and personal relevance as well as diversity (heterogeneity) of the community. A wiki, on the other hand, is „an internal project wiki for a small number of users“. The principles for this are: closed group, participation as a duty, homogeneous expertise, organisational hierarchy, predefined workflow (Moskaliuk 2008: 22).

Mayer (2013: 66/67), on the other hand, proposes a three-way division. For this purpose, he has established criteria that already appear under a different name in Table 5. The „content selection criteria (i.e. what belongs in the wiki)“ refers, for example, to the scope, i.e. the thematic range (see section D.3.2). Mayer defines the three types as follows:

  • An internet wiki is openly accessible, membership is „self-selective“. The goal is a „product“ or the „creation of a project“. The desired content results from the „topic of the wiki“. The wiki is usually intended for the long term.
  • An organisational wiki, on the other hand, is limited to a group or an internal organisational public. Membership results from belonging to the organisation in question. The wiki is a „tool (for org. processes/knowledge management)“. The desired contents result from the „tasks/knowledge processes of the org“. As a rule, the wiki is also designed for the long term.
  • A project wiki (or group wiki) is designed for a group and rather short-term, for the duration of the project. Mayer describes the character of use as a „wiki as a tool/as a product“. He is thinking of a learning environment for „e-learning“.

In this way, we are slowly approaching a three-way division that seems to be establishing itself in the specialist literature and more generally in the discourse on wikis. Widely accept terms, however, have have not yet become established – one could speak of (a) content wikis, (b) organisation wikis and (c) educational wikis or better: learning wikis.

It should be mentioned here, however, that the question of wiki types can also be answered in a different way than by dividing them into two or three groups: One could consider only the wikis modelled on Wikipedia (content wikis, internet wikis, public wikis) as the „real“ wikis. They best fit the characteristics that are stated in the literature as typical of wikis. Because they are open and public, they can reach an „external“ recipient base from which, in the best case, new modificients can be recruited – in the sense of the general wiki cycle (see section A.3.3).

In this view, the other two wiki types may have some wiki characteristics, but they are not wikis. The organisational wikis are accordingly digital working environments. The learning wikis are digital learning environments (learning management systems); their use can partly be interpreted as a simulation of actual wikis. For both working and learning environments, the external relationships between the participants overlap those on the platform, so that no independent community with its self-imposed rules can emerge. The subsidiary content is usually weak and the (external) recipients are missing.

A.2.5 Orientation

Another typology of wikis can be developed using the wiki model [as introduced in this book; note of the translator]. It asks for whose benefit the wiki was founded. The wiki model recognises three actors who have primary importance for a wiki: the owner, the recipients and the modificients. For the following typology, the content is also taken into account:

  • The recipient-oriented wikis like Wikipedia are platforms for the production and distribution of content. Content should serve the recipients.
  • The owner-oriented wikis, such as the corporate wikis, are digital work environments on which employees work for the owner in order to realise corporate goals.
  • The modificient-oriented wikis like the Grundschulwiki are digital learning environments, thanks to which the modificients are supposed to learn something.
  • The content-oriented wikis such as Wikimedia Commons and Wikidata have the task of collecting, curating and providing content. The content is usually not consumed on this website itself, but embedded on other websites.

The orientation or purpose of a wiki determines the other characteristics of the respective type. Now one could object: all wikis have owners, recipients and modificients, and they all produce content. Every wiki, for example, has been set up by its owner so that she can achieve her goals.

But Wikipedia is clearly a recipient-oriented wiki. The owner and the modificients want the content of Wikipedia to serve and be oriented towards the (pure) recipients. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, in 2004, coined a frequently used slogan: „Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge.“ (Wales 2004) And the rules of the German-language Wikipedia require that articles be written in such a way that they are useful to readers (Wikipedia/Artikel 2020). Recipient-oriented wikis are usually public so that they can reach as many recipients as possible.

Other wikis, however, such as corporate wikis, are owner-oriented. The wiki is there so that the employees of the company or another organisation can work together better and, for example, better manage knowledge. Ultimately, the purpose of the wiki is always to achieve the company’s goals – including making more profit. In the Wikimedia movement, the meta-wiki can be seen as owner-oriented in a way, as it is meant to help organise the movement better. Corporate wikis are usually closed and non-public, as the content often includes company internals. Many non-profit organisations, on the other hand, want to be transparent; their wikis such as Meta-Wiki or the Pirate Wiki are public.

A learning wiki in school, university or adult education is modificient-oriented. It is set up so that the modificients learn something. For example, students write fairy tale texts collectively in a wiki. They create and modify wiki pages, link them and include pictures. In this way, they expand their knowledge and skills on collaborative writing, the nature of hypertext and text-image relations. To allow learners to act and make mistakes in a protected learning environment, these wikis are often closed and non-public.

Using a content-oriented wiki (or storage wiki), content is curated. It is stored and collected, categorised and metadata tagged, discussed and made available. However, unlike the recipient-oriented wiki, it is not so much assumed that many recipients will visit the wiki to consume the content there. Typical examples from the Wikimedia movement are Wikimedia Commons, the media collection, and Wikidata, the data collection. The recipients of these wikis are primarily Wikipedia modificients and other secondary users who embed the respective content in other websites. The user interfaces are not necessarily optimised for pure recipients. The content of these wikis usually still has to be selected and processed for pure recipients.

Like in other typologies (e.g. Schmalz 2007: 6/7), mixed forms and overlaps are conceivable. Wikisource is certainly recipient-oriented, but with its static content it is also reminiscent of a content-oriented wiki such as Wikimedia Commons. The wikiHow wiki is also recipient-oriented, but its commercial character makes it to some extent owner-oriented – decisions in and for the wiki are made according to whether they contribute to the profit of the eponymous company wikiHow.

A mixed orientation is also found in the world of educational wikis and wikis for children. The Dutch Wikikids has two main goals: Children should have the opportunity to write encyclopaedic articles, and children should find information for e.g. a school report (Wikikids/Doel 2020). The first goal is modificient-oriented, the second goal is recipient-oriented. Similarly, the German Grundschulwiki claims that children write there for children, but it primarily emphasises the participatory character (Grundschulwiki/Regeln 2020). The German Klexikon, on the other hand, is explicitly a recipient-oriented wiki that wants children to find good content (Schulte/Van Dijk 2015: 35).

If a wiki or the use of a wiki does not quite fit the pattern, it may be because some modificients do not follow the official orientation of a wiki or even misuse the wiki. Some Wikipedia modificients are particularly interested in a topic and therefore produce very extensive and detailed articles that miss the needs of most Wikipedia recipients.

Another example of a deviation: A teacher lets her students create Wikipedia articles. She may ask the regular Wikipedia modificients to be considerate of the students‘ needs and not delete any of these articles, even if they violate Wikipedia rules. modificients might see this as a misappropriation of this recipient-oriented wiki in the direction of a modificient-oriented learning environment.