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But one element that adds to the veracity of wikis is that most large-scale projects, such as Wikipedia, are self-policing. Because anyone can create articles or edit existing ones, communities like Wikipedia's are committed to making articles as accurate as possible. This manifests itself though constant and continuous modifications by community members to existing articles, all in the interest of being up-to-date and accurate.
"I think mostly what it has changed is people's idea of what is possible," said Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, "because it seems like such a radical, crazy concept, and yet it seems to work pretty well. As a result, people are starting to think about what are some of the possibilities for information sharing, and what else that's cool and amazing."
Those possibilities include the use of wikis for a kind of large-scale public review that would be inconceivable through other methods. One such project involves the examination of some of the thousands of documents related to detainees held by the U.S. government at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Once finished with their pages, volunteers would post their impressions to a wiki. "We wanted the (software) to be open-source, available to everyone," said Susan Hudgens, one of the organizers of the document review project.
Of course, not all wikis have to deal with politics or disasters. Some organizations and companies are making wiki software available to the masses for the discussion of just about anything imaginable.
One example is Wikispaces, a free commercial site targeting families, schools, book clubs, wedding planners and everyone in between. The service hosts around 5,000 "spaces" on, among other subjects, family trees, Dungeons & Dragons games and the "cultures of scientific revolutions."
"We're focused on ease of use," Wikispaces co-founder Adam Frey said. "We have a lot of teachers, students, medical groups and families, people who are really nontechnical. We want to make a Web page with an edit button that is as simple to use as possible."
Cory Doctorow, a novelist and journalist who chronicles all matters digital, has found an innovative way to incorporate wikis into the creation of his novels, the text of each of which he has made publicly available under a Creative Commons license. This has allowed Doctorow to make errata pages of his books available on wikis.
"Assembling pages of errata for my editor was a pain in the ass and very hard to use comprehensibly, especially when I got thoughts from readers in no particular order," Doctorow said. "Wikis let my readers self-organize it, and that's pretty cool. My editor will ask, 'We're going back to press tomorrow, are there any changes?' Now what I say is, 'Oh, we're going back to press tomorrow, here's the URL (of the wiki).'"
Lawrence Lessig, the chairman of Creative Commons and a professor at Stanford University Law School, is also using wikis on a book project. Starting last February, he posted a digital copy of his book "Code" online and let his readers weigh in on revisions they felt were necessary for the book's second edition. "Chapter captains" were assigned to supervise updates and corrections in a process that will eventually result in the changes for the book's next edition.
Another place where wikis are taking hold is the corporate setting, where they can be effective alternatives to mass e-mailings to employees that can lead to confusing threaded discussions or clog servers with the same Word documents attached to every message. Wales said electronics retail chain Best Buy has introduced a wiki where all its 90,000 employees can share information.