While we read history, we make history.”
Though author George William Curtis lived long before the advent of
the Internet, his words ring true in a digital age where compiling
history has become a group effort.
In fact, Curtis could easily have been talking about a wiki, a form
of Web site that allows users to add and update content instantly
using their own Web browsers. Today, the most popular wiki is
Wikipedia, a massive online encyclopedia containing more than 3.2
million articles in the English version alone.
Wikis aren’t a new technology — the first one was
developed in 1995 — but they are reaching a deeper potential
for industries that choose to band together to use them.
That’s why the advent of a new wiki for the aquatics industry
is so exciting, says Margi Millunzi Web editor at Aquatics
International. “There really isn’t one giant repository
of information about the people, terms, companies and procedures
for the industry,” she explains. “So we decided to
The Aquapedia (theaquapedia.com) offers a place where information
between industry members and consumers can be freely shared. Any
company can update its own profile, provide pictures of projects,
detail its history and post information on its products.
But The Aquapedia is more than simply a free public relations
vehicle: It’s a chance for the industry to expand upon the
knowledge shared by everyone.
What’s a wiki?
The term “wiki” means “fast” in Hawaiian,
and it’s a good description of how a wiki works. Wiki pages
exist in an open forum, meaning they can be created, added to and
edited by any user. It’s common to find pages that contain
just a sentence or two. These “stubs” are created by
wikiauthors who anticipate that over time, someone else will write
in the missing information. The “stub” pages develop as
other users with expertise on that topic add new information.
“A wiki is basically three things: a tool, a process and a
culture,” explains wiki expert Peder Halseide, a
communications systems consultant based in Fort Collins, Colo.
“As a tool, a wiki is a content management system that allows
you to create and edit information easily on a Web site.
“As a process,” Halseide continues, “a wiki
allows many people to work together to edit information, add notes
and even attach media such as pictures, music or video in one
central place. And a wiki can impact the culture of a system when
the information on it achieves a critical mass. At that point,
simple information becomes knowledge.”
The Aquapedia has many features common to most wikis, along with
some that are unique to the industry. Five categories were created
to give structure to pool and spa information: People, Events,
Companies and Organizations, Legislation, and Terms and Phrases.
After creating a log-in, users can start to contribute any
Why a wiki?
The Aquapedia has the promise to be a useful tool, but only if
it’s updated by the industry as a whole. So why choose a
format that must be used industrywide?
“Our Web sites do a good job of showcasing articles, but that
doesn’t mean we have everything on every company, or
explanations that consumers might be looking for,” Millunzi
says. “We thought that if we could create a place to direct
people to the right information, they could compare and contrast,
and become better consumers.”
Some potential contributors might worry about giving away too much
information. “A wiki is by nature a self-checking
entity,” Millunzi says. “We don’t expect that
this will be a place for trade secrets. For
example, you might not post what your 2011 pool cover patterns will
be, but you might share the benefits of using vinyl liners and
Halseide agrees. “I look at a wiki as a system and, from that
perspective, there really is no competition,” he says.
“Instead of competing against people, you’re competing
with them to create something better. It’s the same
philosophy Toyota used when setting up automobile plants together
with General Motors: Both companies gained the opportunity to learn
how to improve car-making processes.”
A single authoritative industry source also can help create a more
focused message. “Once a core group starts to share, then
that community can present the voice of the industry,”
It would be a mistake to confuse a wiki with social networking, however.
“The Aquapedia wasn’t designed to be a traditional
social media platform,” Millunzi notes. “It was meant
to be a ‘Who’s Who’ of the industry — where
the major players show up and share information. If we can get
consumers to go from The Aquapedia to an industry company’s
Web site, the lasting effects will be fantastic.”
An industry win
The biggest payoff of The Aquapedia is in the instant access to
information. “A company might put its user manuals on the
wiki so they can be accessed directly by technicians and consumers,
rather than searching for them on a more traditional Web
page,” Halseide says.
The Aquapedia contains information for commercial aquatics as well
as a large part devoted to residential pool/spa terms, issues and
companies — making it a one-stop shop.
Round-table-style discussions with peers also are a feature of a
strong wiki community. Anyone can create active, instant
discussions based on any entry.
Amy E. Hamaker is head of AEH Editorial, a free-lance
editing and writing service based in Santa Clarita, Calif. She has
more than 15 years’ experience in publishing on a wide
variety of subjects, including business-to-business