The Montana History Wiki is an interesting experiment in digital history. Established by the Montana Historical Society Research Center, the purpose of the wiki is to "assist researchers in finding the best resource for their projects or topics." There wiki is pretty bare right now but does have some valuable resources, such as a limited number of subject guides to Montana history (American Indians are not one of the subjects--tsk tsk) and a place for the Vertical File Index to the Montana Historical Society reference room--though this part of the wiki is empty as yet.
What, you may ask, is a wiki? According to Wikipedia (who should know): "A wiki is a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone with access to it. Ward Cunningham, developer of the first wiki WikiWikiWeb, originally described it as 'the simplest online database that could possibly work'." A wiki is an online document, or series of documents, that anyone with access may change and edit. It is one of those collaborative web applications that are sometimes called "Web 2.0" applications.
It is easy to see how useful this could be for researchers. If I went to the MHS looking for material for my research on Edward Curtis, and discovered that most of their material was duplicated at the Washington Historical Society, I could make a note of this on the MHS wiki. Subject bibliographies are another promising wiki application, where users could add to and annotate a bibliography concerning, say, tourism in Montana.
Wikis, especially Wikipedia, are controversial in the academy. The fact that anyone can create a Wikipedia acount then create new entries or change existing ones makes the entire project suspect according to some. What is just as bothersome is the fact that our students use Wikipedia anyway, all the time. A 2006 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "Can Wikipedia Ever Make the Grade?" (Google cache of article) seemed to answer its own questions with a "no." Other scholars, including this one, think Wikipedia has a place along other encyclopedias as a sometimes useful starting point for undergraduate research and a place to look up forgotten facts.
Like any collaborative project, a wiki is only as good as it collaborators, and for a project like the Montana History wiki to be useful it will require a lot of good collaborators. I wonder if the MHS wiki will attract large enough a community to make it work. I also wonder why the MHS did not simply incorporate what they wanted to do into the existing History of Montana pages at Wikipedia (which frankly could use a little scholarly attention.)
[Note: Here is a site about the pros and cons of presenting information in a wiki format. It is of course itself a wiki!]