Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I spent the day learning Python and wrote a script to make a category index of my blog on my Wiki

Thanks for the help Sen!


Python is a fantastic programming language... I'm so happy I learned it before C++ and Java. Good luck.

OK, I recently went on a "What's the big deal about blogs" rant on Joi's comment pages, and now I feel the burning need to do it for Wikis.

First off there's no apostrophe required for plurals, Joi, so it's "Wikis" not "Wiki's".

Second, and this is more relevant, what's the big deal about wikis? Are we back to the ugly Lynx-surfing days? Wikis are ugly!! And I don't mean that some are ugly, they're all ugly. It's like gopherspace all over again. What's next, an Archie client? Are we going to bring back Veronica for Wikis?

What is a wiki but a publicly writable gopher or webpage? There's all this talk of revolution and wonderment, and I can't help but look at this stuff and think two things:

Am I missing something?

Haven't we been here before?

I'm not an idiot, I installed and taught myself some rudimentary perl. I can code my own HTML by hand. I run my own web and FTP servers, and I can maintain a LAN without asking for help. But Wikis are f**king obtuse!! Page after page expousing the benefits without a single actual relevant bit of information. If there was a "buy now!" link at the bottom I'd write it off as a scam, but instead the endless hype and ranting and hippy enthusiasm for revolution is followed by exactly nothing.

Is this Xanadu all over again? Granted there's actual working code here, but all I see from this side of the fence is grandiose dreams without any real function. Does anyone outside of the self-linking wiki community have any idea what's going on?

I sure as hell don't get it, there's nothing new here that I can see - of course, Wikis being so hard to freaking read makes want to give up early...

(I'm not as inflammatory as I must seem most of the time, BTW).

OK, a followup to my own nonsense...

I've discussed this with some other people, and we came to the conclusion that a wiki is basically:

A publically appendable webpage incorporating a newsposting app with a linking app and some forum properties. It's modifiable by the public which is great as long as the public doesn't find out about it. It's a wonderful new concept in the same way that a modern-day commune is a great idea: it's been done before and it's not new and it'll fail when people get involved.

Or am I still missing something?

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I used to think Wikis were ugly. I don't any more. They're fun. Once you get used to the funky punctuation, it's actually a very convenient way to take notes. For instance.
makes a 2x2 table... Yes. Geeky, but fast.

So far, I'm enjoying all of the people I'm meeting through Wikis just as I'm enjoying everyone I'm meeting through my blog. I'm learning a lot in both communities. Wikis are causing me to want to learn how to program again, which is fun.

So, I'm not predicting anything specific right now except that it's a cool too that I'm enjoying a great deal right now.

Having said that, I can IMAGINE a lot of cool applications for Wikis, but you have to change the philosophy behind it. For instance, security and logins, etc. Right now I'm trying explore Wikis the way they are.

I still think you are missing something Lawrence :-)

check out this article

Your site is flashy, but still uses text like a wiki, with one major difference, I can't edit it. (also minus the breasts)

Also you may be interested in the UnrealWiki

Best, Mark

Hey Joi, curious about your thoughts on:

"Having said that, I can IMAGINE a lot of cool applications for Wikis, but you have to change the philosophy behind it. For instance, security and logins, etc"

Well, I can see Wikis becoming a collaborative space for lots of things like multimedia, enterprise, mobile devices, etc. etc. Having said that, Wikis are cool because there are a lot of people working on them and the backends are simple. Also, there are no logins generally so things like interwiki works. When you are trying to keep things simple, it seems to me that adding features can destroy value and alienate possible developers who might help you. Also, there are a lot of creative ways people have gotten around making things complex. So my current thoughts are to be as creative as possible within the framework that the hardcore Wiki people have defined and leave experimentation on the architecture and core values around Wikis to people like SocialText who have more experience than me and who have more programming resources.

Does that make any sense?

Yes it does.

The things that I have found valuable in wiki are that many wikis have a "Use Real Name" policy and that I don't have to use a password to get in.

All though my first impulse with a wiki that I had set up for me, was to have it password protected.It ended up not being very inclusive, and really not really needed.

As for the software design end, I am clueless. I just know what I like to use and what I don't!

The UnrealWiki is the best looking wiki to date, but it still smacks of the web circa 1996. It's ugly and requires a lot of reading to encompass the page. Reading the first link mark referenced it doesn't surprise me that the concept of the Wiki is very old (1994).

So I guess my next question would be "Why are we taking this backwards step?" What's the appeal of using this backend to produce content that looks like it's a decade old?

Is this a publicly accessible 'less is more' thing, eschewing the glamour of the Flash-enabled content-lite pages for the ASCII days of yore?

I think my humble page, breasts and all, is far easier to read and navigate than any wiki page. Barring the fact that there's no reader-feedback option at all (which is a two edged sword if ever there was one, and the only reason there's no Comment ability is 'cause Coranto foolishly doesn't (yet) include that ability) I think I'd wager my page is easier to read and navigate than any wiki. Now I don't consider myself more than an amateur in most aspects of web page design, but I've been doing it for a while and I have a strong opinion about what works and what doesn't. YMMV and so on, but... And my train of thought has derailed.

Let's start over: Why is this 9-year-old technology worthwhile in this day and age? Slap a comment field on your blog, throw in a forum and a public link page and you've got a better looking equally functional page that renders the Wiki completely obsolete.

Or is a Wiki gaining acceptance because it has one backend instead of three or four? Is Laziness and Simplicity roth the aesthetic pain? ;)

A comment field, like what we are doing here is terrible!

At the end of this conversation in a wiki, one could go back and "refractor" the information, so that the signal is stronger than the noise.

Wiki is ugly, but as a lowest common denominator, it requires low bandwidth, so that scale of size problem is lessoned. (re: tragedy of the commons)

I pointed out the UnrealWiki, not to tout its fine graphic savy, but to point you to a community, that you might have interest in.

Wiki has been used for mostly software, in its public, open edit form, since 1994. (as far as I can tell)

(But when you start to notice, many, many websites use wikis in the background.)

Not until recently, last year or so, have other social wikis started to sprout.

But, it sounds like you have been online longer than I. . . ;-) Mark