2020-06-15 Why Wiki‽

Indeed, why? I’m writing this because I want a wiki and I’m interested in Gemini and I’ve read some things on the mailing list that make me think other people don’t love wiki as much as I do. (Start with Sean Conner’s post if you’re interested. Some quotes from that thread can be found in the comments on 2020-06-04 Gemini Upload.)

Some people think that we should all self-host the things we write. This is a good idea. We don’t want to depend on faceless corporations that can take away our online presence on a whim.

At the same time, however, not all of us have the means to self-host. Some of us have no time, because system administration takes time to learn, takes time to practice, takes time to do. Some of us lack the know-how. We can write, and we want to write, but we can’t host. Perhaps we don’t have the money to pay for a host. Or we don’t have the energy or the time to look for the cheapest host out there. Perhaps we want to write but we feel comfortable with our phones and so we want to write on our phones. It’s like the best camera being the one you have on you. The best writing implement is the one you have on you. These days, it might be your phone.

Also, let us not forget that not every service is rendered by a faceless corporation. We can get service from cooperatives, from neighbours, from family members, from friends, from schools, from libraries, from friends we’ve made online. To design solutions that make it hard for friends to help each other, we design for the cold alienation of modern capitalism. We need to grow networks and help each other. Sure, we can write to each other. But we can also host each other. Like all these pubnix systems out there, we’re sharing a resource. Why should sharing shell access be any different from sharing text hosting?

And finally, let’s not forget that self-hosting means self-writing. But what if you’re collaborating? Of course, we could pull in yet another dependency: use git, or some other distributed version control system! Or how about the systems we us allow us to collaborate naturally, because they are inherently designed to do so? I share Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original vision for a read-write web that Sean Conner dug up in RFC-1945, where we read that the POST method can be used for the “Annotation of existing resources” and for “Posting a message to a bulletin board, newsgroup, mailing list, or similar group of articles”, and that “the PUT method requests that the enclosed entity be stored” and that “the origin server can create the resource”. Yes! That’s exactly it.

And wikis were the big break through: we had browsers, we had forms, and that was it. But Ward Cunningham wrote the WikiWikiWeb, a website with pages that are quickly editable by users. The barrier to entry was extremely low.

Sure, it also attracted vandalism and spam, and like email, and like the fediverse, the technology is in a constant arms race to block and ban miscreants. But it still works and barriers to entry can still be low. We can all come together under a banner, be it the biggest encyclopedia known to humankind, or wikis on Star Wars, or the Malazan Empire of the Fallen, or Emacs, or any other kind of topic, really, and we can collaborate. It’s the simplest collaboration platform that works. You write some text. I fix mistakes. You make additions. I reorganise. You split it up. I link it. The hypertext grows without necessary “ownership” of pages.

The effort required to maintain a wiki is worth it, to me, because we have a viable alternative to the isolation of self-hosting, and the surrender to value-extracting corporations. Doing things together, achieving things together, is important to teach the new generation of people coming online, it is important to teach ourselves that resistance is not futile, resistance is not a struggle, resistance to the machine is the simple act of having fun and building things together.



A vision for Gemini (that doesn’t focus on wikis) by Solderpunk.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-16 21:27 UTC

Dunno, nowadays even large, popular wikis I see are being overrun by spam, or at least spambot accounts. Edits become rare. Discussions even more so. The whole point of a wiki is to enable communities, otherwise there are much better ways; and the community spirit has largely been lost in most places.

But I wrote all that before. Possibly even here. And at least with wikis I experienced that community spirit for a while; with shell accounts, not so much. Got to try again sometime.

A better question may be what exactly you’re inviting people to build with you. Because they are still coming together often enough. But they’re doing that on software forges, and on Neocities, and on forums. And I think what makes all of those different is that you can fork a project and submit pull requests, or quote other people and link to their posts (you can do that on any ordinary blog farm, too – oh look, another form of online community), until ownership begins to blur... but in an organic way. You can still say, “okay, by now I’ve crossed from my backyard into my neighbor’s”.

Guess that would be a village, then.

Felix 2020-06-17 15:29 UTC

Sure, and I understand those activities as well. All the RPG blogging goes there. People post new ideas, other people comment on it, or pick up on it using their own blogs, incorporate ideas into their own products, it’s true. And yet... I see the problem in the Emacs World. I’m depending on somebody like Sacha Chua to understand what’s going on. There are so many packages being posted, blog posts, and on and on. I guess I miss that feeling when people used Emacs Wiki to drop their half-finished stuff. But now we have MELPA and it’s all git, and what can I say, I feel the isolation of capitalism. Everything belongs to somebody, everybody is the king of their garden, all the exchanges are carefully gatekept, transactional, I send you mail, you accept merge requests, and so on.

I might be alone in this, but I still want that fluidity. I still want that lack of ownership, that building together, that communal aspect.

And in really small ways, it works: Campaign Wiki is where RPG groups can create their own wikis, just for them, an audience of three or four or five, and that makes them happy. It makes me happy, even if my players don’t write a lot – hardly anything, to be honest. But this is how I can have a quick and easy website that works with the browser as it’s only interface.

I really like that aspect, too. I’m not sure how many of the other authors (few as there are) would remain if they had to register by requesting a client certificate and got shell access, or a sftp account, or whatever one uses these days for sites like Neocities.

To me, these are all inferior solutions to just using wikis.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-17 15:41 UTC

So people wanting credit for their work is capitalism now? Artists wanting attribution? Writers wanting to own their words (and others to own their words as well)? Sure, we have a bit of a problem with capitalism too, as another friend of mine pointed out some months ago: this idea that everything we do, and every waking moment we have, should be monetized. But that’s a different problem.

People need and want their own little corners, and the ability to set boundaries, however blurry and permeable. And they prove it by flocking to those kinds of online media that provide.

Felix 2020-06-17 16:19 UTC

Sure. But at the same time, I also want the alternative. Let those people do what they want. I also have this blog, which is “mine”, and the software I maintain, and so on. What I called the “isolation of capitalism” is something different. It’s the feeling when every commons is privatised, all the land is enclosed, and every project has one benevolent dictator. I want the alternatives, too. I want cooperatives, associations, gaming groups, spontaneous collaboration, anonymous contributions. I want them on top of everything else.

– Alex Schroeder 2020-06-17 20:45 UTC

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