I like wikis. I develop and maintain wiki engines (the software), and I run wikis (various sites, including this one). Whenever I dabble in new protocols like Gopher, Gemini, or Spartan, and whenever start using a particular markup language some more, I think about how one would integrate all this into a wiki.
Wikis are the simplest content management system that allows readers to write back, that allow user contributed content. They have almost no structure except for what is provided by the kind of hypertext they build upon. There is some sort of text, and it somehow links to other texts, be it via links or menus (Gopher). Everything else is undefined. Are there tags? Are there back-links? Are there menus? Categories? Headers? Footers? Sidebars? Recent Changes?
I hope there are Recent Changes, for how else would you peer review it? This is something I’ve been noticing in my Gemini-based MUSH, Ijirait. In a way, you can think of the game world as a wiki: rooms are pages, exits are links, rooms can be described (“edited”), you can move from room to room (“follow links”), and so on. When I log on, I don’t know whether anything has changed.
There are also more subtle signs. If page names are very constrained, like the old CamelCase convention, and if the people writing wiki pages know about Christopher Alexander’s concept of Pattern Language, then we can develop a kind of Link Language. Smashing words together creates concepts that are automatically linked. We start referring to these concepts, and a virtuous cycle emerges.
Another subtle sign is all that detritus. Pages age. If a group of people keeps writing pages, then it’s obvious that the ratio of writers to pages keeps sinking. Some pages must necessarily fall into disuse. Their text is outdated. If the rules rendering the pages change over time, then perhaps they still use the old markup that is no longer rendered correctly. The authors may have moved on, or their interests may have changed.
This, I think, is the natural state of a wiki, after a few years of feeding it with new pages. The new pages float on a swamp of detritus. Their links dig like roots into the depths of the old detritus, drawing support and confirmation from below, but also contradicting what has been said, bending it, changing it.
It’s probably less obvious in a site such as this one that gives itself the formal appearance of a blog. The date being part of the page name, the abandoning of CamelCase, the inability to use its pages as a Link Language… it’s pretty far removed from an old school wiki. And yet, you can think of a blog as a comet blazing through space. It keeps shedding blog posts that drift into the dark, endlessly. A long trail of diary pages being lost to the big void.
On a wiki that doesn’t quite adhere to this blog-like structure, the directionality isn’t quite as clear. There’s no obvious “comet” where new pages get written. Instead, there’s a rhizome starting somewhere on the front page, going deeper into the soil, and the hot spot changes every now and then. On a wiki such as Community Wiki, or Emacs Wiki, the focus jumps around, it all depends on who’s editing pages, on what they are interested in.
What doesn’t change, however, is that new pages are created in a very small number of hot spots. The Emacs Wiki has nearly 11,000 pages. Even if people were editing a hundred pages right now, there would still be nearly 11,000 old pages that nobody is looking at.
If you love wikis, you love this compost of decaying pages, this detritus. Old stories are but a few clicks away. You can dig into the past. It may be outdated, but it isn’t gone.
The wiki engines I actively maintain:
I’m still enjoying this. 😄