Ward Cunningham knows about wikis. He created the world’s first, which he dubbed the “WikiWikiWeb”, and literally wrote the book on what a wiki is and how it works. And he was the first to apply the word “wiki” to a new kind of web authoring and construction – one that emphasized speed, ease and collaboration.
(The first question Cunningham often gets is “what does ‘wiki’ even mean?” Thinking back to his travels to Honolulu, he recalled taking the airport “Wiki Wiki” Shuttle, so-called from the Hawaiian word “wiki” meaning quick. “I chose wiki-wiki as an alliterative substitute for ‘quick’ and thereby avoided naming this stuff quick-web,” he notes on his website.)
“It’s more about the web than the quick,” says Cunningham. “You can forage for the information you want, not take the information you’re given.”
A wiki, says Cunningham, is essentially a website that provides content that’s highly linked and easily editable to meet users’ varied needs. Unlike many documents or sites that are highly structured and edited by a few, a wiki at its core is much looser, allowing users to quickly scan for what they want, link to sources for data, and contribute where they can.
Ultimately, a wiki must be useful. User contribution, says Cunningham, is important, but not mandatory.
“If you want to figure out what the price of bread should be, well you just sell a lot of bread and just see what the average that people are willing to pay is. So everyone who buys a loaf of bread gets a little vote on what the price of bread should be…I think what is going on in a wiki is the right people get together and find the pieces of information they need to put together, to tell the story they couldn’t tell alone.”