- A word from our sponsors -
wiki, website that can be modified or contributed to by users. Wikis can be dated to 1995, when American computer programmer Ward Cunningham created a new collaborative technology for organizing information on websites. Using a Hawaiian term meaning “quick,” he called this new software WikiWikiWeb, attracted by its alliteration and also by its matching abbreviation (WWW).
Wikis were inspired in part by Apple’s HyperCard program, which allowed users to create virtual “card stacks” of information with a host of connections, or links, among the various cards. HyperCard in turn drew upon an idea suggested by Vannevar Bush in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly article “As We May Think.” There Bush envisioned the memex, a machine that would allow readers to annotate and create links between articles and books recorded on microfilm. HyperCard’s “stacks” implemented a version of Bush’s vision, but the program relied upon the user to create both the text and the links. For example, one might take a musical score of a symphony and annotate different sections with different cards linked together.
Bush also had imagined that memex users might share what he called “trails,” a record of their individual travels through a textual universe. Cunningham’s wiki software expanded this idea by allowing users to comment on and change one another’s text. Perhaps the best-known use of wiki software is Wikipedia, an online encyclopaedia using the model of open-source software development. Individuals write articles and post them on Wikipedia, and these articles are then open for vetting and editing by the community of Wikipedia readers, rather than by a single editor and fact-checker. Just as open-source software—such as the Linux operating system and the Firefox Web browser—has been developed by nonprofit communities, so too is Wikipedia a nonprofit effort.