(2012-07-06) Smallest Federated Wiki Motivation

Klint Finley has a fresh profile on Ward Cunningham's goals/reasons for his Smallest Federated Wiki.

*"I always felt bad that I owned all those pages," he says. The central idea of a wiki --whether it's driving Wikipedia or C2 -- is that anyone can add or edit a page, but those pages all live on servers that someone else owns and controls. Cunningham now believes that no one should have that sort of central control, so he has built something called the federated wiki.

Over the years, developers have written over 35,000 pages of content on C2, all of which reside on Cunningham's server instead of on servers controlled by the author. When you contribute to someone else's wiki, you risk losing all your changes if that site goes down. It also means you have to play by someone else's edit rules.

There's nothing stopping you from copying and pasting your contributions from a wiki, or starting your wiki if you don't like someone else's edits. But it can be hard to attract an audience. Cunningham says that in the early days of the wiki, many other people tried to start software development wikis but most of them didn't get much traction. People wanted to contribute to C2, because that's where the readers were.

Cunningham's vision is that you will have your own wiki, perhaps several wikis. When you see a page on someone else's federated wiki that you want to edit, you can click "fork," and the page is copied into your own wiki where you can edit it. The owner of the original wiki can then decide whether to merge your changes into the original page.

Readers can still find a list of forks, so even if your changes aren't accepted readers can still find your version of a page.

To run The Simplest Federated Wiki, you'll need your own web Personal Server, which Cunningham thinks is an important part of the project. Cunningham credits this philosophy to Network Startup Resource Center founder Randy Bush, who helped Cunningham set up the server that C2 ran on when it first launched in 1994... "If people don't control their own infrastructure, they get needy," he says. They're at the mercy of service providers who can disappear, impose rules that constrain creativity and/or make it difficult to backup content that you've created. "It's good to simplify things, but they shouldn't be simplified in such a way as to make the user helpless."*


  • I certainly agree more people should run their own Personal Server vs being dependent on a provider, esp of a Free service.
  • If people are forking pages all over the place, then there's no canonical version of a page. Maybe that's good, maybe that's not good.
  • If I'm forking a page to my own server, I probably just bring a link and copy over the bits of the page that I want, either as intro/summary content, or to comment on. I probably don't want to default to taking the whole page. And if I copy over a paragraph, and it gets changed at the "original", do I want my copy to automatically update via Transclusion? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Probably, my ideal would be to keep my snapshot but have some flag/alert somewhere (should it be inline to the containing page?) that there's been an update. Does Tiddly Space's tiddler model support this?
  • If I have a whole cluster of personal pages I want to reference from within another site (like C2), then I'm probably going to pick 1-2 connection-point pages over there and insert some appropriate text with a link to my page.
  • And in terms of discovering "forks" of pages, a MetaWiki (which, note, does not depend on everyone running the same WikiEngine) seems like a better approach.

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