Skip to main content

Why we wiki

Posted by daniel on October 23, 2003 at 9:11 AM PDT

A wiki is a web site where every page is editable by anybody. It is a site that is easier for authors and harder for readers so what are wikis good for?

In Also in Java Today Bill Venners interviews the creator of the wiki, Ward Cunningham, in Exploring the Wiki . Ward says that "In creating wiki, I wanted to stroke that story-telling nature in all of us. Second, and perhaps most important, I wanted people who wouldn't normally author to find it comfortable authoring, so that there stood a chance of us discovering the structure of what they had to say."

Venners notes that wikis can be difficult to read and that it is not easy to get a big picture. Cunningham agrees that

because we made wiki easier for authors, we actually made it harder for readers. There is an organization there, and the organization can be improved, but it isn't highly organized. So the feeling for a reader is one of foraging in a wilderness for tidbits of information. You stumble across some great ones and you say, "This is fantastic, why doesn't somebody just make a list of all the great pieces so I don't have to look at the rest." In other words, "Why doesn't somebody organize this so I can get answers to my questions quickly?" [...]

I'm not a fan of classification. It's very difficult to come up with a classification scheme that's useful when what you're most interested in is things that don't fit in, things that you didn't expect. But some people decided that every page should carry classification.

Given that a wiki doesn't make it easy for readers, Cunningham explains why someone would take the time to stop by and read a wiki.

What you get as a wiki reader is access to people who had no voice before. The people to whom we are giving voice have a lot of instinct about what it's like to write, and ship, a computer program. Our industry honors certain traditions in its publications. If you want to contribute to a scientific journal, for example, you should be peer reviewed. Part of peer review is that you're familiar with all the other literature. And the other literature somehow that spiraled off into irrelevance. What was being written about programming didn't match what practicing programmers felt. With wiki, practicing programmers who don't have time to master the literature and get a column in a journal that's going to be read have a place where they could say things that are important to them. The wiki provides a different view.

There are many alternatives to a wiki for these on going and collaborative discussions. Cunningham talks about settings in which a wiki is and is not a good solution. He also talks about the time insensitive features of a wiki.

If you read news groups or email lists, there's the sense that the right now is what's on your position in the list. And if you get behind, it's a struggle. I didn't want there to be a chronology in wiki. If you're reading something in a wiki, I didn't want it to matter to you whether it was written a year ago, a day ago, or just a minute ago. That means that we needed some way for getting the context.

Ward Cunningham is also the inspiration for Martin Fowler's blog entry Technical Debt also linked to from our front page. Fowler explains that "doing things the quick and dirty way sets us up with a technical debt, which is similar to a financial debt. Like a financial debt, the technical debt incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development because of the quick and dirty design choice." And yet, Fowler goes on to explain, "it may be sensible to do the quick and dirty approach."

In today's featured Weblogs Greg Vaughn offers Naked Objects Exposed . Greg has been thinking about Naked Objects together with Test Driven Development. Greg makes the important point that "TDD is primarily a design tool, and secondarily a testing method". He comes to a similar conclusion with Naked Objects and sees "it as primarily a design and requirements gathering tool, and secondarily a UI framework."

Today's other two blog entries are announcements. James Todd's Keeping it Real looks ahead to the next JXTA town hall meeting while Felipe Leme makes sure that you know that JDK 1.4.2_02 released . He also points to the releases of the JWSDP and JDeveloper.

In Projects and Communities , the Java Communications community features their Open IM project. Download the latest release of this "java implementation of Jabber(tm)/XMPP instant messaging server." Also the JXTA community is also featuring an announcement of their upcoming Town Hall meeting.

In today's News Headlines :

Registered users can submit news items for the href=""> News Page using our
news submission form.
All submissions go through an editorial review by news director Steve
Mallet before being posted to the site. You can also subscribe to the href=""> News RSS

Current and upcoming Java Events:

Registered users can submit event listings for the href=""> Events Page using our href=""> events submission form.
All submissions go through an editorial review before being posted to the

This blog is delivered weekdays as the href="">Java Today RSS
feed. Once this page is no longer featured as the front page of href=""> Java Today it will be archived at href=""> You can
access other past issues in the href=""> Archive.