Ward Cunningham: Ten Years (and more)

West Coast Wiki Conference 10
Eugene Kim announced that Ward Cunningham was our opening keynote speaker for the West Coast WIki Conference. Only after the talk did he mention that Ward invented the wiki (1995) and is a prime mover in both the Agile Software Movement and Software Patterns.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10
The wiki was born in an age when the people who were writing software knew a whole lot more about writing software than the academics. Getting programmers to narrate their work and talk about the way software is written changed the software development process. (There are of course direct parallels to how people learn their work in general.)
West Coast Wiki Conference 10

You don’t own your own text. That’s the foundation here.

Think how liberating this one idea is. It says collaboration is okay; it’s the norm. It makes everyone a potential participant. It recognizes that there’s always room for improvement and encourages the user to do it.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10
Ward began playing with a Hypercard stack at Tektronix in 1987 that foreshadowed the capability build into wikis. He incorporated the concept put forward by Vannevar Bush that people should be able to edit one another’s text.
West Coast Wiki Conference 10

The Hypercard app ran on Ward’s desktop machine — there were no networks at the time. People would take turns sitting at Ward’s desk entering information on people, projects, and ideas.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

Using CamelCase links, a wiki can show conceptual interconnections. (CamelCase? “Wikipedia took off when they got rid of that one.”).
West Coast Wiki Conference 10

Wiki Design Principles describe how wikis work.

  • Simple – easier to use than abuse. A wiki that reinvents HTML markup ([b]bold[/b], for example) has lost the path!
  • Open – Should a page be found to be incomplete or poorly organized, any reader can edit it as they see fit.
  • Incremental – Pages can cite other pages, including pages that have not been written yet.
  • Organic – The structure and text content of the site are open to editing and evolution.
  • Mundane – A small number of (irregular) text conventions will provide access to the most useful page markup.
  • Universal – The mechanisms of editing and organizing are the same as those of writing, so that any writer is automatically an editor and organizer.
  • Overt – The formatted (and printed) output will suggest the input required to reproduce it.
  • Unified – Page names will be drawn from a flat space so that no additional context is required to interpret them.
  • Precise – Pages will be titled with sufficient precision to avoid most name clashes, typically by forming noun phrases.
  • Tolerant – Interpretable (even if undesirable) behavior is preferred to error messages.
  • Observable – Activity within the site can be watched and reviewed by any other visitor to the site.
  • Convergent – Duplication can be discouraged or removed by finding and citing similar or related content.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10
Things build upon one another in the structure of the wiki.

I am taken by the add-ons to Ward’s basic principles, although he says they hold little interest to him.

  • Trust – This is the most important thing in a wiki. Trust the people, trust the process, enable trust-building. Everyone controls and checks the content. Wiki relies on the assumption that most readers have good intentions. But see: AssumeGoodFaithLimitations
  • Fun – Everybody can contribute; nobody has to.
  • Sharing – of information, knowledge, experience, ideas, views…

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

“Publish, then polish.” Follow the principles of Wabi-Sabi: something can be valuable – and beautiful – even when it is not complete.

To Ward, the whole internet was made to do wikis. They just left out the config file. Things turned geeky for a while. We were watching streams of code on screen.

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

Ward believes in the transformative power of video. Let’s take a paragraph from Wikipedia, this one about the Louisiana Gulf oil spill. Imbed videos taken from different points of view.



We need to establish a video vocabulary parallel to the vocabulary used by programmers and engineers.

Co-creation is coming. Manipulatable video. Video mash-ups.
West Coast Wiki Conference 10

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

West Coast Wiki Conference 10

The youngest among us asked whether the video format might not impede innovation. After all, we can’t all trek down to Louisiana to shoot video.

Well, it might hold some things back but that’s the current exploration, too: figuring out how to slice, dice, and mash-up video elements.

Ward appears to be a great guy. Not only is he a software whiz of the first order, the projects he describes empower people to take part, to grow, to co-create… all of the things we strive to put into a workscape.

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