Sam Ruby decided that the way to design the next generation of Web syndication was to create a Wiki, a dynamic website that can be edited by, well, anyone, the only restriction being, er, um, in fact there aren’t any restrictions. As any fool can plainly see, this can’t possibly work, except for it sorta kinda seems to. It’s my first exposure to the world of Wiki, and it’s been a brain-bender. Herewith some impressions and deductions and a close up view of a creative explosion in action.
Energy · The energy level is amazing, awesome, I have no words to describe it. I have a job and can only check in to the Wiki two or three times per day, and every time I do there are hundreds more contributions. There are several really smart people who have apparently dropped everything and made working on this their only focus.
It reminds me of some of the really hot periods of debate in the creation of XML, between mid-1996 and late 1997. Or of my project team at Open Text when our Web Search engine started to happen, and all of a sudden we were getting 20% more hits per week, for months at a time.
Reverse Entropy · The weird thing about the Wiki work is that successive refactorings appear to produce coherent structure out of chaos via the sum of a lot of independent collective action. Which feels like it ought somehow to be a violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But there you go.
I don’t (as of yet) have the vocabulary to describe how a Wiki feels, by contrast to a mailing list or newsgroup or chat. But it’s not the same at all.
Minor Irritants · A small proportion of people are flaming assholes, something that I’ve observed to hold generally true across genders, age cohorts, and ethnic groups. In this environment they are distinguished by wholesale deletions of others’ material, major syntax redesigns without prior consultation, and other bad behavior. What surprises me is the resiliency the Wiki exhibits in the face of these predictable stresses.
In a private conversation with Sam Ruby, who is also fairly new to the heavy-Wiki experience, he speculated that this was like rugby, if we get enough people pushing in the same direction we’ll eventually move the ball in that direction.
Major Problem · In the Wiki structure, there are dozens of people who want to put things into this project, and nobody whose job is to take them out. As a result, the initial prototypes are already showing signs of bloat. If this thing is going to live up to its potential, some person or subgroup or subWiki or whatever you call it is going to have to step in and exercise some brutal triage, ripping out more or less everything that you can’t prove it won’t work without. Less is more. Every element we introduce constitutes another chance for design errors. We have prior art, we have experience, this is not a science project, we should just be writing down the minimum set of things that we have proven we can get the job done with.