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Happy Birthday to the Wiki!

The first wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was created 14 years ago today, by Ward Cunningham. Since then, the wiki has become one of the most widely deployed collaboration tools available. One might even call the wiki the catalyst of the Social Software movement.

Why is the wiki so popular? There are several reasons, including ease of use, structured navigation, and the ability to track changes to wiki pages and roll back to previous versions. The democratic nature of the format, in which anyone who has access can edit the wiki, is undoubtedly a major contributor to its success as well.

The primary reason for the wiki’s success is its flexibility. Wikis have been used for everything from collaboratively authoring a document, to managing a project, to establishing a corporate knowledge base. We are seeing the same phenomenon today in Twitter, which is being used in ways that its creators never imagined.

So, at age 14, what has the wiki taught us? That collaboration tools should be designed for flexible, yet intuitive, use. Complexity is kryptonite to collaboration. Let’s remember that before we build and deploy enterprise collaboration software.

2 Comments

  1. Dan Keldsen

    Larry – Well, the original wiki wasn’t particularly seen as easy to use outside of the hardcore developer crowd it was originally created for.
    That’s why I can vividly recall, back at Delphi Group (a year or two after you had left), when I suggested we starting covering wikis and blogs along side ECM/WCM and “enterprise-class” content/collaboration offerings that I was laughed at heartily by my fellow analysts.
    “What a mess, who would ever use these things? What about security?”
    The wonder of disruptive innovation takes hold, and fast forward over the last 7 years. Wiki suppliers finally undertstand that most people don’t want CamelCase and secret handshakes to create content, they want a GUI that handles that fun for them.
    But I agree that what we NOW have as easy to use, flexible, has done great things for content and collaboration, breathed new life into portals (the ten year boomerang effect?), and overall, helped raise awareness around the globe for the benefits of doing ANYTHING to manage content.
    Ironically, wiki platforms these days are getting awfully complex and “massive” – the wikis of today bear little resemblance to the “as simple as possible” concept that Ward started with.

  2. Larry Hawes

    Thanks for your comment, Dan. I agree that wikis bear little resemblance today to what they were 14 years ago. Authoring has become far easier for the average user. Perhaps the biggest change, as you note, is the complexity and scale of wiki deployments. Wikis are now serving as the foundation for intranets in small companies!

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