ThoughtStorms Wiki

Wiki is Back!

We believe 2012 is the beginning of the renaissance for wiki. Maybe you are discovering this too this year. Or maybe you were already watching for it. Or maybe you weren't fooled into thinking that wiki had ever gone away.

But I know I was fooled. Even if I didn't admit it to myself.

I found myself writing less for my wiki and more for my blogs. And I only realised that I had unconsciously given up on wiki when I saw the SmallestFederatedWiki and understood that wiki had been reinvented for the age of HTML5 and mobile tablets and the InternetOfThings.

I was surprised. But why should I have been?

I had to recallibrate some of my assumptions.

Wiki is about the speed and simplicity of working with the raw browser. And the browser is now a powerful thing. Why shouldn't wiki be multi-media? Or use gestures when they make sense? (Though we should never abandon our love of text.) Or be just plain "beautiful" in its visual design if that can be simple and standard?

Wiki is about community and thinking together. It still is. What federation does is remove the central server and its vulnerability to spam. As long as everyone can have a wiki of their own, and as long as we have the tools to synchronize when we want, the federation is as empowering as the openness of the original wiki.

Wiki is, perhaps more than anything else, about "free-er" thinking. It's HyperText in the purest sense. As both individuals and community we can use it to think using structures that make sense for us and for the problem, constrained only by our fluency in LinkLanguage. We are not constrained by a pre-ordained form of the medium.

But here there is a great novelty in the new wiki era.

In our last generation, we struggled with the tyranny of the hierarchy. With the classification system. With the long-form document. With the publishers and gatekeepers who who prevented us speaking and writing. We marvelled at the fluidity of our thinking within wiki. At the spontaneous note-making that could map the structures of our ideas with such facility. At the openness to strangers and different perspectives. In one sense, wiki was the web, distilled to its purest essence.

This next generation wiki confronts the same broad challenge but in a very different guise. Wiki is still about the ease of constructing new understanding, but we live in an age of flux. We are no longer oppressed by excessive and inflexible structure. Our problem is now the opposite : the deluge of ideas sweeping past us on our Tweet-streams and rivers of news and rapidly changing walls.

These constant flows are as unyieldingly oppressive as the gatekeepers of old. You can say nothing that isn't constrained to 140 characters or to a narrow canyon between adverts, and rolled-up with indecent haste behind a "see more" button. We are free to cast our ideas into the torrent but in reality any substance is subordinate to the structure of the page and the compulsion of the experience. The message of this medium is that nothing we say really matters. Certainly not as much as the sheer acceleration of ideas whirling past and your need to check for novelties once again.

The new wiki, then, must remain supple. But our challenge is now to coagulate meaning out of the flow. The new wiki is a refactoring tool that helps us to revisit and re-arrange as easily as simply accumulate. It must support remembering rather than forgetting, improving of existing pages rather than endlessly banal restatings.

In short, this is wiki :

  • the most elegant use of the tools available
  • to enable the most flexible structures of thought
  • to be captured and shared and used by the most open community

It's a historic mission. One which a new generation of wiki tools and ideals will continue to advance. And when you think that humans are a social, creative, tool making, information dealing animal, wiki is pretty much humanism done right.

CardiganBay is my attempt at a tool to support this manifesto. And more.