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Wiki Inventor Sticks a Fork in His Baby

•, By Klint Finley

But there is one thing about the wiki that he regrets. “I always felt bad that I owned all those pages,” he says. The central idea of a wiki — whether it’s driving Wikipedia or C2 — is that anyone can add or edit a page, but those pages all live on servers that someone else owns and controls. Cunningham now believes that no one should have that sort of central control, so he has built something called the federated wiki.

This new creation taps into the communal ethos fostered by GitHub, a place where software developers can not only collaborate on software projects but also instantly “fork” these projects, spawning entirely new collaborations.

Over the years, developers have written over 35,000 pages of content on C2, all of which reside on Cunningham’s server instead of on servers controlled by the author. When you contribute to someone else’s wiki, you risk losing all your changes if that site goes down. It also means you have to play by someone else’s edit rules.

There’s nothing stopping you from copying and pasting your contributions from a wiki, or starting your wiki if you don’t like someone else’s edits. But it can be hard to attract an audience. Cunningham says that in the early days of the wiki, many other people tried to start software development wikis but most of them didn’t get much traction. People wanted to contribute to C2, because that’s where the readers were.

The federated wiki is an attempt to solve these problems. As a starting point, he has built a new piece of software — dubbed The Smallest Federated Wiki — to demonstrate the concept. The radical idea of the wiki was to put an edit button on every page. The radical idea of the federated wiki is to put a “fork” button on every page. 

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