Wiki software

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"Wiki" is a Hawaiian word meaning "fast" or "quick". The term wiki is now applied to software that facilitates development of a website that can be updated by many editors working collaboratively.

Mediawiki, the software platform underlying Wikipedia, Theosophy Wiki, and thousands of other websites, employs a simplified markup language called "wikitext", and supports some elements of HTML and Cascading Style Sheets, as well. The individual topical pages, or articles, of the wiki are interlinked to each other and to other sources in the Internet. Rules may be imposed for managing access and organizing content, so that a particular implementation of wiki may be entirely open to revision or may be limited in access to protect against vandalism by the more malicious participants in the Internet.

A pioneer of information technology, Vannevar Bush, foresaw something like a wiki for individual use, in his brilliant essay, "As We May Think", published in July, 1945:

Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, memex will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him... There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record.

Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready-made with a mesh of associative trails running through them [emphasis added], ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities[1]

Wiki software has an unlimited capacity to interlink and categorize concepts. Vannevar Bush would have appreciated the way a wiki can emulate the neural networks of the brain:

The human mind... operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain. It has other characteristics, of course; trails that are not frequently followed are prone to fade, items are not fully permanent, memory is transitory. Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.[2]

For further information about wikis, see:

Notes

  1. Vannevar Bush, "As We May Think," Atlantic Monthly (July, 1945). Available online at The Atlantic.com and at "As We May Think" in several formats.
  2. Ibid.