I’m convinced that Ward Cunningham will go down in history as one of the greatest programmers of all time. He invented the wiki, based on an offline HyperCard system that he had developed to track ideas as they flowed through his company.
According to Cunningham (in the video above), “A wiki is collaborative software. It’s software – I made it on the web and allowed people to come to a website and create something. I think what’s really turned out is that people discovered that they can create something with other people that they don’t even know, but they come to trust and they make something that surprises all of them in terms of its value.”
He named his invention the WikiWikiWeb after he took a ride on an airport shuttle in the Honolulu airport called Wiki-Wiki:
“It was my first Hawaiian word that I learned as they were trying to direct me to the Wiki-Wiki bus between terminals. ‘Wiki’ is an Hawaiian word that means quick and so ‘Wiki-Wiki’ means very quick so (the WikiWikiWeb) is the very quick web.”
In 2011, former Wikimedia Foundation staffer Matthew Roth and I had a chance to interview Ward on camera in the Wikimedia Foundation office in San Francisco. We were in a mad dash to find inspiring stories for the 2011 Wikimedia fundraiser (out of the dozens and dozens of interviews we conducted, Ward’s would be one of the thirteen stories that made it into the fundraising campaign). Given a chance to capture a first-hand account of the very early history of wikis, we had decided to move some tables around and record the interview on video. At the time, there was no need to use his video interview for fundraising purposes, so I archived the footage and moved on.
My apologies to Ward that it’s taken so long to get his interview published. It is full of fascinating insights about the nature of online collaboration. Some excerpts:
- On anonymous editing
- “I encouraged people not to sign their words [on the wiki]. I thought: Your words, your ideas are a gift to the community and you shouldn’t be claiming credit for it, because then nobody else is going to improve it: They are going to feel it’s yours. So I discouraged that.
- I used that a lot myself. I did probably 80% of my editing anonymously, (more…)