Father of Wiki Speaks Out on Community and Collaborative Development

Ward Cunningham talks about open source, collaborative development and his move from Microsoft to Eclipse.

Ward Cunningham, creator of the wiki, said the power of collaborative development has only just begun to be realized, and open-source software will continue to spur more collaboration and more innovation.

Cunningham, who is director of committer community development at the Eclipse Foundation, said open-source software will continue to grow and thrive because it enables user innovation. Cunningham will deliver a keynote address at the EclipseCon conference in Santa Clara, Calif., March 22.

"Im betting on open source being a big trend," Cunningham said, chuckling at his understatement. "And its not just because of cost, but because of end-user innovation. No end user wants to be a programmer; they just want to get their jobs done," he said. But more and more people with powerful tools and powerful languages will be able to work together to build better systems, he said.

"I think of software being a work—very much like a wiki being a work—where people see an area thats weak and they make it stronger," Cunningham said.

Of his role as a community developer at Eclipse, Cunningham said, "The important thing for us is to recognize the message that needs to be spread."

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Indeed, wiki is an example of that kind of thinking, he said. "Its a very small program but spread widely, and people find theyre writing and interacting with people differently."

A wiki is a type of Web site that enables visitors to add, remove or edit content, quickly and easily, without the need for registration.

"I had actually in the 70s worked with hypertext and it was in the 80s where HyperCard came out, an Apple product," Cunningham said. "It had graphics and a database."

HyperCard is an application program and a simple programming environment first produced by Apple Computer in 1987. It most closely resembles a database application in concept, in that it stores information, but unlike traditional database systems HyperCard is graphical, flexible and easy to modify, according to a Wikipedia description of the technology. HyperCard features an easy-to-use programming language, HyperTalk, to manipulate data and the user interface.

"On a fluke I said I want to do a project in HyperCard and it was based on irregular data, not rows and columns," Cunningham said. But he said he knew HyperCard could handle it because of its flexibility.

"So I said I could put together a little database and I made it in HyperCard," Cunningham said. "I programmed a button that would make links after the fact. And when I had that the ceiling just changed. People would come by my office and Id show them. And more people would come by and test it and put information in. And it just grew. I tried to get a network version, but that didnt work. But when the World Wide Web showed up, we were working on this pattern stuff." And Cunningham seized the opportunity to make his vision real.

"In my mind I said I know what works, and then I cooked up in a day or two, a wiki," Cunningham said. "So after I did about 25 pages, I said this is really quick. And I was going to call it QuickWeb, kind of like QuickBase. Then I remembered from my trips to Hawaii the term wikiwiki, which meant quickly, quickly. I liked that alliteration: wikiwiki Web—kind of like the worldwide Web."

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