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Chris Johnson
Last updated at 11:11 am UTC on 14 June 1999
Well, now, this is a trip and no mistake. I homesteaded http://www.airwindows.com quite a while ago and got a kick out of that- now suddenly there's a paradigm shift and here I am, homesteading a bit of space with my name on it on a 'swiki'. Just walking in the door and laying down my hat and making myself at home... I could be writing stories or essays or making elaborate links to my old-school site: I'm at the mercies of the physical hardware of whatever's running the swiki, and I'm subject to whatever space limitations it has (much like MUCK real estate, it's free but not infinite and not guaranteed to stay there), but this is _my_ space.

And yet it's not _my_ space in the sense that there's a door: it's the classic old MIT ITS (Incompatible Timesharing System) all over again. I wasn't around for that, but I read about it, and it was seriously food for thought- hackers working on the same computers in a community with no doors, getting along without them just fine. The common assumption is that without doors or locks, _somebody_ will run in and smash everything. In commerce without restrictions or rules, somebody _does_ typically run in and smash/take/control everything. Yet with ITS, possibly with swikis, this does not happen (at least, it was said not to happen with ITS, and it seems not to be happening with this swiki even after being slashdotted). Why?

(edit this page and make snippy remarks here! ;) )

A combination of things I suppose – there's no challenge in disrupting a swiki and no profit either. It is also a thing that a community has built together, not a single person – so wiping out a swiki is more like destroying a small town than defacing a wall. I have no idea if that sense of communal property has any inhibitive effect, but there it is. It's also hard to hate someone who's inviting you to come join them and contribute your thoughts. By the way, the "original" is Ward Cunningham's WikiWiki (thus Squeak Wiki - swiki) - take a look at his Wiki that has been online since 1994 (over 1600 pages): http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?WelcomeVisitors and be sure to look at the Swiki Swiki at http://pbl.cc.gatech.edu:8080/myswiki.1 A swiki is not without some protection – it is easy to set up general backups of the site and you also have the previous versions - and there is no "Delete page".

It might be a mechanism similar to what the ITS had- with that, there was a command to kill the whole system, and it was KILL SYSTEM (or maybe just KILL). And occasionally somebody would type it out of innocent and foolish curiosity and bring everything down, but those who knew about it tended not to do that. It was such a stupidly easy trick that few people would get a charge out of doing it- and also, ITS being so decentralized did not require a special authority figure to bring it back UP, so far as I know. Its social strength was that any of a number of hackers would be able to restore it to health after such a 'kill'.

Swikis have a similar mechanism: that 'previous versions' feature. For instance, you (yes you) could go and edit this page and rot13 everything I've said, or replace it all with names out of the telephone directory. (Didn't do it? Heh, fair enough.) It should be possible for someone who liked having actual content there, to go and revert it to the previous version. Perhaps after enough destructive changes, it would be impossible to reclaim content- as impossible as rewinding a newsspool to read last year's usenet posts. However, there's another dynamic to reckon with- who wishes to simply silence a page when they can go in and heckle the person on their own turf? On Usenet, much argument, especially pure heckling, takes the form of entire quoted messages with a single new line of heckling. On a swiki this would result in an unaltered page with a few comments added- which is the ideal situation, the most convenient for writer and reader and heckler alike.

I daresay I'm liable to be edited ruthlessly now that I've proved it's impossible ;) at any rate, my first reaction to this swiki is pretty much entirely swiki-centric, and I can't help but try to comprehend it and guess which way it will jump next. I _think_ I've figured out some of it, and it's interesting stuff. I've also added a helpful hint to the Mac download page in reference to a technical glitch I encountered and solved, and corrected a misspelled word I spotted :)

When you read a swiki that has been edited and evolved for years, who is speaking?

Weird lastminute thought-I've encountered other Chris Johnsons on the net. If another Chris Johnson typed his or her name as a 'sig' and clicked on it, they would be delivered to 'my page'... except that it would also be just as much _their_ page and they'd have as much right to it as I would. So we'd have to work out ways of being e-roommates and identfy each other by middle initials or identifying characteristics- and visitors would see a group of identically named Chrises in this location, and would have to work out other means of recognition...

I wonder if someone has used the name