Wiki wikipedia

Words on my Hawaiian holiday

We recently had a holiday to Hawaii, which was a big tick on the bucket list. My wife and I had spent three hours in transit at Hawaii Airport 25 years ago wishing we could have seen a bit more. Arriving in Honolulu International Airport, I noticed that the shuttle bus service between the terminals was known as the Wiki Wiki Shuttle. A little bell went off in my head reminding me somewhere that this was the origin for the modern idea of a wiki. You are familiar with the ubiquitous Wikipedia, of course, one of the main sources of information for this blog post.

I was quite pleased with myself. Returning to the wet weather of late spring in Sydney, I remembered my little epiphany and looked up the precise origin of wiki. And I was surprised just how close to the mark I was.

The meaning of wiki

Wiki, in the Polynesian language of Hawaii, means quick. And, as is the case for many languages, it is intensified by reduplication, so that wiki wiki becomes very quick or very fast. Hence why I saw a lot of minibuses around the island with it in their company names. And indeed this is how it was picked up in the computing or Internet sense.

Ward Cunningham the wiki man

The man credited with inventing the concept of the wiki for a user-editable website was Ward Cunningham. He developed the WikiWikiWeb in 1994. He installed it on his Internet domain on 25 March 1995 (by the way c2 is for Cunningham and Cunningham, husband and wife).

And by a wonderful coincidence, Cunningham came up with the name based on remembering a Honolulu Airport customer service employee suggesting he take the Wiki Wiki Shuttle bus between the airport’s terminals.

Cunningham has been quoted as saying: “I chose wiki-wiki as an alliterative substitute for ‘quick’ and thereby avoided naming this stuff quick-web.”

Debunking Cunningham’s Law

According to Steven McGeady (a US technology executive) Cunningham suggested to him in the 1980s that “the best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it’s to post the wrong answer.” McGeady dubbed this Cunningham’s Law. The law suggests that people are quicker to correct someone else’s answer than they are to answer themselves.

With some measure of irony, Cunningham denies ownership of the law. This suggests he is affirming the law by correcting someone else’s answer rather than claiming the correct answer (or something like that).