First, this article is a really good introduction to Federated wiki, and why it could be huge.
The article is from 2014. In case the article disappears, here are 3 videos from the article that explain what all the fuss is about (7 minutes in total – well worth it).
30 years on – Fedwiki
After 30 years of discovering what wiki does in practice, the inventor of the wiki principle, Ward Cunningham, has come up with a second generation protocol and infrastructure which is fully P2P: the federated wiki (fedwiki).
Fedwiki is open and collaborative like wiki. It runs in an ordinary web browser like wiki, and is free. But its architecture is many-to-many:
Its architecture is many-to-many: many servers (which themselves are generally farms rather than single wikis), publishing content created by individual writers (each wiki has a single writer-owner), which is read by many reader-users who are also writers and curators
In fact, it’s only possible to participate by creating at least one wiki, which is automatically present in the neighborhood of other wikis. Fedwiki automatically equips the ordinary web browser with tools designed to facilitate both reading and writing, and federated adopting and re-using of the content of many other independent, federating wikis. Fedwiki is many-to-one-to-many.
Consensus engines vs a chorus of voices
Although peer-moderated and governed through a Foundation, Wikipedia has a one-to-many architecture like most of the web. Fedwiki is many-to-one-to-many.
Rather than aspiring – on a science-like model – to a centralised collection of collectively-curated authoritative sources (like Wikipedia), fedwiki offers the potential of
- ‘a chorus of voices’, in a community of publisher-sharers who read, write and borrow what they personally believe to be of value.
This approach contrasts with the tendency of centralised wikis such as Wikipedia to function as ‘consensus engines’.
The chorus develops in a neighborhood which gradually evolves as the community and the sharers become more mature, well informed and well connected. Fedwiki will never be authoritative and ‘universal’, will always remain a free association of mutually-acknowledging commoner-producers in many working contexts: a pluriverse. Pluriverse – not modernist ‘universe’ – is the shape of the commons future. This is genuinely a place of cultural evolution.
Fedwiki will always remain a pluriverse.
Fedwiki was invented in 2013 and has a long way to go before it becomes a full commons. Active curating of pooled content in neighborhoods is basic under this protocol. Enjoying of pooled content is likewise built-in. What’s not clear is how the stewarding of such commoned pools will evolve: the originating code-geek culture is anarcho-federationist rather than cooperator-mutualist.
But to draw a parallel . . if the world of ‘literature’ – published books and articles and reports – is (in principle) a cultural commons in a world of near-universal literacy (a principle that the socialist Raymond Williams, for example, worked on all his life) . . then fedwiki is likewise a potential infrastructure for a global text and data commons, in which every web-connected digital device makes every person a potential participant in an evolving, maturing, increasingly literate global chorus of voices and tools, in mutually-affiliating neighborhoods.
Stewarding in ‘the fedwikiverse’
Is an aesthetic or an ethos enough to guarantee the stewarding of a distributed digital commons?
Currently, stewarding in ‘the fedwikiverse’ operates through an ethos: of writing-for-sharing and curating-for-benefit, which fedwiki’s originating writers voluntarily operate under, and attempt to communicate . .
There is no commons ‘court’ or ‘moot’ or ‘Thing’ (parliament) in the fedwikiverse, and no means of exclusion, or retribution for harm or abuse. Whether this is strong enough to make a commons out of a collection of digital neighborhoods, and on what scale, remains to be discovered.
Watch this space. New skills, new literacies, new global-local voices, new ways of organising and of talking to one another – about everything that is of value.
Start a fedwiki or two? Get your activist collaborators to do the same.
More channels than just the wiki
Stewarding a fedwiki commons will require more channels than just the wiki. Commoners, as stewards, need to communicate, deliberate and make choices.
This implies an mix of digital means of commoning for activists, ranging from curating durable stories and resources, longer-term, to intense informal chat between enthusiasts, day-to-day. The repertoire – see Commoning social media, tools, platforms – might include:
- wiki – Curating collective memory: authoritative accounts (consensus engines), in a collective, under a protocol. Akin to open access scholarly journals.
- fedwiki – Curating personal memory: ‘best of’ and ‘work in progress’ collections (chorus of voices), and open publishing thro a P2P infrastructure.
A little similar to open access journals in scholarly publishing but without formal editorial/stewarding frameworks. More closely akin to blogging. Federated (many-to-one-to-many) but no automatic notifications.
- Loomio – Open and collaborative deliberating, on strategies and means: advertising queries across an interested global community, collecting widespread responses in a discussion thread, notifying thread-members of new comments and choices, perhaps polling or voting on options.
- chatrooms or micro-blogging (eg Riot, Mastodon) = informal P2P conversation among enthusiasts, in small doses; with followers listening in and potentially chipping in with contributions. Good for flowing chat, not great for memory.