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By Joy-Lyn Blake
January 29, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Web site development can be an intimidating process to nonprogrammers. And collaboration with others can also be daunting, requiring expensive server-based applications. But it doesn't have to be that way. A technology with the strange-sounding name WikiWikiWeb (or just WikiWeb) simplifies both processes.

Created in 1994 by Ward Cunningham, WikiWeb was loosely derived from HyperCard principles and is written in a language called HyperPerl. The guiding principle behind the original Web site of Kansas City, Mo.-based WikiWeb Inc. ( is that anyone can change or add to anything on a Wiki site at any time via an ordinary browser interface, making it an ideal collaborative environment.

Wiki provides an easy way to navigate files in a database. The technology is a stable platform that allows for adaptation or cloning to suit individual requirements. Wiki sites have been created using several development tools and languages. The WikiWeb is Perl-based; a clone written by Patrick Mueller was created in Rexx; and there are also Wiki engines in Python, Java, Smalltalk, Active Server Pages, Ruby, PHP and Visual Basic. Many clones have been created to support corporate or departmental intranets.

Why Wiki?

The main benefit of using Wiki is that it's not necessary for all changes to be submitted to a single intranet manager or webmaster. Those who use the site can keep it up-to-date on the fly. One implementation involves a customer support site for IBM's Component Broker product. Because pages are generated dynamically, the most current version of the file is always being served and links are automatically updated. Dynamic page-loading increases server load, but the Apache Web server with the mod_perl programming module can simultaneously support up to several hundred users.

The original Wiki site stores all pages together in one file using the Unix dbm hashed-access method. The Wiki translator accesses the database as it formats each hyperlink, which—according to the dbm documentation—can be done in two disk reads or fewer. The flexibility of this technology lets it sit on top of other databases such as Oracle, Access, Mini SQL and Revision Control System.

Wiki's formatting procedures aren't WYSIWYG, nor are they particularly intuitive. But the editing and creation commands are easy enough to master with minimal study, and they're brief enough to keep open in a second browser window for quick reference.

The basic text-formatting rules are simple:

  • Don't indent paragraphs.

  • Words wrap and fill spaces as needed.

  • Use blank lines as separators.

  • Four or more hyphens at the beginning of a line make a horizontal rule.

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