[Home]TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded

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In the early days of the InterNet, the month of September would always bring a slew of NewBies, as a bunch of first-year undergraduates discovered their computer accounts and began to play around. They'd generally make a pain of themselves (so the old timers tell us), but by the end of the month, things would have settled down for another year.

Until...

One year things were different. Thanks to Compuserve and AOL, online communities were subject to an influx of newbies all year round. The old-timers refer to this new age as the TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded.

See also the InternetTechnologyLifeCycle.


September 1993. Before then, the internet was primarily a university thing, and in university settings, fall semester starts in September, so you had a whole freshman class getting their first networked computer access and often doing rude things with it, especially in the eyes of the Sys Admins who had to deal with it. The problem was, in 1993, you started having the WorldWideWeb, and thus there would always be an influx of new users who continue to behave in ways Sys Admins consider rude. And that influx never stopped. (It also helped give a bunch of them high paying jobs, but they don't always mention that.)

The influx is generally attributed to AOL hooking up UseNet to their service around then.


Sure, there's reasons for hating AOL and such for things like that, but I was part of a mailing list that got attacked on occasion by people taking a "how to use the internet" course in Arizona. They were assigned to join groups (not bad) and try to start conversations (bad, since learning community standards before entering was never part of the requirements). AOL is just one of many forces causing the ruin of everything good.


September's Children

Why is Wikipedia "the decay of wikidom"?

They started to advertise, which was against the implicit code of wikis not to demand wider attention. In fact, most people were "I'd post it here, but I'm afraid of Wiki being SlashDotted." It's not an outlandish claim to make. Wikipedia was the first to ask for the whole 'Net to get involved, and that changed everything.

Change does not equal decay. Ward's Wiki was arguably decaying before Wikipedia came onto the scene. Despite MeatballWiki's experience, few Wikipedia folk actually make their way into the "classical" wikis; they just create their own based on Wikipedia. -- StephenGilbert

I hope so. Maybe I only hear the bad parts. My position is that Wikipedia popularized wikis, which (coupled with the WikiLogs and the guerilla wireless networks) brought in the bloggers, and then the popular press, and then the rest of the 'Net. My evidence are the two KuroShin articles Larry wrote and the large body of popular press articles on Wikipedia. TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded is about rapid popularization, which is a contravence to LimitGrowth. WikiWiki was decaying since the end of 1999, but TheCollective of ~200 wikis that constituted the Greater Wiki Community (wikidom) of WikiWiki expats flourished until about 2002. Now they are disconnected in the sea. The dominant wiki collective at the moment is Wikipedia, followed by the guerilla wireless networks. The next might be the blog collective.

Furthermore, there are many people in Wikipedia who are pushing heavily for expanded, exploded growth. Discussing this with many Wikipedians, they seem rather convinced this is the only measure of success, whereas most other wikis at least from before were mostly afraid of rapid growth which is why we had a tacit agreement not to advertise since we were all afraid wikis were too fragile for the wider 'Net. (And turns out that they are.)

I'm open to the possibility that the decay was partially my fault, but that would require the premise that I played a pivotal role in holding the community together. But Meatball's growth is now out of my hands as it's been growing steadily even after I stopped building the community, so that is a significant change for us. I imagine the whole of wikidom is similarly experiencing uncontrolled growth over all.

I don't want to blame Wikipedia for being Wikipedia, but for the rest of us who have to react to the sea change to our communities, we need to understand what is going on in our world. It would be like a Wiki:DeadMooseOnTheTable if we did not acknowledge that WikiPedia is a huge and significant force amongst all the wikis on the 'Net. -- SunirShah

Aw c'mon. wikidom is good usenet now that everyone has their own servers and broadband has replaced the paradigm of good access to local and poor access to far away, which is what usenet was a fix for. With equal access to far away as local, the network really is the computer and Java is a place and a tesla coil would make a good hat, especially if you could turn it on on the subway. Peace out.

TheSeptemberThatNeverEnded was an constant influx of newbies directly into UseNet. Likewise, the DotCom boom is a child of September because the web was directly filled with commercial sites, overrunning the geeky and largely technical information sites that had previously predominated. "www.<foo>.com", which was once a logical, technical name given to a web server used for commercial purposes, became synomous with websites in general. The IM kids, however, are different. They didn't have a direct impact on the existing Internet; they created their own space on the InstantMessaging networks. I never have to deal with them, except when I visit my younger sister, who is one of them. But there is spillover as some of the IM kids explore what else the Net has to offer. Wikipedia is similiar in its effect on wikidom.

Wikipedia has indeed had a huge impact on the Internet at large, but (with the exception of MeatballWiki) not so much on the wikis that already existed. While there has been a flood of new wiki users through Wikipedia, they have mostly stayed away from Wiki and all its children, and created a new wiki cluster around Wikipedia. These wikis tend to approach WikiAsReference?, infused with much of the OpenSource culture; they use wiki engines (usually MediaWiki, but not always) as a means of building reference works. The vast majority of the newcommers are quite ignorant of the original wiki universe, and if they happen to discover it, they quickly turn tail because of things like CamelCase and lack of document/discussion separation. The old, established wikis actually repel the newbies without even meaning to.

But not always, of course. There's always going to be spillover. MeatballWiki has had an unusual amount of it, largely because of people like me that straddle both wiki clusters. There has always been a handful of us on Wikipedia, trying to encourage SoftSecurity and providing links to MeatballWiki. The reason why you hear about only the bad parts of Wikipedia is because people come here when they feel burned by the "Wikipedia way" of doing things, which admitedly has a lot of problems.

I agree that Wikipedia probably was responsible for catching the attention of the blogging world, and thus promtping the unite-the-world-through-wikis ideas. Because MeatballWiki was the place to talk about wikis and online communities, it was a natural gathering point. Now, however, it looks like CommunityWiki will become the wiki-blog convergence point, taking some of the pressure off of us to be all things to all communities.

If TheCollective that formed around Wiki is decaying, it's likely because of the lack of strength at the center. Those ~200 wikis don't have to be disconnected in a sea of little Wikipedia-clones and WikiWeblogs, but I think this collective had been leaning too heavily on Wiki to keep the lines of communication and transit open. I'm not sure how a new wiki collective becoming dominant could cause the decay of an old one that tried to stay out of the spotlight from the beginning, since the vast majority of newbies and media attention focus on the new cluster. -- StephenGilbert

I'll point out that many/most of the articles that refer to WikiPedia refer to WikiWiki. But I digress; my point was simply that Wikipedia led to the change, which I will admit at this point was incorrect. I think it was multilateral. I've ammended the statement. -- SunirShah

Yes, but (continuing the disgression a bit) how many of the readers of those articles visit Wiki (as opposed to getting sucked into Wikipedia)? And then, how many get over the weirdness of Wiki and actually make some edits? And of those, how many stick around long enough to actually have an influence? And how many of those people then venture out into the greater neighbourhood of the classic wikis?

I know there's no definitive answer to those questions, but my guess at an answer would be, "Not so many that Wiki couldn't deal with them, if it had a cohesive community beforehand."

I wouldn't place bets on how wikis and blogs will converge just yet. -- SunirShah

That was badly worded. What I meant is that CommunityWiki probably looks more attractive than MeatballWiki from a blogger's point of view. -- StephenGilbert

Just wait until DigestedChanges. And don't forget I'm chummy with the A and B-list bloggers. -- SunirShah

TheCollective of ~200 wikis that constituted the Greater Wiki Community (wikidom) of WikiWiki expats flourished until about 2002. Now they are disconnected in the sea.

So did they really form a collective in the first place? You would know better than I, but from what I can see, all these wiki communities were connected to Wiki, not to each other. As Wiki became weaker, the indirect links these wikis had to each other, along with the flow of Wiki-savvy participants, would also slowly decay. I'm not sure how the emergence of other wiki clusters, with participants who are generally not interested in the original cluster, could cause such a disconnect, and this is what I'm trying to tease out of you. The people who discover wikis via Wikipedia tend not to like the "old" wikis, with their CamelCase, and no separation of documents and discussion, and so on. The folks on the wireless networks wikis seem mostly interested in... well, wireless networks, surprisingly enough. While a significant number of this "next generation" of wiki users may make their way to wiki, very few show up at AndStuff or HammondWiki. Thus, while wikis in general have received more publicity, I haven't seen the mass influx of newbies into the established wikis, with the exception of the original. -- StephenGilbert

The context that surrounded the formation of Meatball was in part a reaction to the general apathy (and occasional animosity) of WikiWiki towards the WikiClones?. I remember those discussions well. This is why many people feel we are canonical to talk about wikis, but rather we are merely "canonical" amongst our sister wikis, which at the time were a large percentage of all wikis. I don't know; there's a lot history involved. -- SunirShah

By the way, it's not actually the case that your Wikipedia trolls are not impacting the core wikis. cf. Wiki:TrollMafia. 142 has also made appearances on WikiWiki. I'm noticing a sad pattern to our argument, Stephen. I make an "outlandish" claim about Wikipedia, you say it isn't so, then I back down a bit, and then the outlandish claim manages to happen. Perhaps if we all just started talking about something else? Do you know anything about baking? -- SunirShah (Not overly worried about Wiki:TrollMafia, though I am worried that wikis will start experiencing organized trolling that Wikipedia has ushered in.)

Actually, that supports my claim that people may show up at Wiki, but that's about as far as they go. Anyway, my wife makes killer muffins that also happen to be very healthy. Me? I've been known to make peanut butter cookies that are ugly but tasty. I suck at cakes, though. -- StephenGilbert (PS: if you ever want to hear what's good about Wikipedia, just ask.)

Hey, I'm a guest from Wikipedia. I've become rather disillusioned with it over time, though. Reading WikiTruth? has only accelerated the process. From your vantage point, what's good about Wikipedia? I'm interested to hear what an "old-schooler" thinks of it.

HelmutLeitner: I think one shouldn't look at WikiPedia too critical, there are a number of positive effects:

My earliest experience was with WikiPedia, practically speaking, and to me, not only is WikiWiki a classic wiki, but so is WikiPedia (which has sprouted such sites as Uncyclopedia, Wookieepedia, Encyclopaedia Dramatica, and various WikiFarms?). Wikis aren't just encyclopedias... they can be pretty useful for doing heavy schoolwork because of their linking abilities, as well as being social sites.

I ran across this parallel pattern - http://bit.ly/EndlessSXSW as defined when the party was too big for BruceSterling's house. I wonder what this pattern is called. WhenItGetsBig? --MarkDilley (p.s. playing with LinkLanguage via BitLy?)


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