I partake in maintaining a wiki. It is an obscure—to the naked eye dull—wiki about comic books. In this realm of nerdity, we discuss Tintins lastname, or why europeans seem to prefer Donald Duck over Spiderman. While I haven’t found definite answers to either questions, I’ve learned that the wiki system is an ingenious device for writing hypertext.
Writing a wiki is nothing like building ordinary webpages. The most clear distinction is how pages are created and how they are linked to. In fact, on wikis, those two concepts are symbionts. On normal websites (normies, as I like to call them) you’d write a single article and possibly spice it up with a few hyperlinks—internal or external. Working on a wiki-article1, the spicing-up process would simply mean wrapping deserving keywords in brackets.
For example, Tintin is drawn in so-called ligne claire style. Writing an article on Tintin, one might type:
the style, [[ligne claire]], is characterized by outlines all sharing the same thickness. When saving the page, the wiki motor will find the brackets and make
ligne claire link to a page entitled “Ligne claire”. Should the page exists already, the link will be blue, if it doesn’t the link will be red. Following red links, you’ll be taken to an editor, ready to edit and save said page. It’s like when Neo’s choosing pills.
This way of linking articles and potentially creating new pages at the same time might not be intuitive, but it is mindblowingly useful for a number of reasons. Since the dawn of hypertext, a lot of things have changed—some of them in the not quite userfriendly direction: hypertext (as characterized by simply being text with hyperlinks) is not so simple anymore. The gentle art of applying underlines and blue to text after the writing is done, has been replaced with annoyingly useless click here links and styling that does little to improve readability. The textual decay is palpable.
Working wiki-style one is encouraged towards writing good hypertext. Mind-numbing “click here” links require effort whereas writing simple descriptive hyperlinks is the easier path to follow. The tangible usability of Wikipedia is no coincidence, even if it’s written by the very same population that so love to name all pages on the internet “click here”.
Authoring the internet there’s no getting past the writing. No matter how simple we make our interfaces, at some point, we have press keys in the right order. The linking of keywords could be improved, though: a simple text analyzer could trawl through your text and suggest words to link up. Based on a blacklist of dull words, the trawler could suggest to instead autolink the first occurrence of every interesting word. Combined with a tolerance for case sensitivity, you’d automatically have your article link to content on your website—be it a wiki or otherwise. For it’s a damn shame that such an ingenious invention: the hyperlink without the hyperlink, goes unused in anything but wikis.