Thanks to my friend Mike Caulfield, an educational technologist who’s been digging into Ward Cunningham’s Smallest Federated Wiki, I’ve now got a much clearer idea of how SFW and Thali could play together and why they should.
Mike’s recent series on SFW is the best review and analysis of Ward’s newest creation that I’ve seen:
I had dipped a toe into the SFW water but there’s a learning curve and Mike climbed it before I could. Today he jumpstarted me by setting me up with a node of an SFW federation he’s hosting on AWS. Here I am participating in a wiki federation with some friends in the ed-tech tribe. We are able to do this because Mike provisioned SFW instances for each of us.
What’s the Thali connection? Well, in the first few seconds of http://screencast.com/t/fRlahVd0EK5 you see Mike provisioning a node in a federation he’s hosting on AWS. That’s the minimum bar for SFW: you need an instance of the server. Most people can’t or won’t leap over that bar.
But the server’s a pretty small piece of the pie. Most of SFW runs in the browser. There’s a lot there, and it’s well-architected for growth.
A server implementation for Thali would enable lots more people to create and participate in Wiki federations, by running SFW on their own devices and syncing opportunistically with peers on friends’ devices. Since the existing Sinatra-based SFW is CouchDB-aware, Thali — based on Couchbase Lite — should provide a comfortable home.
Why would people want to use SFW? Mike’s posts and screencasts point to a world in which GitHub-like collaboration breaks out of the geek ghetto and becomes a natural way for all kinds of teachers and learners to collaborate.
Ward points to that possibility and others in a series of SFW screencasts at http://vimeo.com/channels/wiki. I’d seen a few, tonight I went back and watched the rest. Some highlights:
These demos really capture the idea of the universal canvas (http://www.infoworld.com/d/developer-world/we-need-universal-canvas-doesnt-suck-130) that I’ve dreamed of for a long time.
My 2006 InfoWorld article said, by the way,
Here’s the best definition of the universal canvas: ‘Most people would prefer a single, unified environment that adapts to whichever environment they are working in, moves transparently between local and remote services and applications, and is largely device-independent — a kind of universal canvas for the Internet Age.’
You might expect to find that definition in a Google white paper from 2006. Ironically, it comes from a Microsoft white paper from 2000, announcing a “Next Generation Internet” initiative called .NET.
You never know how things will turn out.