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Whatever Happened to ...

2011, eclipse, osgi

… the OSGi wiki?

Last year at OSGi DevCon London, a proposal to create an OSGi wiki was roundly supported by those in attendance. Yours truly even volunteered to be the editor of it.

Things happened quickly after that; a mailing list was created, and a template home page was created. When it was created in October, it looked like:

Welcome to the OSGi Community Wiki.
Please see the Contributor page for information on participating in maintaining the wiki.

And here’s what it looks like today:

Welcome to the OSGi Community Wiki.
Please see the Contributor page for information on participating in maintaining the wiki.

Wiki means Quickly

Since the wiki is 16 years old last week, it’s worth remembering that Wiki is actually a Hawaiian word meaning ‘quickly’. Ward Cunningham created a way of editing web pages quickly by allowing the content to be edited in browser, through the use of an Edit button. The first wiki was the WikiWikiWeb, so called because of the Hawaiian phrase WikiWiki (lit. quickly, quickly).

The portland pattern repository was the first wiki, and included the Edit page link prominently displayed, which anyone could use to edit the content of the pages. That, combined with automatic CamelCase linking meant that it was easy to evolve a site instead of designing it top-down. From the welcome page:

Welcome to WikiWikiWeb, also known as Ward’s wiki or just Wiki. A lot of people had their first wiki experience here. This community has been around since 1995 and consists of many people. We always accept newcomers with valuable contributions. If you haven’t used a wiki before, be prepared for a bit of CultureShock. The beauty of Wiki is in the freedom, simplicity, and power it offers.

This has even evolved to having the worlds most cited encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, being editable by anyone or at any time. As a result, volunteers have given their time, knowledge and effort to populate 3½ million English pages.

This even works for other environments as well; the Eclipse Foundation hosts, which has been used to crowd-source documentation for features, such as EGit’s user guide (including my contribution, Git for Eclipse Users).

Edit or Login

All of this is possible, because each page has an Edit button on the top right. Allow people to edit the page quickly and easily, and they’ll make small contributions. Small contributions can build up to medium contributions, and those can collide to become large contributions. The effect is additive; and once a skeletal structure is in place, examples and documentation can build up.

Some wikis – the original C2 wiki and wikipedia – allow contributions from anonymous users, so the Edit button is always displayed. Some require registration first – such as the Eclipse wiki. However, even those that require registration typically don’t ask for much (e.g. a Bugzilla account). Either way, a contribution can be up and running in a matter of minutes through prominently placed edit and/or login buttons.

Meanwhile, sites such as StackOverflow and the felix wiki for recording OSGi information. Meanwhile, a specific page on OSGi Tooling has been added to wikipedia (though it has been marked for deletion).

Wither wiki?

These thoughts aren’t new. They were raised back in October about concerns with the difficulty involved in following the contribution process, which goes:

If you want to contribute to the OSGi Community Wiki, you will need to agree to the contributor license agreement. Please print out the agreement, complete and sign. Then scan the completed and signed agreement into a PDF and e-mail the PDF to Make sure to specify the e-mail address which will be used as your userid when logging in to edit the wiki.

The point is, no-one has wanted to go through this step. It might not be terribly onerous; after all, both Eclipse and Apache have similar processes in place for accepting direct commit rights for the codebase.

But the point is both of those organisations have an easy way for non-committers to contribute fixes; by sending patches. These patches then allow an infrequent contributor to become a frequent contributor to become a committer. We don’t have this for the OSGi wiki; it’s an all-or-nothing operation. Further, it’s completely different from the way other wikis work on the web as well. From Ward’s summary above:

The beauty of Wiki is in the freedom, simplicity, and power it offers.

The OSGi wiki is not a Wiki. There is a process through which you can apply to become a committer on a website.