The Simplest Federated Database That Could Possibly Work

The first wiki was described by Ward Cunningham as the “simplest database that could possibly work.” Over the next couple of years, many different functions were built on top of that simple database. Categories (and to some extent, the first web notions of tagging) were built using the “What links here?” functionality. The recent changes stream (again, a predecessor to the social streams you see every day now) was constructed off of file write dates. Profile signatures were page links, and were even used to construct a rudimentary messaging system.

In other words, it was a simple database that was able to build a rough fascimile of what would later become Web 2.0.

While we’ve talked about federated wiki as a browser, it can also be used as a backend database that natively inherits the flexibility of JSON instead of the rigidity of relational databases. Here we show how a few simple concepts — JSON templates, pages as data, and stable ids allow a designer to create a custom content application free of the mess of traditional databases that still preserves data as data. We do it in 45 minutes but we cut the video down to 12 minutes viewing time.

Best of all, anything you build on top of federated wiki inherits its page-internal journaling and federation capabilities. So you’re not only putting up a site in record time, you’re putting up a federated, forkable site as well.

The first wiki showed how far one could go with form elements, cgi, and links towards creating a robust community unlike those before it. It’s possible to see federated wiki as a similar toolkit to build new ways of working. I hope this video hints at how that might be done.

Note: I’ve also constructed this page using the above methods here. I think it looks pretty nice.

6 thoughts on “The Simplest Federated Database That Could Possibly Work

  1. Best of all, anything you build on top of federated wiki inherits its page-internal journaling and federation capabilities. So you’re not only putting up a site in record time, you’re putting up a federated, forkable site as well.

    I was playing around with this tonight. Maybe, this speaks to my lack of understanding about how FedWiki works, but if you want to fork the page then you’d click on Edit and then the fork button, right? That will fork the backend of the site, the federated wiki as a database, but it won’t actually fork the traditional html front-end to the site, no? I guess what I’m asking is, there’s no way to set up a “fork” button on the webpage itself so that people could create a local fork of the webpage in all it’s html glory with one single click?

    • If you have a site with a federated wiki backend you can drag and drop it on your site’s backend and then it will show up on your site.

      The HTML is not forkable, because HTML is a display format and inherently not forkable (except maybe for the simplest HTML).

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