Where the Word “Wiki” Comes From

wiki wiki bus

The Famous Wiki Wiki Shuttle Bus at Honolulu Airport

Today I found out where the word “wiki” comes from.

Howard G. Cunningham, the developer of the first wiki which was launched in 1995 called WikiWikiWeb, upon his first visit to Hawaii was informed by an airport employee that he needed to take the wiki wiki bus between the air port’s terminals.  Not understanding what the person was telling him, he inquired further and found out “wiki” means “quick” in Hawaiian; by repeating the word, it gives additional emphasis and thus means “very quick”.

Later, Cunningham was looking for a suitable name for his new web platform. He wanted something that was unique, as he wasn’t copying any existing medium, so something simple like how email was named after “mail” wouldn’t work.   He eventually settled on wanting to call it something to the effect of “quick web”, modeling after Microsoft’s “quick basic” name.  But he didn’t like the sound of that, so substituted “quick” with the Hawaiian, “wiki wiki”, using the doubled form as it seemed to fit; “…doublings in my application are formatting clues: double carriage return = new paragraph; double single quote = italic; double capitalized word = hyperlink.”  The program was also extremely quick, so the “very quick” doubling worked in that sense as well.

The shorter version of the name, calling a wiki just “wiki” instead of “Wiki Wiki” came about because Cunningham’s first implementation of WikiWikiWeb named the original cgi script “wiki”; all lower case and abbreviated in the standard Unix fashion.  Thus, the first wiki url was http://c2.com/cgi/wiki.  People latched on to this and simply called it a “wiki” instead of a“Wiki Wiki”.

It should also be noted that the proper pronunciation of “wiki” is actually “we-key”, rather than the way most today pronounced it, “wick-ee”. However, given the popularity of the mispronunciation of the word, Cunningham and others have long since stopped trying to correct people on the matter.

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Bonus Facts:

  • The word “wiki” has been backronymed by many to mean “What I Know Is”.
  • Wiki was added to the Oxford English Dictionary on March 15, 2007.
  • The most famous of all wiki’s, Wikipedia, was launched on January 15, 2001.  The word got out fast about this fledgling site with grand ambitions through Slashdot and gained a lot of early contributors through Nupedia, which by 2003 was shut down with all its articles being incorporated into Wikipedia.
  • By the end of 2001, Wikipedia had approximately 20,000 articles written in 18 different languages.
  • On September 9, 2007, Wikipedia broke a 600 year old record for the largest encyclopedia ever assembled, surpassing 2 million articles.  The encyclopedia it surpassed was the Yongle Encyclopedia of 1407.
  • Wikipedia currently uses the open source software MediaWiki, written by Lee Daniel Crocker, as its platform.  This is written in PHP with MySQL as its back end.  Originally though, Wikipedia ran on UseModWiki, which was written in Perl by Clifford Adams.  Within a year of the launch, they switched to a custom PHP/MySQL platform written by Magnus Manske.  Within 6 months after that, they switched to the above MediaWiki with several custom extensions installed.
  • Wikipedia receives between 25,000-60,000 page requests per second, depending on time of day.
  • The original wiki, WikiWikiWeb, was added to Cunningham’s Cunningham and Cunningham software consultancy website c2.com on March 25, 1995.  This was an add-on to the Portland Pattern Repository.
  • Cunnigham not only developed the first wiki, but also is a pioneer in program design patterns and Extreme Programming.  He currently lives in Beaverton, Oregon and is the chief technology officer for AboutUs.
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11 comments

  • most probably it was originally vee-kee [ve-key] tho hardly anyone says Vaikiki any more in Havaii

  • By the pronunciation “we-key”, do you mean “wee-kee”, or more like “weh-kee”? Sorry, I’ve already been terrible at pronouncing things, and it would be really embarrassing if I corrected someone’s pronunciation, only to find that I was wrong too! 🙂

    • “Wick-ee” would be how I have always pronouned it and heard it pronouned. No idea how it is pronouned in Hawaii.

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