The Essay on Organization

Composed and Organized by Jweb Guru

Long, long ago, in a galaxy remarkably similar to our own, the years were the 1980s through early 1990s. The fledgling Internet, which wasn't particularly fledgling but which was now, for the first time, available to rather a lot of people (comparatively speaking) from their own homes, was budding based on a powerful new tool. That tool was called Gopher, an Internet protocol.

Gopher was a system of organizing pages on the Internet. Each page was to be minimalist, each page had a place in an index, and each page knew exactly where and what it was. Each page was expected to be elegant and not link unnecessarily, as it was expected that anyone could easily access anything. Gopher pages were much easier to find, and much better organized, than any of the rival protocols. They also tended to contain more complete information. In fact, it is estimated that even with today's Internet, bogged down as it is, changing the entire World Wide Web back into Gopher format could increase the access speeds by over 10,000%[1] .

Why did Gopher fail?

There were a number of reasons. Some believe that it was almost wholly because previously free servers began to charge licensing fees for Gopher's use, which scared many existing users off. But the deeper reason that Gopher failed was that it was inflexible. Free-form HTML doesn't make distinctions between menus and 'fixed documents', it doesn't force file types to be the same, and it - in short - requires less organization and is more forgiving. HTML is the language of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, better known as HTTP, the protocol of the World Wide Web. Because the World Wide Web and Gopher both had similar goals, they competed - and Gopher lost.[2]

The Wiki can be seen as an even further extension of flexibility. If a page doesn't exist, you can simply create it. The format for most Wiki software is even more forgiving than that of HTML, although it is - as is always the tradeoff in these situations - more limited in scope. It takes a certain amount of foreknowledge to edit a webpage; it takes far less to edit a Wiki. Any page can be edited by anyone and everyone, and the history of pages is saved. It sounds amazing, yes?

Remember the 10,000% figure.

This Wiki isn't large enough for that figure to become fully evident yet. There are still a relatively comfortable number of pages, though it is often irritating to wait for the searches to complete. But there's more than that. Because people aren't very hierarchial, it is extremely difficult to determine, much of the time, what edits were made, or how they were made. Although I strive to always place a note as to what I was doing when I edited the page, most simply leave the 'Summary of change' field blank when they work.

Without organization, everything is on one page. This can take a long time to load. It can also be difficult to navigate through, and I have more than once found it difficult to find the particular information I am looking for on a Wiki. There are also numerous instances of aliases, which simply cluttering things up.

And it's cluttering that annoys me the most. At least half of the deletions on this site, 'twould appear, are composed of removing things that people created in spaces that they were not supposed to because 'they forgot'. Yes, I am fully aware that this Wiki has a great deal more memory than it did, and that's not the issue. Nor do I care about bandwidth - that has nothing to do with speed or cluttering. I've discussed speed; it's time to talk about cluttering.

Cluttering is what happens when people begin to place numerous pages in the same place, without organizing them further via subdirectories, as I have. Although this works fine for the Homestar Runner website, in which everything is linked to via Flash anywayw, and where presumably everything has a different name, there are some things on this Wiki that simply cannot be allowed to be in their own, individual pages. This includes anything that should go on the UserSpace, but has been put either as its own page or in WikiChat.

WikiChat was designed as a place to chat about things. It was not - and I must stress this - something that was intended to be a discussion of individual users. Any discussions of this sort can take place on one's userspace.

Similarly, when one has a comment to make, one should not place it on the index page of this Wiki, or on one of the important subpages - even on the less important ones, so long as they are official pages, it is best to at least mark that they are comments, and create a comments space. If things get too overwhelming, creating a subpage may even be in order. All of this is to prevent cases that have been seen all too many times - the comment length begins to exceed the main page, or the comments are placed inappropriately, someone begins to complain, and all of them are deleted.

Organization is one of the most important things to remember when using something as forgiving as a Wiki, because it will not tell you if you have made an error in it. Other users will. And other users are not nearly as forgiving as a Wiki. That is my parting message: Organize, and make everyone happy.

[1] [The Gopher Manifesto] Return to Essay
[2] [Wikipedia: The Gopher Protocol] Return to Essay

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