Wiki giants on a collision course over shared name

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The Independent Online

In 1995, an American software developer was told by an attendant at Honolulu airport to take the "Wiki Wiki Shuttle" that connects the airports two terminals. The word is Hawaiian for "fast". On returning to the US mainland, Ward Cunningham named his website "WikiWikiWeb". It allowed computer programmers to share and edit each other's code, the first website of its type.

15 years later, a "wiki" is defined, at least in computing terms, as a website that allows the easy creation and editing of web pages, and the term has entered the vernacular as a result of two web behemoths – Wikipedia and Wikileaks.

Now the two men most responsible for boosting your Hawaiian vocabulary, Wikipedia's co-founder, Jimmy Wales, and the Wikileaks editor-in-chief, Julian Assange, seem to be having a gentle falling out.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Wales said he was getting a bit fed up of being blamed or praised for the other "Wiki" website. "I get a lot of emails from people who think I run Wikileaks," he said. "There are people who say: 'you are responsible for putting the lives of thousands of US troops at risk', others seem to think I am some sort of freedom fighter, holding governments to account.

"I just roll my eyes, chuckle to myself and tell them they've got the wrong man. Practically speaking, there isn't anything I can do about the confusion between the two companies, I wish they had chosen a different name but I can't go about trying to copyright the word 'wiki'," he said.

Wales launched Wikipedia in 2001 along with Larry Sanger. It now carries 16 million articles (according to Wikipedia) and is the 7th most visited website on the internet.

"There is always a chance that someone, somewhere will start something up which sounds similar. I suppose the only thing you can do is talk to the lawyers," he said.

But he denied that he was considering his own action against Wikileaks.

"I doubt if we will come to blows with Wikileaks in court over their use of the word 'wiki', that's just not our style," he said. "But the issue of having to protect our name is something I can anticipate coming up again in the future."

Wales said that, while the name "Wikipedia" is protected by copyright, his company, he does not want to restrict the possibility for other people to invent new things.

According to the definition of a Wiki, at least the one on Wikipedia, the Wikileaks website is not a Wiki.

Documents submitted to it are assessed and verified by the site's team before publication, and are certainly not user-editable. But in terms of the speed at which it can expose governments, it is true to the word's Hawaiian origins.

Since its inception in January 2007 it has developed a database of 1.2 million documents, from the list of BNP members and the Climatic Research Unit emails, to the recent US government papers on the Afghanistan war.

Wikileaks claims to have video footage of a massacre of civilians in Afghanistan by the US military which it is preparing to release shortly.