Wiki

TiddlyWiki

I've been playing around with a variety of wiki software with an eye on what I might recommend for colleagues at school. It was good to meet Jeremy Ruston at Reboot. Jeremy is the founder and CTO of Osmosoft, 'the publisher of TiddlyWiki, a popular and well-regarded free tool that is relied on by hundreds of thousands of people around the world to record, organise and share all kinds of information'.

Doc Searls' post yesterday, Food for rethought, is a good and quick reminder of some of the things that make TiddlyWiki interesting, but I particularly liked these comments of Jeremy's — made whilst demo-ing TiddlyWiki to Doc:

We don't have many weapons to use against really ineffectual people ...  It's reasonable to talk about software as being alive ...  It's symbiotic ... It needs a host geek in which to live ... The value in software is as much in its potential as in its functionality ...

I heard the news of BT buying Osmosoft from Jeremy when we were in Copenhagen. He blogged about it at the end of May:

I’m delighted to announce that the mighty BT has acquired my tiny little company Osmosoft Limited. I’m joining BT as Head of Open Source Innovation, and I’ll be building a crack open source web development team called BT Osmosoft. … BT is becoming a remarkable thing: a truly internet-scale consumer company that doesn’t rely on owning “secret sauce” software for it’s business. At the most senior levels, there’s an appetite to embrace open source that wouldn’t disgrace a web 2.0 startup. I’ll be working with a great many talented and interesting people, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. … I hope BT’s endorsement of TiddlyWiki will open up new applications that we haven’t thought of yet. To meet the challenges that they bring, I’ll continue to strive to keep the core of TiddlyWiki true to its origins as a lean, efficient non-linear personal web notebook.

I see TiddlyWiki has just had its release 2.2. I'm off to look more closely at TiddlyWiki.


Challenges for pupils … and teachers

Barb writes:

Answers that used to be difficult to find were disseminated by teachers and students were quizzed to see if they’d paid attention. Now the knowledge itself is no longer scarce — is there a sense in which we should be teaching our kids how to “pull” the information they need instead of “pushing” in advance what we think they might need to know? Is there a sense in which the always-on information field of the web may be shifting what we think of as education? What are your thoughts?

I think we are not just on the threshold of some fundamental alterations to the ways we teach, but already well down a road which will alter the very idea of what teaching is about. That this isn't necessarily clear to us, or even noticed by many, is hardly surprising. Pull, not push — we have a lot to do to show students (and colleagues) how this works and what differences it makes.

In an apparently unrelated posting, Folksonomy Definition and Wikipedia, Thomas writes:

The lack of understanding the medium of a Wiki, which is very fluid, but not forgetful, is astonishing. They have been around for three or four years, if not longer. It is usually one of the first lessons anybody I have known learns when dealing with a Wiki, they move and when quoting them one must get the version of the information. They are a jumping off point, not destinations. They are true conversations, which have very real ethereal qualities. Is there no sense of research quality? Quoting a Wiki entry without pointing to the revision is like pointing to Time magazine without a date or issue number. Why is there no remedial instruction for using information in a Wiki?

Personally, I love Wikis and they are incredible tools, but one has to understand the boundaries. Wikis are emergent information tools and they are social tools. They are one of the best collaboration tools around, they even work very well for personal uses. But, like anything else it takes understanding on how to use them and use the information in them.

Thomas' posting is important on a number of fronts — folksonomy (obviously), how to use Wikipedia — but just now these remarks about how to use wikis struck home as I was pondering the push/pull question. Yes, Barb, things are shifting in education, and amongst the pressing challenges for us and our pupils is to learn what revision means and how, in pulling knowledge, we must acquire research disciplines that have hitherto been fairly embryonic at the secondary level.


Wikipedia, Google and open access to knowledge

Is Truth the first victim?

Tech Central Station:

The user who visits Wikipedia to learn about some subject, to confirm some matter of fact, is rather in the position of a visitor to a public restroom. It may be obviously dirty, so that he knows to exercise great care, or it may seem fairly clean, so that he may be lulled into a false sense of security. What he certainly does not know is who has used the facilities before him.

Robert McHenry is Former Editor in Chief, Encyclopædia Britannica

NYT:

To the Editor:

Re ''Google Is Adding Major Libraries to Its Database'' (front page, Dec. 14)

While having online access to some great libraries promises to facilitate research in democratizing access to books, it is worth keeping some things in mind. A digital version of a book -- especially a rare one, printed centuries ago -- is not a replacement for the hard copy. Not only has printed paper proved a durable technology, but there is also much to be gained by visiting the libraries, examining the actual books and entering into discussions with librarians and other researchers. Gaining access to a digital reproduction of an older text makes it easier to take a first step, but little good research will be done simply sitting alone in front of a computer screen.

Lisa Shapiro
Vancouver, British Columbia
Dec. 14, 2004

The writer is an assistant professor of philosophy at Simon Fraser University


The gatekeepers are enraged, a priesthood agitated once again, and it's an easy spectacle to enjoy. But there are difficult issues, too. Larry Sanger (link via Many2Many), formerly of Wikipedia and its co-founder:

… the following must be taken in the spirit of someone who knows and supports the mission and broad policy outlines of Wikipedia very well. First problem: lack of public perception of credibility, particularly in areas of detail. … regardless of whether Wikipedia actually is more or less reliable than the average encyclopedia, it is not perceived as adequately reliable by many librarians, teachers, and academics. The reason for this is not far to seek: those librarians etc. note that anybody can contribute and that there are no traditional review processes. … there are a great many benefits that accrue from robust credibility to the public. One benefit, but only one, is support and participation by academia. Second problem: the dominance of difficult people, trolls, and their enablers. … A few of the project's participants can be, not to put a nice word on it, pretty nasty. And this is tolerated. So, for any person who can and wants to work politely with well-meaning, rational, reasonably well-informed people--which is to say, to be sure, most people working on Wikipedia--the constant fighting can be so off-putting as to drive them away from the project. The root problem: anti-elitism, or lack of respect for expertise. There is a deeper problem--or I, at least, regard it as a problem--which explains both of the above-elaborated problems. Namely, as a community, Wikipedia lacks the habit or tradition of respect for expertise. As a community, far from being elitist (which would, in this context, mean excluding the unwashed masses), it is anti-elitist (which, in this context, means that expertise is not accorded any special respect, and snubs and disrespect of expertise is tolerated).

Larry Sanger is now 'on the academic job market'. I can't believe he hasn't discovered for himself how trolls and difficult people are quite fully enough represented in academia — a glance almost any week at the Letters pages of the TLS, LRB, etc will make that clear. Wikipedia has no monopoly in that market.

Clay Shirky takes each of Sanger's points and deals with them fairly but firmly. He says:

Of course librarians, teachers, and academics don’t like the Wikipedia. It works without privilege, which is inimical to the way those professions operate. This is not some easily fixed cosmetic flaw, it is the Wikipedia’s driving force. … The physical book, the hushed tones, the monastic dedication, and (unspoken) the barriers to use, these are all essential characteristics of the academy today. It’s not that it doesn’t matter what academics think of the Wikipedia — it would obviously be better to have as many smart people using it as possible. The problem is that the only thing that would make the academics happy would be to shoehorn it into the kind of filter, then publish model that is broken, and would make the Wikipedia broken as well. …

(Wikipedia) is valuable as a site of argumentation and as a near-real-time reference, functions a traditional encyclopedia isn’t even capable of. (Where, for example, is Brittanica’s reference to the Indian Ocean tsunami?) The Wikipedia is an experiment in social openness, and it will stand or fall with the ability to manage that experiment. Whining like Sanger’s really only merits one answer: the Wikipedia makes no claim to expertise or authority other than use-value, and if you want to vote against it, don’t use it. Everyone else will make the same choice for themselves, and the aggregate decisions of the population will determine the outcome of the project. And 5 years from now, when the Wikipedia is essential infrastructure, we’ll hardly remember what the fuss was about.

The best thing on this vexed question of authority that I've read in this whole debate is from Collin Brooke (I've cited it here before):

... credibility is something you earn and develop, not something you simply have. When we ask our students to do research and to prepare the results in written form, we are teaching them to earn credibility through breadth and depth of research. You don't earn credibility by citing an "authoritative source," whatever that means. You earn it by testing your sources against one another, understanding what the reasons are for differences of opinion, and figuring out how to resolve them or to choose among positions, etc. In other words, authority should be something that each of us assigns to our sources, not the other way around. It is the result of research, not a prerequisite.

Which goes to support Danah Boyd's view (and she writes as a contributor to and user of Wikipedia):

i do not consider it to be equivalent to an encyclopedia. I believe that it lacks the necessary research and precision. The lack of talent and practice mostly comes from the fact that most entries have limited contributers. Wikipedia is often my first source, but never my last, particularly in contexts where i need to be certain of my facts. Wikipedia is exceptionally valuable to read about multiple sides to a story, particularly in historical contexts, but i don't trust alternative histories any more than i trust privileged ones. … I don't believe that the goal should be 'acceptance' so much as recognition of what Wikipedia is and what it is not. It will *never* be an encyclopedia, but it will contain extensive knowledge that is quite valuable for different purposes.

(See also Slashdot.)


Blogs and the mainstream

BBC News:

… this year the focus has been on blogs which cast a critical eye over news events, often writing about issues ignored by the big media or offering an eye-witness account of events. Most blogs may have only a small readership, but communication experts say they have provided an avenue for people to have a say in the world of politics. The most well-known examples include Iraqi Salam Pax's accounts of the US-led war, former Iranian vice-president Mohammad Ali Abtahi exclusive insight into the Islamic Republic's government, and the highs and lows of the recent US election campaign. There are already websites pulling together these first-hand reporting accounts heralded by blogs, like wikinews.com, launched last November. …

Andrew Nachison, Director of the Media Center, a US-based think-tank that studies media, technology and society, highlights the US presidential race as a possible turning point for blogs. "You could look at that as a moment when audiences exercised a new form of power, to choose among many more sources of information than they have never had before," he says. "And blogs were a key part of that transformation." …

Mr Nachison argues blogs have become independent sources for images and ideas that circumvent traditional sources of news and information such as newspapers, TV and radio. "We have to acknowledge that in all of these cases, mainstream media actually plays a role in the discussion and the distribution of these ideas," he told the BBC News website. "But they followed the story, they didn't lead it." … he agrees with other experts, like the linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky, that mainstream media has lost the traditional role of news gatekeeper. "The one-to-many road of traditional journalism, yes, it is threatened. And professional journalists need to acclimate themselves to an environment in which there are many more contributors to the discourse," says Mr Nachison. "The notion of a gatekeeper who filters and decides what's acceptable for public consumption and what isn't, that's gone forever."

"With people now walking around with information devices in their pockets, like camera or video phones, we are going to see more instances of ordinary citizens breaking stories."


Wikipedia & WikiNews

Wikipedia_vs_britannica

Wikipedia has come some way in just a year, as these two graphs, originally posted by Sébastien Paquet, show.

Wikipedia_vs_britannica_2004

Earlier this year (September), Wikipedia passed the one million article mark. Joi Ito commented:

'Wikipedia is in more than 100 languages with 14 currently having over 10,000 articles. It is ranked one of the ten most popular reference sites on the Internet according to Alexa.com (trumping Reuters, the Wall Street Journal and the LA Times). At the current rate of growth, Wikipedia will double in size again by next spring.'

You know when you've arrived when a parody site launches alongside of you.

But there are problems:

  • Amazing though it is, Wikipedia is not flawless. It's got a problem common to almost all peer production projects: people work on what they want to work on. (This "problem" is probably the secret sauce that makes peer production projects work... which is what makes it such a difficult problem to tackle.) Most of the people who work on Wikipedia are white, male technocrats from the US and Europe. They're especially knowledgeable about certain subjects - technology, science fiction, libertarianism, life in the US/Europe - and tend to write about these subjects. As a result, the resource tends to be extremely deep on technical topics and shallow in other areas. Nigeria's brilliant author, Chinua Achebe gets a 1582 byte "stub" of an article, while the GSM mobile phone standard gets 16,500 bytes of main entry, with dozens of related articles. This caught the eye of Wikipedia contributor Xed, who identified this as a systemic, structural bias in the Wikipedia system. He's launched a project called CROSSBOW - Committee Regarding Overcoming Serious Systemic Bias On Wikipedia - which is looking for ways to address these biases and increase the number of articles on less-covered topics and increase the visibility of the "less travelled" articles that exist. …  I feel the solution to systemic bias in Wikipedia is the same as the solution to systemic bias in open source software development and in the blogosphere: broaden the sphere of producers. … I'd love to do some work trying to help determine the "holes" in Wikipedia - I'm very interested in thoughts people have on methodology. Does it make sense to hold Wikipedia up against a traditional encyclopedia like Brittanica, and look for areas Wikipedia doesn't cover? Or does that miss the whole point of a peer-created work? Ethan Zuckerman

  • Wikipedia has frozen the page about Bush because it was being flip-flopped so fast. Instead, Wikipedia wants to come up with a non-controversial core of facts. Why? Because that can serve as an authority for all. This reliance on facts is interesting. Some of us (including me) thought the Web would join facts and values more firmly than ever because of the dominance of voice on the Web. Instead, are facts separating out? And are facts becoming commoditized? Go back to the basic notion of truth: Correspondence of a proposition with the world. Truth is abstracted from individuals (and from voice?), according to this idea, since it doesn't matter who utters the proposition. Authority comes from trust that this particular source removes his or her (and historically, of course, it's mainly been his) interests and utters true (objective) statements. Blogs seem to change that. They are full of voice expressing interests. Does this mean that they are only accidentally true at best? Or are we seeing the emergence of multi-subjectivity that has the authority of objectivity? Will facts become commoditized and conspicuously split off from the voices that try to find the truths that facts support? David Weinberger

  • BBC News Online wikiproxy is an experiment by the author of whitelabel.org blog that takes the BBC News Online site and turns words in text into links to Wikipedia articles. And, it links on the right hand side of a story to blogs that link back to the page. This has stirred some worry about the accuracy of Wikipedia articles, and some have the opinion that the BBC wikiproxy links to wikipedia could erode faith in the accuracy of BBC news due to the open nature of wikipedia. A difference in the wikipedia system and the way more traditional mediums like books, television and and printed magazines is that readers and content creators can discuss everything about the information presented. This consensus-style structure has some drawbacks, but it also has some benefits when enough community members voluntarily follow systematic guidelines and procedures (which appears to be happening on wikipedia.org). Ultimately, the bottom line is, has there ever really been a time when people have been able to blindly trust any information source without thinking, judging and reasoning for themselves? Arguably, collaborative systems like wikipedia can make thinking, judging and reasoning for yourself easier by allowing for constructive dialogue. That's the real value in Wikipedia and other online collaborative systems, for those willing to pursue it. Smart Mobs

  • Guardian Unlimited has an article on Wikipedia. Having run the editorial division of Encyclopaedia Britannica for several years, I've followed the rise of this open-source encyclopedia was great interest, and wonder how much it can serve as a model for other large-scale knowledge-creation projects. It has no editors, no fact checkers and anyone can contribute an entry - or delete one. It should have been a recipe for disaster, but instead Wikipedia became one of the internet's most inspiring success stories. ... The current Encyclopedia Britannica has 44m words of text. Wikipedia already has more than 250m words in it. Britannica's most recent edition has 65,000 entries in print and 75,000 entries online. Wikipedia's English site has some 360,000 entries and is growing every day. [Ed: The Britannica also spends several million dollars a year on editorial salaries, costs, etc.] But numbers mean nothing if the quality is no good. And this is where the arguments start. IFTF's Future Now (Franz Dill; see also here)

The launch of WikiNews led to a plethora of comment: Rebecca MacKinnon, Joi Ito, David Weinberger, Dan Gillmor

Out of all this, I plucked:

Wikis … have a powerfully destabilizing effect on voice and authority, two things that have traditionally been under the control of instructors in higher ed. Ubiquitous networking and portable devices provide a backchannel environment that changes discussion in the classroom in a profound way. I’m not preaching technological determinism here—simply saying that we need to be aware of the destabilizing power of the tools, and to begin to address those effects directly in our thinking and writing about educational technology. Liz Lawley

This is a list of previously controversial issues. The primary characteristic of a controversial issue is that the article is constantly being edited in a circular manner, or even worse, is provoking edit wars. This page is conceived as a location for articles that regularly become biased and need to be fixed, or articles that were once the subject of an NPOV dispute and are likely to suffer future disputes. Articles listed here may need more work to approach a neutral point of view than is usual. For articles that are currently unbalanced, see NPOV dispute instead. Articles on this list should be checked from time to time to monitor developments in the presentation of the issues. Use the "related changes" link to quickly review changes to these articles. Wikipedia

I've overlooked here the attempts run by some to assess the authority — and the ability to repair itself — of Wikipedia (see Alex Halavais, Dispatches from the Frozen North, etc),  but I have blogged about these before. And then, of course, there's the librarian-vs-Wikipedia saga.

I expect we'll see a slew of articles in 2005 on the issue of authority surrounding Wikipedia and WikiNews. Here's one sneaking in at the end of 2004, from Mitch Ratcliffe:

As journalists, bloggers, citizen journalists or civic journalists, we need to acknowledge the obligation to examine our own subjectivity and point it out as frequently as possible. Having been cloaked behind a veil of professionalism and craving the spotlight of celebrity for half a century, journalism has largely forgotten that essential elements of the practice of recording events is humility and scathing self-examination. …

Thinking that an article can be finished is another problem, because we've entered a time when news, because of its relationship to history and the ease and rapidity of editing and publication, is never complete. …

News is expensive, which is why it has suffered under the yoke of increasingly profit-driven companies. WikiNews' intention, to distribute the news gathering and editing process, is excellent, but the artifact produced should not be a single article, but an interface to dozens or hundreds of reports that allow the inquisitive reader to explore the many faces of events. A readership accustomed to this approach to the news may be more tolerant, more judicious and participate in the events that make news due to their increased confidence in their ability to embrace uncertainty than the modern human weaned on one or two major media sources.


Online communities, tags, authority and reputation

For myself, I found that I was fitted for nothing so well as for the study of Truth; as having a mind nimble and versatile enough to catch the resemblances of things … and at the same time steady enough to fix and distinguish their subtler differences; as being gifted by nature with desire to seek, patience to doubt, fondness to meditate, slowness to assert, readiness to consider, carefulness to dispose and set in order; and as being a man that neither affects what is new nor admires what is old, and that hates every kind of imposture.
Francis Bacon (? 1603, De interpretatione naturæ prœmium)

Famous lines, which came to mind as I read the various, recent contributions to the discussion about the reliability/authority of Wikipedia, springing from Alex Halavais' experiment. Matt Jones is clearly right to have made the distinction between reliability-as-a-piece-of-self-repairing-software and reliability-as-authoritative (see his posting, Confusing Authority and Autonomy). Halavais' experiment showed that Wikipedia certainly can display the former, though Edward Felten yesterday posted about a contrary example. Dave Winer's timely observation is also important:

I find that on some subjects that I have expertise on, it does a remarkably good job, better than most professional journalists. But on other subjects, it only represents one point of view. When others try to balance it, their notes are deleted. This is the inherent weakness in the Wiki model, the consensus isn't always correct, esp when some people want to have their point of view prevail above all others. Permanent link to this item in the archive.

(Echoes of Elizabeth Anscombe on the tyranny of the majority.)

How collaborative sites might order themselves most effectively is a question at the heart of all social software beyond the completely trivial: the debate at Flickr about tagging, and the on-going discussion within the del.icio.us community about the same, suggest that such communities need members who are prepared to discuss, hammer out and live within certain frameworks. Furthermore, 'The core issue of collaborative editing, that of accuracy and trust, has reached a point in debate where research is needed to advance the practice of content use and development' (Ross Mayfield).

Online communities are institutions in their own right and, like all institutions, will go through sea-changes, now too restrictive, now too loose in their agreement as to what is considered authoritative, useful ... Too much order and interesting questions don't get a chance to surface, and order itself can all too quickly come to be identified with authority. ('Regimentation and education are incompatible': Gerald Vann.) But 'the lack of hierarchy, synonym control and semantic precision' (Gene Smith) in what Thomas Vander Wal has called a 'folksonomy' , a lack that Stewart Butterfield (of Flickr) celebrates (this is 'precisely why it works'), lends weight to Peter Merholz's remarks:

The practice of tagging on del.icio.us works because, at its heart, it's meant for the use of the individual doing the tagging. The fact that it contributes to the group is a happy by-product... But as a tool for group tagging, it's woefully insufficient. Del.icio.us has a very low findability quotient. It's great for serendipity and browsing, and an utter disaster for anything targeted.

(Joshua's generous comment to this posting: 'I'm really only getting started on del.icio.us and will be adding a lot more to enhance findability and discovery. I'll be adding a bunch of magic to tie all the different bundles of related terms together. Each user should use whatever they feel they are most comfortable with and I will do the rest behind the scenes.')

My final thoughts have been put best by Collin Brooke:

... credibility is something you earn and develop, not something you simply have. When we ask our students to do research and to prepare the results in written form, we are teaching them to earn credibility through breadth and depth of research. You don't earn credibility by citing an "authoritative source," whatever that means. You earn it by testing your sources against one another, understanding what the reasons are for differences of opinion, and figuring out how to resolve them or to choose among positions, etc. In other words, authority should be something that each of us assigns to our sources, not the other way around. It is the result of research, not a prerequisite.

That's what I'd say to those who criticise Wikipedia and refer students instead to a printed text. No one text, printed or otherwise, has the last word. No text is "authority". And then there's Bacon, up there, ahead of us — an ideal we stumble after ...


More about wikis

My post earlier today (here) has attracted some interest: 'wikis and teaching' is a troubled partnership, but it's being attempted by many ... Doing Something Different (Doug Miller) links discussion of the "problems" experienced by some of us with wikis to an earlier posting of his about Tinderbox:

Most of the criticism I read of Tinderbox seems to me to arise from people approaching it with preconceived ideas about how it "should" work, and not being able to shed these preconceptions enough to understand how it actually does work. Nor is this problem limited to Tinderbox; I read similar remarks related to wikis, news readers - hell, it wasn't all that long ago that I had discussions of a similar nature with people concerning web browsers.

IrishEyes (Bernie Goldbach) trackbacked to my earlier post and has this to say:

After immersing in the way-Alpha Mobhaile, I think it's actually a wiki flogged as community webware. Most of its early adopters cannot spell either "mobhaile" or "wiki" and they certainly won't be ready for the wiki approach to information management. As David Smith notes, this is not an unusual problem. ... Another part of the metric is in the uptake and follow-on use and that metric will be challenged by people who cannot figure out wikis. Wikis are inherently difficult hard work. To be used correctly, they need to be taught. The implementers need to understand how to use them.

I can quite see how wikis can be 'paradigm busting software' (Doug Miller's term for Tinderbox). Franz Dill, writing at Future Now, has a fine short post today about wikis in the workplace:

The blog is like an online newspaper, it's serial and you may expect to be able to only scan the headlines each day. Of course you can use a blog like an archive, since all blog software has a search. I do that, but the readers of the blog sometimes don't grasp the wealth of information a blog contains. In contrast, a Wiki does not look serial. If organized reasonably it looks like a reference work. So it looks like an archive and users figure this out right away. It does suffer from a critical mass problem, if there is not enough there, users just won't think of it when they need it. To create a critical mass, you need lots of contributors. If your Wiki is public you can get enough enthusiasts to provide content. Within a corporation it's harder to get enough people to invest the time to get the Wiki to a state where it's a viable resource. I am optimistic about the use of Wikis in the workplace, and look forward to working with them in and outside of the corporation.

Even in praising wikis, then, Franz Dill recognises some of the problems — and in teaching (UK secondary; 13–18) these can seem pretty daunting. This autumn, we will be trialling wiki/wiki-based software with classes, but I have found that even Basecamp, a fairly straightforward collaborative software environment, just isn't given the time by (most) students that it requires if it is to yield the greatest benefit. (It tends to end up as a teacher-directed portal for pushing out information and as a node of online study references. None of this is bad, but I'd had greater hopes for it than this.)

It comes back to what we want IT to be about in schools and how we prepare pupils for a world in which electronically conducted/assisted collaborative activities (something that wikis are so good at) will be part of their adult working environment. Of course, wikis won't work if just dropped in to classrooms and the worst thing would be if we end up turning them into electronic work-sheets. Many2Many quoted Kairosnews:

Each week, I prepared the material, each week I contrived some kind of in-class activity to let people ‘interact’. But as I mentioned before, I was merely creating fill-in-the-blanks exercises … I realize now, that to get to the level of which I was aiming, in terms of communal constructivism, you need to let the participants identify their own blanks.

The challenge of wikis, of any paradigm busting software, is one which must necessarily send us back to re-examine the ways in which we work. The challenge is bigger than "just" IT, but IT departments have to bite this bullet. As I noted before, the IT priesthood (in schools, in business — anywhere) has other interests ... This earlier posting concerned something Ross Mayfield had found in eWeek, and it's only fitting to end by linking to Ross Mayfield's post today with its hilarious photo of a meaningless barrier. Ross's five points for software design: don't create false barriers; trust users to create (my addition: and invest in the training and re-thinking needed to give teachers and young people the skills and confidence to be creative with these tools); keep it simple; recognise that the old notion of authority is displaced by the new tools; recognise that what matters is not ticking off the number of filled blanks.


For love

Astonishing (only because so unusual in this context) disclosure from Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia:

Qn: What methods have you found that work best for getting people not only involved in contributing, but also keeping them contributing to the Wiki?

Jimmy Wales: Love. It isn't very popular in technical circles to say a lot of mushy stuff about love, but frankly it's a very very important part of what holds our project together. I have always viewed the mission of Wikipedia to be much bigger than just creating a killer website. We're doing that of course, and having a lot of fun doing it, but a big part of what motivates us is our larger mission to affect the world in a positive way.

It is my intention to get a copy of Wikipedia to every single person on the planet in their own language. It is my intention that free textbooks from our wikibooks project will be used to revolutionize education in developing countries by radically cutting the cost of content. Those kinds of big picture ideals make people very passionate about what we're doing. And it makes it possible for people to set aside a lot of personal differences and disputes of the kind that I talked about above, and just compromise to keep getting the work done.

I frequently counsel people who are getting frustrated about an edit war to think about someone who lives without clean drinking water, without any proper means of education, and how our work might someday help that person. It puts flamewars into some perspective, I think. Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.

Link via Many2Many.


Why wikis may not work for you or me

My attempts to use wikis, personally (as part of my self-imposed regime to learn about new tools) and with pupils, has convinced me that Many2Many is spot on: wikis are strangely hard work and require the teacher to invest heavily in leading pupils to understand how to use them — and such heavy guidance quickly becomes heavy-handedness, killing the very collaborative spontaneity wikis so clearly can release.

The comments at Many2Many are themselves interesting: 'A few things which are going wrong: wikis have gotten *hard*. This goes against the very concept of a wiki, and yet to use a system like MoinMoin, or Twiki requires learning'; 'I'm not sure what you should expect from them when people *don't* have a lot of information that needs collating'.


Pulling it all together: managing microcontent

this is sippey uses The Brain (high privacy / high context), del.icio.us (low privacy / low context), his blog (low privacy / high context) and e-mail ("sharable" privacy / varying levels of context):

Which reminds me of Anil's piece from late 2002 on the ultimate microcontent client. Still haven't seen it, and yet the more I think about this problem of information discovery, sharing, routing and group forming, the more it seems that we're headed to a deeper merger of the mail client, the browser and various and sundry publishing and content archiving systems.

I remain unconvinced that there would be anything better suited to this task than an email-like application that's well integrated with the browser. What we're talking about here is messaging: reading incoming messages (whether via email, RSS or whatever comes next), and writing outgoing messages: some to individual contacts, some to public spaces (like sippey.com or delicious), some to semi-private group spaces (on orkut or flickr or mailing lists), some to a personal archive, and some to one or more of those destinations (cc, anyone?).

So...universal inbox (email, notifications, RSS subscriptions, whatever), universal outbox (email, blog postings, social network postings, social bookmarking, personal note taking / filing). All searchable. All cross-referenced with all the associated contact lists(s). All with dial-able social network-based filtering / content ranking.

I mean, c'mon, Google, is that too much to ask for?