Helping the Right Ideas Find One Another (FEDWIKI HAPPENING)

I’ve talked a bunch about Federated Wiki, and the idea a system like it could reinvent the way we talk on the we talk on the web, replacing our Twitter streams of reaction porn with something more substantive, connected, and iterative.

So, imposing on people I knew across the intertubes, I decided to put together an experiment called Fedwiki Happening #1. Initially I tried to only invite 15 people (making sure to pull from a worldwide group — I really do take the U.S.-centric critique seriously). The idea was a 14 day uncourse (Dec 17 to Jan 1) that would set very small open assignments (Connect two articles! Fork an article you like!) around a task of “idea-mining”, a cycle of daily discovery and connection I’ve become convinced is a core application of the technology. It ended up ballooning to about 36 people as a number of people asked to be involved.

We started on Wednesday. And already I have the sense of something big here. Here’s a segment of the Recent Changes, about a quarter of a day’s activity:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 at 9.15.01 AM

Each separate icon (whether color or photo) represents a person forking a page and making an edit; joined icons indicate a fork without an edit (which is halfway between a “like” and a bookmarking action.

Participant Alan probably captures the process a number of us are following as well any anyone in Federated Index Cards, and it’s well worth reading his take.  (There are of course other approaches, from writing collaborative fiction to co-authoring more formal academic pieces, all of which I watch with intense interest).

It’s a process I followed for a number of months while experimenting with the form, and then invited Ward to try with me in a six week experiment. You go about your day, read what you normally read, think what you normally think. But rather than posting links to these things on Twitter or Diigo, you drill down to what the connectable *idea* of the thing is.

Why? Because the problem I am trying to solve is I want to help “the right ideas find each other”. Those ideas could be two of my own ideas that I don’t realize are connected. The could also be an idea I have and one someone else in Bangalore has. Or my idea and your examples. Etc.

But what’s really cool, and what I’ve gotten to experience firsthand, is the joy of connecting *other* people’s ideas, of being what is called a “broker” in social network analysis.

Here’s an example of that.  First Kate puts up an article on Small Public Spaces.

Screenshot 2014-12-21 at 9.48.24 AM

As Alan notes, it’s like filling out an index card. And it’s not that it’s an *idea* exactly — it’s that this thing here, this thought about how Whyte approached the design of public spaces — it’s “a good tool to think with”.  You can see throwing that idea (or example, or data, or whatnot) into the mix of a future discussion, and it helping to deepen that discussion.

I’ve read about Whyte before, but this prompts me to search YouTube for a video of some of Whyte’s observations. I find one on movable chairs, and watch it. It’s super cool, showing how people reposition movable chairs in plazas to deal with needs of the moment, and sometimes move them just to feel empowered.

Looking at Kate’s article, I link the term Movable Furniture to to a new page I’ll create with that video on it:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 at 9.55.04 AM

But as I’m writing up the page Movable Furniture, I’m reminded of something else I recently read in the federation — David Jones had written two pieces, one on the idea of needing students to be Digital Renovators — people who feel empowered to alter their digital environments, and a related idea of the Concrete Lounge — the digital environment that is impossible to customize. Watching the video and seeing how much people rearrange chairs when they get the chance, I just can’t help but see this as related.

So I link it up:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 at 10.05.20 AM

And now, if you click that Concrete Lounge link you get what I think is a very relevant connection to Whyte’s work:

Screenshot 2014-12-21 at 10.07.25 AM

Now, did Kate already know about David Jones’s Concrete Lounge analogy? Had David already put together how his Concrete Lounge related to these late 1970s ethnographic films of people moving patio chairs?

Maybe. I’d be curious to know. But even in the case they had both known about these connections, these connections are now there for *anyone* to follow. The next person who ends up on the Small Public Spaces side of the equation can follow it to the Concrete Lounge, and vice versa.

You could connect other things — data to theories, examples to patterns. Data to data. If you imagine a universe of people doing this rather than forwarding article and video links around, you start, I think, to get to a vision of the web more in line with early conceptions of what the web might be.

And of course, it’s very like wiki, but it’s not in this one, super-important way: there is no permanent community. The wiki is implemented as a network, where the people Alan follows will overlap with some of the people I follow, but never so much that the community is self-contained. As federated wiki expands, the network might start to look more like Twitter in terms of how information flows fluidly through through multiple sub-networks, but more like wiki terms of how that information is treated. Ideas could flow through log chains of people unaware of each other’s existence, reaching unpredictable yet fitting destinations.

Of course, there are other models of use as well, some of them emerging on the site as we speak, and we watch this closely. After playing with (and thinking about) the software for eight months, it’s really this piece that most excites me at the moment, the possibility of a new culture of connection, where we solve one of the most pressing problems of today — how to get the right ideas, data, and examples to meet.

For now, the software may be buggy, the users may be new to the environment, the learning curve may be difficult. But we’re starting to see the outline of something strange and new. And I like it.

(Edited to fix misattribution of Whyte article)


Wikiality

I suppose I shouldn’t blog while down about the state of humanity. But I do many things I shouldn’t do.

I was just reading through some news reports of the continued misunderstanding of faculty on what Wikipedia is, how it works, and why it matters.

I doubt that you’d be able to get a teaching post somewhere without understanding how to do library research, or get tenure track position while confused about why endnotes mattered to an argument. You don’t get to teach science without understanding what the scientific method is.  But you can walk into any college in the U.S. and demonstrate rank ignorance about the process underlying the most consulted reference work in the world, and you get to teach students, no problem.

My daughter was told at her high school — a top high school in the state — that students in college who consult Wikipedia in college (not plagiarize, not cite, but CONSULT) get kicked out. We’ve dealt with that; she goes to a new school now.

But the problem stands. On the most pressing issue of our age — how we advance knowledge in the world of the read/write web — it’s perfectly fine to be ignorant and teach. No one will stop you, no one will supply professional training to help you, no one will guide you, no one will correct you. We ask why these technologies, which have such potential to do such good, have not had the impact they might have. But in this case it is certainly a case of education holding us back.


Steal the Package / Idea Mining

One thing I’ve learned from my deep dive into wiki is that wiki is most powerful when seen as a collection of *ideas*. Those ideas might be stories, examples, software patterns, chord progressions, whatever. But when treated as a repository of ideas instead of a collection of publications wiki gains a certain type of power.

Ward demonstrates this nicely this morning in his federated wiki running journal (metaphorically called forage.ward.fed.wiki.org). He starts his day of reading this article on net neutrality and net regulation:

steal

It’s a multi-page treatment of the relationship of law to the internet which argues that in fact we already have many other legal tools at our disposal. But Ward doesn’t summarize it, exactly. He mines it for ideas he can name and connect. He finds one, and adds it to his journal:

stealthepackage

David Reed says, “Not all laws come from governments. There is a whole body of “common law” that is generally accepted, transcending government. One such law is that you cannot steal a package that you’ve agreed to transport from point (a) to point (b). That is true whether or not there is a “contract”. It’s just not done, and courts in any jurisdiction, no matter what the government, will hold to that principle.” webpage

He makes a compelling case that the “inter” part of the internet works pretty well without governance by ITU or FCC or anyone else for that matter.

And he gives the idea a name: Steal the Package.

I fork the page, not necessarily because I agree (although I do, in this case) but because this is a useful concept to think with. At some later point I’ll connect that thought to an idea of mine. The whole process functions in some ways like the creation of sub-disciplinary jargon to express ideas quickly and succinctly, but it does it in a way that makes these terms accessible to anyone. In a wiki, each idea gets a page. Complex thoughts are formed by connecting pages.

That idea can quickly flow through a network, maybe even change the debate. As it flows through the network it can be extended, qualified, annotated, connected.

This is a different activity than forwarding a link via Twitter, and it’s different than writing up a response in WordPress. It’s a form of analogical, metaphorical thinking that we have barely tapped into as educators. Yet it embraces the core of education — you collect and curate a collection of ideas that will serve you well later. By chunking those ideas into terms you develop the ability to construct and express complex thoughts quickly.

We’ve come out of a decade of using wiki as a glorified book report publishing engine. We have barely tapped its educational potential at all.


Turning a Stream into a Lake

Did this this morning, it was fun. Higher Ed policy wonk Bryce McKibben makes statement on Twitter. We have an exchange, I write it up in fedwiki and link him to it for review.

bryce

Here’s a screenshot of the fedwiki page:

mckibben

Bryce replies yes, it’s fairly accurate, and suggests an additional link to a think tank report. I review it and add it.

Resulting page is here: http://journal14.hapgood.net:3000/view/welcome-visitors/view/net-college-price-and-tax-credits

From now on,  when others post for or against the College Board analysis on Twitter, I can link them to this page and ask what they would add.  This page is also passed into my feed for forking and extension by others in the federated wiki network.

The idea is not to kill StreamMode, but to redirect it, when appropriate, to more recursive and expository tools.


Shorter Federated Wiki for TL;DRers

In getting ready to present federated wiki at OpenEd and I’ve edited  the “Arthur Clarke” scenario down to seven minutes and fifteen seconds, and crunched it all together.

The set up for this video is this:

Arthur Clarke has some insights in 1950 about global positioning systems. He doesn’t realize that other people are working on this and might benefit from his commentary. But it doesn’t matter, because in this world he uses federated wiki and his ideas auto-magically flow to and are extended by other smart people.

Yes, it’s a world where wiki and the Web exist in 1950. Roll with it.

What to notice about this process:

1. It flows seamlessly from an Evernote-ish journal stage, to a Twitter-like/Tumblr-like stage, to a wiki like stage. This encourages contribution while still moving people towards reuse and extension.

2. As pages move through the network, they are transformed by the nodes they pass through, and they also end up connecting previously unconnected authors to one another. This stuff happens in other platforms, but here the dials are turned up to eleven.

3. It manages to move information through a network without the benefit of a central server (ala Twitter, Tumblr, Blogger, wiki). Everyone owns their own server, but the system protocols allow people to easily plug into a fluid, user-defined network.

4. It replaces wiki wars with an evolutionary model — information people fork to their own site survives and propagates. Information people aren’t willing to host dies out.

2014-11-06_1659

If you already get what’s wrong with the Internet, I think you’ll get why this is a worthwhile initiative. But if you need more rhetoric, this post from last week goes into depth on why these changes matter, and how they could make the Internet a better (and less toxic) place. But it is 5,000+ words and this post is 302.


Federated Education: New Directions in Digital Collaboration

by Mike Caulfield.

Keynote delivered at NWACC 11/6/2014.

2014-11-06_1652

Part 1: Sputnik

I’m going to start this keynote by stealing a story from Steven Johnson, a historian of technology.

Johnson uses the invention of GPS as a case study in how innovation happens. It’s his favorite story and he’s told it everywhere from a TED Talk to Science Friday, so apologies if you’ve heard it before. But he repeats it for a reason — it’s just an excellent example of what innovation and progress actually look like.

2014-11-06_1653

The way the story goes is this. Sputnik launches in 1957, and America freaks out. The Russians are in space! It’s like Ebola, ISIS, and Gamergate all rolled up in one.

Meanwhile some physicists at Johns Hopkins are hanging out, and wondering — would it be possible to listen to this satellite? It’s sending out a signal, mostly to just show it’s still up there. Kind of like a Space Age Machine That Goes Ping.

So a couple of these guys go and fiddle with microwave receiving equipment — they just want to get this ping on tape. But when they record it, the pings are not the same. They vary slightly. And they realize that this is classic doppler effect stuff — the ping is compressed as the satellite approaches and stretched as it moves away.

And we get really lucky here, because one or another of them says, hey let’s turn this project up to eleven – let’s use the variation of these pings to plot the trajectory of Sputnik around the earth using a mathematical model of the Doppler Effect.

And here’s the part that that interests both me and Johnson, because a couple weeks after this, their boss calls them in. And he’s heard about their project, and he has a question.

He says, if you could calculate the position of the satellite from a set position on the ground, could you calculate your position on the ground from knowing the set position of a satellite?

Because there was this problem he was tasked with — we needed to know the position of nuclear submarines, and astrolabe and a chronometer weren’t going to cut it.

2014-11-06_1653_001

This sequence of events leads to the development of the Transit positioning system by the APL lab at Johns Hopkins and by a little known new entity called DARPA.

You know the rest of the story — we start by using GPS to plot positions of nuclear subs in 1960, but in the 80s and 90s we commercialize the system. We move through a series of inventions to this point in time where the cell phone in your pocket is plotting your position right now, ready to plot your run or clue you into the nearest parking, gas station, or bar.

So that’s Johnson’s story. But here’s another piece of the story that Johnson doesn’t cover.

2014-11-06_1653_002

This is a letter from Arthur C. Clarke, the famous sci-fi author. And besides suggesting communications satellites, he notes that you could put three satellites up in the air and use them to plot your position anywhere on earth using something the size of a watch.

It’s from 1956, a year before Sputnik went up. And it turns out that Clarke had proposed a version of this in 1945.

Now the model is somewhat different than the APL version as we’ll see later — in APL they were using doppler shift with Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites. Clarke’s idea involves geostationary satellites in a high earth orbit.

So I’m not saying that Clarke had the full idea here.

Still, nowhere in the history can I find any indication that the people working on this had heard of Clarke’s idea — an idea he had had since WWII.

And ultimately, even if they had, this is just one idea among thousands that never saw the light of day. This is the one where we have a record. Who knows how many other ideas about satellite aided GPS were never captured anywhere?

So one thing we can do is celebrate the environment that actually led to this invention at Johns Hopkins, as Johnson so rightly does.

But what I’m obsessed with (and really, what Johnson is really obsessed with too, in a sense) is how people who wanted to position nuclear submarines were not familiar with Clarke’s proposal.

And my sense is that this sort of thing happens almost every day — someone somewhere has the information or insight you need but you don’t have access to it. Ten years from now you’ll solve the problem you’re working on and tell me about the solution and I’ll tell you — Geez, I could have told you that 10 years ago.

How does this happen? Why does communication break?

One answer to that is right in front of us. This is a letter, addressed to one person who might find it interesting. Clarke couldn’t have addressed it to the folks at APL because he didn’t know they would be interested.

And this is why this concept of “openness” has become the most important concept in the digital world.

You don’t know who can benefit from your information, the modern solution to that is to not even try to guess. Unless there is a compelling reason you should always publish it as openly as possible. If you don’t, and nuclear war breaks out, it’s on you.

Publish company information to everyone in the company. Publish non-confidential information to the entire world.

This is the lesson I think most of you already know. But I think we often stop there, with openness. And I don’t think that’s enough.

We need to look more deeply into this because this is THE problem of our century.

I fervently believe that amazing solutions to so many of our major problems — renewable energy, education, disease — exist out there somewhere, but they are in pieces. You have a piece of the solution and someone in Bangalore has another piece of the solution. And if those ideas find each other in ten years, we’ll save thousands of lives, but if we can help those ideas find each other in ten months, we’ll save millions.

So I want to celebrate our advances in this area, but I also want to critique them. Because it’s worth the effort to do better.

Part 2: The Broken Social Media Spiral

2014-11-06_1654

Clarke says something interesting in 2003 about the GPS idea he had had a half century before. He says it was obvious. Anybody in their right mind could have seen it. He didn’t think it was that special an insight.

Carol Goman calls this phenomenon “Unconscious Competence”. You don’t know the value of what you know. It’s not just that Clarke didn’t send his letter to the right people. It’s that Clarke didn’t think there was that much of interest to tell. He sent out that letter, but for the ten years before that that he had had that idea, he didn’t send letters to anyone.

So, we start from this point — knowledge capture — and move forward. The biggest problems of the information age is how we make the most of the massive amount of information we collectively have.

And to make use of it, to really make use of it, a few things have to happen. We have to:

  1. record it somewhere

  2. route it to the right people

  3. extend , organize, localize it

  4. pass it back into the streamfor the next iteration

There’s a broad feeling that social media has solved this problem. I think it’s solved a lot of it. But as I think we’ll see, there’s a lot left to improve.

2014-11-06_1654_001

So let’s start with the writing down piece of this, the record, part of what knowledge management people would call externalization. So Jim Groom, for example, was here two years ago giving the keynote, right? Now, Jim and I go back to 2007. We’ve been working and thinking in an area you can call EDUPUNK Connectivism for seven years.

I talk to Jim a lot — and we do it through comments, Twitter, and blog posts that reply to one another.

So what the what the web has done, and blog-like technologies in particular, is move these individual exchanges really quickly to externalization. Ninety percent of what Jim and I have talked about over the years is online, in public, where it’s findable, searchable. Others can benefit from it. Openness combined with these blog-like products — Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, whatever, makes externalization the default.

That’s progress. To be frank, that’s a TON of progress. But there’s a couple things that makes this approach less than ideal for broad dissemination of ideas.

First, let’s look at the externalization problem. The first problem is that social media tends to get only a certain kind of idea down. Remember Clarke with that letter — it wasn’t just that he didn’t publish it broadly. it was also that he didn’t know it was worth publishing.

These platforms are conversational which makes us overly concerned with publishing interesting stuff.

But here’s the problem — I’m embedded within a pretty advanced group of people in educational technology. Ideas that we think are common might be revolutionary for others. But we’ll never produce posts or tweets about them because everyone in our clan already knows them. And the stuff that we do produce assumes you share our background, so it’s not always readable outside our clan.

And it works the other way too. We’re dumb about a lot of stuff that other folks could teach us a thing or two about. But the chance of that “unconscious competence” reaching us is pretty close to zero.

On the routing stage, I actually think routing goes pretty well on these platforms. I’m amazed at what finds it’s way to me via twitter and blogging.

But the extension piece, that’s an issue. When a blog post from another twitter subculture finds me it’s been routed through all these other nodes. So let’s say an economist publishes something on the String Quartet problem, which is a classic productivity problem that ends up affecting higher ed. I get *some* annotation, right? Someone posts in their stream a link and says something like “This relates to higher ed too”. That’s a helpful prompt.

And maybe that’s enough annotation for me to grok how this obscure economics post relates to my work. Maybe.

But for a nontrivial set of things if information is going to useful to the circles it moves to it is going to need to be recontextualized and reframed. And in a perfect world it would actually be re-edited, wiki style, to foreground the parts that most apply to higher ed and eliminate the pieces that don’t.

A world of compentent extenders would also be a world where we don’t treat these posts like the exhaust of our thought process, thoughts to be expelled as we think them and never returned to. Ideally, when we learn more about an idea we posted several months ago we’d go back and update that post. If I think of a new thing it’s connected to, I’m going to want to write in that new connection.

Extension is where things like wiki have excelled, where communities have worked to extend and connect ideas rather than just retweeting them.

So there’s a composition teacher buried in me — it’s what I did before educational technology. And looking at this I can’t help see the “Kinneavy triangle”.

2014-11-06_1655

Kinneavy took the speech triangle from lingustics (speaker, listener, referent) and used it to explain composition. You had narrative (I), dialogue/persuasion (focussed on the you), and exposition (focussed on the “it” — what we’re talking about).

And his idea was that you move students through these modes of writing. But I’m interested in this as a sort of lifecycle of information. An idea starts out with what it means to you, the “I” in this situation. Then it pings around a social network and is discussed (the “you” phase). And then in the final phase it sort of transcends that conversation, and becomes more expository, more timeless, less personal, more accessible to conversational outsiders.

When I look at this triangle, it seems to me that different technologies excel at different stages. Things like Evernote and Delicious or Diigo excel at that “I” part. Here you just take notes on what means something to you. And you don’t want it to be dialogic necessarily, because that ends up limiting what you capture. Start out by just caring about yourself, and you’ll actually capture more.

Twitter and blogging, on the other hand, excel at the dialogic and persuasive functions. Ideas ping around and reach unexpected people. Sometimes you even learn something.

For the expository phase, it’s wiki that excels. By cracking open ideas and co-editing them, we turn these time-bound, person-bound comments into something more expansive and timeless. We get something bigger than the single point of view, smarter than any single person.

So one thing I’m interested is how we create a system that allows information to flow in this way. One way might be to link up Evernote, Twitter, RSS Feeds and Wiki in a certain way.

Another way is to start at the end technology — in this case wiki — and look at what it would take to make it work better in the other stages, the I and the You, the personal and the dialogic.

So that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to demonstrate a newer technology called federated wiki which allows the sort of communal wiki experience, but also supports those earlier stages of the knowledge life cycle.

Part 3: Kate Middleton’s Dress

2014-11-06_1655_001

So here’s the problem with using wiki for those first two stages. Wiki, as it currently stands, is a consensus *engine*. And while that’s great in the later stages of an idea, it can be deadly in those first stages.

As an example of this, how many of you have heard of the Kate Middleton Wedding Dress Wikipedia fiasco?

OK, so this is fascinating. Here’s how it went down.

There was all this talk before the Kate/William Royal Wedding about the royal wedding dress, which is apparently a big deal. It’s historic.

There’s a whole fascinating history of wedding dresses and monarchs. The white wedding dress that’s such a staple of weddings nowadays? It goes back to Queen Victoria’s wedding dress. Diana’s dress, if you’re old enough to remember those overhead shots of the wedding, had a 25 foot train, which apparently made it really difficult for her dad to sit in the carriage with her on the way to the wedding. Kate Middleton’s dress had more modest nine foot train.

You can see the world in a grain of sand according to William Blake. And wedding dresses are not my thing, but for some people they’re that grain of sand.

So some enterprising person went to Wikipedia and started a page on Kate Middleton’s dress. And she and some others started to build it out.

About sixteen minutes later, someone – and in this case it probably matters that is was a dude – came and marked the page for deletion as trivial, or as they put it “A non-notable article incapable of being expanded beyond a stub”

2014-11-06_1656

So all hell breaks loose. You get the pie fight of all pie fights.  Here’s the smallest sample of comments on that talk page. These are all just about whether the page has a right to exist.

2014-11-06_1656_001

Dress defenders say this is a dress of historical importance. Dress attackers say there’s no other wedding dress pages up. Dress defenders say – are you honestly saying that Wikipedia is defined by what’s NOT in it? Wouldn’t that, taken to its logical conclusion, mean that you couldn’t add anything?

Finally founder Jimmy Wales shows up on the talk page and to his credit says:

Strong keep – I hope someone will create lots of articles about lots of famous dresses. I believe that our systemic bias caused by being a predominantly male geek community is worth some reflection in this context. Consider Category:Linux distribution stubs – we have nearly 90 articles about Linux distrubtions, counting only the stubs. With the major distros included, we’re well over a hundred. One hundred different Linux distributions. One hundred. I think we can have an article about this dress. We should have articles about one hundred famous dresses.–Jimbo Wales (talk) 08:58, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

2014-11-06_1656_002

You can imagine this as a movie moment. A Jimmy Stewart, Frank Capra moment where everyone on Wikipedia looks sheepishly at one another and comes to their senses, right?

Except of course, no. This is Wikipedia, so a bit after this someome replies — to Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia — basically, stop being a bleeding heart social justice warrior. You’re driving away all us male geek editors with your “activism”. Ugh.

2014-11-06_1657

And if you want to know why wiki never got the traction, I think that’s the reason right there.

If you find a community online big enough to be socially interesting it comes with this baggage. You have an idea, you hear a fact, you learn a technique you want to share.

You go online to share it and you’re teleported past the personal and dialogic and suddenly find yourself having to defend the inclusion of this fact or this edit FOR ALL TIME. In many cases, you’re arguing with *pedants*, and even where the conversation stays amicable, is this really how you want to start your day?

And it gets worse, because if you lose that battle (notability, accuracy, citations, linked ideas — whatever the battle is) your contribution disappears. It’s easy to say that it’s all in the revision history, but in practice what Google can’t see does not exist, and Google can’t see that revision history.

Part 4: Introducing Federation

2014-11-06_1658

Wiki is a relentless consensus engine. That’s useful.

But here’s the thing. You want the consensus engine, eventually. But you don’t want it at first.

It’s funny, I was looking over this keynote last night, and I saw this line and realized — this is the simplest explanation of federated wiki.

You want the consensus engine, eventually. But you don’t want it at first.

This is a problem. It’s pretty easy to build a system that starts with consensus and then fragments into personal opinion and individual statements. In fact, we build a lot of systems like this accidentally. Entropy can be added rather easily to any system.

It’s harder to build something that starts fragmented and personal, but then organically becomes a shared communal space. You’re looking for a system that produces what Polanyi called “spontaneous order”.

So back in February I saw a video of Ward Cunningham, the initial inventor of both wiki and really of wiki culture — he was the first wiki admin as well, and many of the conventions of wiki come out of his unique take on how collaboration fails and how it succeeds.

And what he says in this presentation is we end up being pushed to consensus in these systems because we’ve got the technology upside down. Here’s a slide to show what he means by that.

2014-11-06_1659

In a traditional wiki, you have multiple people sharing a single server, and the server is the ultimate arbiter of what’s on the wiki. In a federated wiki, everyone has their own server which stores the records associated with them. But the meaning is made in your browser. Your browser pulls wiki records from all over the internet, and makes them look like they exist on a single server.

If you have a background in network theory, I think you’ll see immediately at how this inversion creates a sort of evolutionary ecosystem where we reach consensus not through arguing who gets to control a page on a specific server, but by seeing which versions of a page spread to where.

If you don’t have a background in network theory, I want you to forget this slide, and just watch what I’m going to do next. In my entire time talking about this I’ve found almost no one gets the massiveness of the architectural shift at first — I don’t want you to understand it, I just want you to know it’s there.

Ultimately, the theory is that this thing here is the “spontaneous order” engine that can move from the fragmented to the unified.

Either that hypothesis is right or wrong. My job here is not to argue a side of that hypothesis — it’s to convince you this is an hypothesis worth testing.

Again, if you don’t completely get this idea, don’t worry. The view from the user side is much simpler.

Part 5: Arthur C. Clarke Uses Federated Wiki

2014-11-06_1700

So I want to sketch out what life looks like if Arthur Clarke had federated wiki in say 1950, which we’ll guess at as a time when this GPS idea came about.

Incidentally, if I happen to be wrong and APL did know about Clarke’s idea, you can replace references here to GPS with communications relays, satellite phones, home computers, or any of the dozen major predictions Clarke envisioned years before they happened.

In our scenario, Clarke keeps a journal, and one day he thinks:

If three geosynchronous satellites were in orbit they could ping you the time. By measuring the different delays of the pings you could calculate how far you were from each satellite and triangulate your position.

The following video shows how that might look.

Important: The video contains the next two minutes of the presentation — the presentation won’t make sense without it.

So that’s the capture and linking side of things. We jot down idea, write reactions to readings, organize our own thoughts. Over time, we connect them, like a personal Memex.

The next stage is that routing we talked about — how do ideas spread? In this video we show you how Clarke’s idea spreads through copies in a decentralized way that requires no central service.

Important: The video contains the next two minutes of the presentation — the presentation won’t make sense without it.

And then, finally, *really* neat things happen. Clarke has recorded his ideas and linked them. Readers like Maria have propagated those ideas by follow a fork-to-like convention. When they finally reach a physicist working on a similar issue we move to dialogue and eventually the extension of the resource. Again, the network here does not just route the pages; the pages are expanded and extended by the nodes they touch.

Important: The video contains the next three minutes of the presentation — the presentation won’t make sense without it.

And there we are. We’ve moved from the personal, to the dialogic, to the expository. We’re working on resources and ideas together rather than thumbs-up or thumbs-downing. Kind of lovely, right?

Part 6: Academic Uses

2014-11-06_1700_001

(Here we walked through class examples and personal examples, mostly demonstrating how students move through a similar progression, from the I to the You to the It. It was unplanned and driven by audience questions, and I don’t have a transcription.)

Conclusion

2014-11-06_1701

I don’t have much of a conclusion here, actually. If I’ve done my job, you should be either excited about this, or absolutely terrified. Either is fine, actually.

As long as you’re not complacent.

I’m hoping we can talk about this. Some possible applications. I can share where the fedwiki team is with it.

I’m hoping I get some allies. Maybe you’re all allies.

But even if you’re not, I hope this can open up an honest discussion about the ways in which social media is not serving our needs as it currently stands. As advocates we’re so often put in a situation where we have to defend the very idea that social media *is* an information sharing solution that we don’t often get to think about what a better solution for collaboration would look like. Because there are problems with the way social media works now.

My hypothesis is that this federated scheme solves many of the problems. I might be right.

But what I *know* I’m right about is that these problems exist, and they are serious.

Minority voices are squelched, flame wars abound. We spend hours at a time as rats hitting the Skinner-esque levers of Twitter and Tumblr, hoping for new treats — and this might be OK if we actually then built off these things, but we don’t.

We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop that doesn’t allow us silent spaces to reflect on issues without news pegs, and in which many of our areas of collaboration have become toxic, or worse, a toxic bureaucracy.

We’re stuck in an attention economy feedback loop where we react to the reactions of reactions (while fearing further reactions), and then we wonder why we’re stuck with groupthink and ideological gridlock.

We’re bigger than this and we can envision new systems that acknowledge that bigness.

We can build systems that return to the  the vision of the forefathers of the web. The augmentation of human intellect. The facilitation of collaboration. The intertwingling of all things.

This is one such proposal. Maybe you have others.

Let’s talk.

2014-11-06_1702


A Kinder, Gentler Attention Economy

I should be prepping for the NWACC keynote. — it’s in a couple hours. But of course in going over my notes and reading some recent posts (particularly this one by Bonnie Powers) I suddenly doubt the route I’ve chosen into my subject (which is, of course, federated wiki).

Why? Because I talk about the societal implications of using the current breed of software, how our news-pegged attention economy fixation causes us to miss important ideas and shuts out opposing voices and minority opinion. And that’s stuff that’s really important to me.

But the real reason that I go out and plug federated wiki — the idea-too-big-to-get — is that using it has given me my brain back. I’m engaged with ideas again, not just personalities. Writing in my fedwiki journal gives me the space I need to think without worrying about how interesting I’m being, whether I contributing something new to the conversation. It gets my head out of the stream for a bit. It feels nice, like a personal library of slightly musty books on a beautiful rainy afternoon.

Maybe if a million people were using Federated wiki that feeling would disappear. Maybe I’d get addicted to forked pages, extensions, the like. Maybe having a thousand people on my feed would recreate the self-consciousness that exhausts my introvert self.

Maybe. But if there’s even a chance we could make the future less of the conversational pigpile that forms Twitter or the personal exhibitionism of Facebook and Instagram, we should pursue it. Federated wiki provides the routing and discovery architectures of current social media. But it also has a place for quietness. It allows one to attempt to break out of time, to see rather than react.

If I could somehow transfer that experience to people, these presentations would be a breeze. As it is I’ll just be talking about smaller things, like saving society from nuclear war and finding cures for cancer.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 158 other followers