The Fedwiki User Innovation Toolkit

Tim Klapdor has a good explanation of what the FedWiki Happening was and how it went on his site. For those that want to understand what all the fuss is about, that’s maybe a good place to start.

He also has one of the better lines of the week:

There are some idiosyncrasies to learn, some slightly odd concepts and practices but if you’ve ever driven a French car it’s nothing you can’t take in your stride.

Federated wiki, the Peugeot of social software! New tag line I guess.

But he says one thing I want to pick up on:

I’m kind of shocked at the flexility of Fedwiki as a tool. It’s really only limited by your imagination and I’m only just starting to get a sense of how it can be used.

This is the thing. When you first get your first generic Lego set and build the Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t really work as well as just buying the Millennium Falcon Lego set.

Screenshot 2015-01-08 at 8.37.58 PM

Setup is a pain in the butt. Things end up in weird places. It’s a bit funky looking.

But you start to realize after a while that, holy crap, I can build anything with this.

And that’s the case with Federated Wiki. It can be a hub for sensors. A film review application. A navigational database. Interactive fiction. A calorie counting application.

It’s not really a web site at all, or even web software. As Ward Cunningham puts it, it’s a new sort of browser embedded in your old sort of browser. It replaces HTML with JSON. It sees paragraphs/items as the atomic units of the web, not pages. It collapses the read/write distinction of the web, and replaces location-based networking with networking based on named objects. It introduces cross-page refactoring, which turns out to be a much bigger deal than you’d ever guess.

In many ways it resembles HyperCard, the missing link to the Web, a maker set for networked creation.

Mdn Design Interactive - source.

Mdn Design Interactive – source.

As the Ars Technica article linked above notes, the variety of uses of HyperCard in education were extraordinary:

  • a stack of multiple choice test questions
  • assembling, storing and delivering teaching materials that included graphs from Excel
  • making class KeyNote-like presentations and handouts for students
  • a calculator that included a variety of mathematical functions and graphing capabilities
  • computer aided instruction in the sciences incorporating animation and sound
  • fractals
  • oil-spill modelling
  • a database front-end to an Oracle database
  • a database in toxicology
  • selecting and playing tracks on a videodisk
  • an interactive educational presentation showing jobs in the wool industry
  • educational interactive games ‘Flowers of Crystal’ and ‘Granny’s Garden’

HyperCard even was the original platform the puzzle game Myst was programmed in. Myst remains one of the best selling computer games of all time.

It’s hard to see right now, but underneath the hood of Federated Wiki is some very careful thinking in how a few concepts — JSON, plugin architectures, dynamic neighborhoods, forking, pages as data sources to other pages — can be put together so that you can build applications without programmers.

(In fact, one of the joys of working with Ward has been when presented with a needed capability his question always is “How do we build a solution that gives users more creative power?” He’s iterative , but he rejects the incrementalism of the current age. If you want your users to do amazing things, they need the tools to get out in front of you).

So yes, it’s a bit of a Peugeot at the beginning. It’s not the fanciest Millennium Falcon on the lot. But in return you get a user innovation toolkit like no other. We may not talk about that much for the time being (I’ve found people get overwhelmed when I show everything Federated Wiki can do). But I saw Tim’s comment and could’t resist saying — you don’t know the half of it. 😉


3 thoughts on “The Fedwiki User Innovation Toolkit

  1. Hey Mike, I remember reading Mindstorms and sensing that what we were doing in fedwikihappening was not just experiential learning, it was constructionism. At the time i was thinking it’s your pedagogy, but now reading this post, i am thinking it’s the versatility of the platform. And I still don’t know the half of it, but i’d love a chance to keep discovering…

    But my question is always this: of all the concerns and questions brought up by all of us, which are “things we will work on soon” and “things that are the wrong question to ask of fedwiki’ and which are “things you’ll figure out as you use fedwiki more” and which are “things that are making the developers rethink some stuff so will take time”. You know?

    But re what we were saying on twitter, i think it worked well that you let people do what they do with occasional guidance (as you did this time), rather than try to have some kind of centralized content creator or something.

    I have another comment but i’ll post it on ur other blogpost

    • The thing I’ve learned from Ward is if you watch things over time you figure out which things the software should solve and which things people can solve. I know it’s frustrating to sometimes, but rushing to an answer is worse. We learn a ton of things by watching people working around problems.

      On the content creator question, we need ways to lure people into fedwiki, and people come for people and good stuff to read. It’s not setting up a “central” content creator, it’s just creating an event to draw people in. People will still go about their normal journaling, the same way twitter continues on even when people are livetweeting. Does that make sense?

      Part of this is while conversations around aspects of social media are nice (and central to us) we need a broader variety of people on the platform for it to work. Doing events will help us to build that base as well as visibility outside our narrow circles.

      • Oh, so like maybe have several happenings with communities with different interests who will hopefully develop content in their areas?
        I think MOOCs r a good place to try it, too (which i think interests you). The problem is the learning curve may detract from the actual whatever it is the MOOC is about. Unless it’s relevant to the MOOC itself. Like rhizomatic learning 😉

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