A Portfolio of Connections

I’ve talked a bit about federated wiki in terms of the way it enables collaboration with others across institutional boundaries. But as we go into Happening #2, I’m gaining more appreciation with the way that it allows for collaboration with ourselves across temporal boundaries.

That may sound really muddled. But consider the scenario I demonstrate below. I’m reading a piece by MC Morgan in the current happening about the Jacquard Loom. He’s discussing it in our happening on teaching machines because it was an influential example of a “programmable machine”.

And I start to get a bit of an itch reading that, because I feel like we talked about something like that in the FIRST happening (which was *not* on teaching machines, or even machines). And so I — well, I’ll show you what happened in this 4 minute video.

Incidentally, while I edited out some “umms” and “ahhs” and silent readings out of that video, it’s not staged. It’s actually me realizing in near-real-time the connection between Stravinsky’s idea that the player piano ensured “fidelty” to the score to the idea the Jacquard Loom ensured fidelity to the design, to the idea that the appeal of courseware to administrations is tied up with this notion of fidelity too. That we talk about efficiency, but the other concern has been there since day one.

I knew these things separately, but I didn’t see the connection, didn’t REALLY see the connection, until just then.

A quick aside: If you’ve done screencasts of educational technology before, let me ask you this: have you caught an intense, unscripted moment of learning on them? Probably not, right? The weird thing is with federated wiki this happens ALL THE TIME. 

You start to see the bigger vision when you realize that federated wiki can accomodate many types of data: formulas, equations, programming tools, CSV data. Here I pull in an idea and connect it. But maybe I’m in a student in a stats class and I realize I can pull in some water readings I took in last semester’s bio class, and use that data to work through my understanding of standard deviation.

Maybe I see another kid pull in his old bio data, and I remember I built a data visualization tool last semester, so I pull that in and link it to the data, which pushes out a tweakable representation.

The thing is we think we know what hypertext and reuse looks like. But I don’t think we have any idea, because we’ve been confined to the very minimal linking and reuse the web allows. And so the idea vendors are pushing for students on the web is the “ePortfolio”, a coffin of dead projects the student has worked on, indistinguishable from a printed binder or filled portfolio case.

On one side, have this amazing, dynamic, living tool that could help us think thoughts impossible without it, and truly augment our intellect. You could graduate with a tool you had assembled, personally, to help you think through problems. Something quite close to Alan Kay’s vision of Personal Dynamic Media.

And on the other side we have a gaggle of vendors trying to sell us self-publishing tools.

Our thinking here is so, so small. As David Wiley has put it, we have built ourselves jets, and yet we’re driving them on the ground like cars. We have to do better.

Update for Alan (2/13): The full route

In the comments, Alan brings up the very real issue of what happens as more stuff pours into federated wiki. Will you be able to find the connections? Or will you be overwhelmed?

And I realized I had changed the meaning of the video a bit by cutting out the three to four boring minutes of digging around the last happening. In the newer video it looks like I was looking for Stravinsky, but in fact I was not looking for Stravinsky at all. I had 100% forgotten about player pianos, and mechanical ballets.

Here’s an uncut (but partly sped up) video of the process. You can put the sound down and run it while you read the rest of this post:

If you jump to 22 seconds in, you can see I come in and put a search in for music. What I’m actually thinking initially is there’s a relationship to artwork as recipe. The punch card is like a recipe.

But in music, it’s really not. And I realize this as I read it. We’ve had sheet music for a long time, but sheet music is a collaboration between the recipe and the cook. The loom doesn’t collaborate with anyone.

OK, so maybe it’s a different kind of sheet music. I’m reminded of the Varèse Score by the search results. Such scores were the representation of an electronic video and film show produced by Varèse. Is that a better connection?

I pull up some third party materials, but scanning it, it’s not really the Jacquard Loom, is it? These are scores written on paper, and in fact it’s kind of the opposite of the loom — because even Varèse couldn’t know exactly how the music would turn out — there was an element of randomness to it.

But Varèse Score links me to a page called Art as Mechanical Reproduction. I’ve actually been on this page a couple times before, but I was so fixated on the Varèse possibility I didn’t really read it.

With the Varèse idea finally dead, I dig deeper. And as I scan it I see this Stravinsky’s Player Piano link. And the first thing I think is a player piano roll is very like a punch card.

I click it, and as I scan it I’m reminded of Stranvinsky’s obsession that people play his music without interpretation. This notion of “fidelity” to an original abstract vision. And this is the connection that ties all three together — the loom, the player piano, and courseware. We talk efficiency, but the other attraction, for better or worse, is fidelity. And I say “Ah, this is what I was looking for!” as if I had known it the whole time. But of course I didn’t.

And in fact, it was the process of understanding why Varèse didn’t fit that primed me to see the Stravinsky connection.

This is a long answer to Alan’s question, but I think the answer is it may get harder to find the thing you want, but it should get easier to find the thing you need. More links is more serendipity, more routes to the idea that can help you. And since the neighborhood will dynamically expand as you wander, all your Happenings will link seamlessly together giving you access to everything as you need it.

13 thoughts on “A Portfolio of Connections

  1. That is the magic. Ideas that can be connected but might not be normally in the same space to be connected. FedWiki as a simmering pot of serendipity potential.

    Here is my wonder. I made that connection “because I feel like we talked about something like that in the FIRST happening”. Not to be going down the “does it scale” chute, but what does happen when you have had 20 happenings? How does stuff stay surface-able?

    The normal machine solution response is “we add meta data and make it indexed so we can keyword search…” Is that always the way?

    Its like the early web when there were a small enough number if sites so you could keep a pulse on the web by visiting the NCSA Mosaic What’s New Page. Then some kids from Stanford built an organized oracle and other Stanford kids found a trick to index the stuff and then we are dumping our brains into Facebook.

    Might it be possible to develop our own Fed Wiki organization scheme that keeps the potentials bubbling? Maybe it speaks more to the importance of the names we give FedWIki … do we really want to call them “pages”??

  2. The very eerie thing that happened for me is that over all the time I’ve been using Fed Wiki to write about lines that connect things, I had in my mind that I needed to figure out how to mention Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking, a work I think about a lot.

    Then one day I went to Fed Wiki and there it was: Jenny Mackness had written it in. The most uncanny feeling: that the path you made was leading somewhere all along.

    Long’s work shows us that we really do make lines by the choice to put one foot in front of the other. We don’t know where we’re going when we do, but we can look back and see where we were.

    This is also the principle of Michael White’s narrative therapy work, and somewhere in there Steve Job’s famous “connect the dots” commencement address.

    Fed Wiki is such an interesting way to structure path making. It’s so clunky in appearance and operation, and yet so airy in its practice. I find this magical every time.

    • Kate,
      I think that because of our positions in the hemispheres of the planet, I see your fully formed ideas as I am forming my own. Time zones. I can’t really explain it, other than I read Mike’s post and I had a thought that I think I’ll write about and I scroll down to find that you have already recorded my ideas. And when I read your words, I always feel like whispering, Yessy yes yes! Yep, what you said, Kate. Yes.

      If I may attempt to be on the eerie side of life, I would like to propose that the fedwiki helps me blaze a trail of thoughts that I haven’t quite been able to articulate. To write. To summarize. To look at. To regard. To sit with. And I don’t always see “my thoughts” until I take time to see the words of others, to read, to fork. But it’s the feeling, really, that makes me pause. To think. To ponder. To imagine. To daydream. To say yes, me too. Yes.

      And to take up the question of Mr. Cogdog, what if we re titled “pages” to be something else? Or do we let the mystery be? I think of pages as letters from other people. Are they letters? Or memos of thoughts? Short memoirs of a particular point in time. Love letters of ideas. Artifacts of a timeline. Why not call the page something else? Or maybe we just roll with that “uncanny feeling” and invite that magic with open arms. Whatever we decide I’m positive you’ll write it more beautifully than I, Kate.

      And Mike, should you write about the potential of this projects for educational collaboration, you’ve got a beautifully macabre title about your ePortfolio discussion above: [[A Coffin of Dead Projects]].

  3. To beat a dead horse, I think that a habit of using SmashedTogetherWords leaves you lots of “handles” for creating connections over time. Some wiki engines will give you a list of your “most-used WikiWords for which there is no page”. Of course, that is over a single space, but similar things could be done over a collection of spaces. And, of course, such a tactic assumes that people use the same particular WikiWord phrase, which isn’t super-likely…. But I think SmashedTogetherWords increases the gnarliness of each individual space, allowing more potential intersections to be discovered…

    • I do get the attraction — and agree that SmashedTogetherWords are more obviously handles for ideas and observations than than double brackets. But there’s some benefits to the brackets too, such as avoiding constructions like Wiki Zens when we mean Wikizens, and allowing us to reference ideas without linking them when we need to reduce noise.

      Also, I think CamelCase is perhaps more natural to programmers than the general public.

      I do know that Wikipedia claims the two innovations to wiki they made that had the most impact in attracting and engaging people were the addition of talk pages, and the use of bracket links instead of SmashedTogetherWords. So there is something about the brackets that feels more right to people.

      But I flogged a lot of dead livestock myself, so I appreciate your passion on this issue.

  4. I am hung between Alan’s serindipity and Bill’s sense of how using CamelCase promotes serindipity. CamelCase naming when done well provides good handle to hang on to the page mentally. Then, just including the CamelCase in the text will create the link. Wiki wiki, but maybe too fast. The problem is that following the link removes the context in which the link means something.

    I’m thinking that having multiple columns side by side facilitates development of the story, as Mike illustrates. He doesn’t just drop a link between Jacquard Loom and Stravinsky’s piano roll but articulates the connection in the Jaquard story. Fed wiki’s design seems to make it easier to see that connection. The columns keep the context in sight.

    Ok, so I’d rather not trade one for the other. I use CamelCase as a way of marking topics so they can be kept in mind. But I find writing in the context of multiple columns drives me to spell out connections.

  5. Is the current FedWiki interface finalized? If not, how open are the developers to changing it?

    After watching your video and playing around with several FedWiki instances, I can understand Alan’s caution.

    The underlying connectivity of FedWiki is good. But the curent implementation is lacking.

    Currently FedWiki constrains me into a paper-on-desktop user interface model. I am forced into a left-to-right column layout.

    Yes, the federation system is there to link these pieces of paper together… but all those small boxes and icons are overwhelming at-a-glace.

    FedWiki feels nothing like Hypercard. Why does FedWiki use the outdated model of “columns of paper on a desktop” With Hypercard you can move in multiple axes of space. It was a 2d representation of a 4d space.

    Or for another comparison, look at Ted Nelson’s original Hypertext concept using full 3d space: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=En_2T7KH6RA

    Thus my question from earlier: is their a potential to build custom FedWiki interfaces? We need tools that break away from the paper & desktop metaphor towards 3D spacial interfaces.

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