Follow-up: Reader as Link Author

Yesterday I published one of those unholy been-in-the-drafts-forever posts on issues of linking. Here I see if I can make the point a bit more cleanly.

When we started getting people to use federated wiki in December, I thought the default sort of editing would be of the main article. You write a piece on Dylan’s 1966 Royal Albert Hall show, I come by and add more facts to it.

When we initially put people into federated wiki people didn’t do that. Instead, they commented, by adding endless signed thoughts to the bottom of the page. This is bad for reasons I won’t go into here. So I told people stop commenting, and some people complained, but most complied.

The next behavior that emerged was more interesting. People started extending articles not by editing them, but by linking to older articles or writing new ones. They’d do this at the bottom of the page. For instance:

This seems related to [[Walking the Lines]]

Where Walking the Lines was a page detailing a concept, theory, anecdote, or example of something related to the main page. Over time I started to formalize this pattern in my own writing on wiki. Here’s the bottom of my page on the concept of the Moral Cascade:

[[Normal Accident Theory]] posits that error should be seen as a normal occurrence, and systems should be designed to avoid cascading behavior.
[[Moral Cascade in the Classroom]] details how similar patterns play out in classroom management.
Broken Windows Theory described a moral cascade where small offenses led to large offenses, but it may be overhyped. See [[Broken Windows Theory Broken]] for a rejection of Moral Cascade patterns.

This started to become the most enjoyable part of the process for me, and the most profitable.

As I started to think about this I realized how natural the behavior we were seeing was. Say a person writes a page on — well, Dylan at Royal Albert Hall in 1966. The page is short and focused. Other people come by and read it.

The chances that any given reader knows more about that subject than the person who just wrote it are slim. It happens, but its not the median experience. On the other hand, the chances that any given reader knows something related to that subject are very high. So (in our fictional example here) the links accrue:

Stress from the tour would later be cited as a cause of [[Dylan’s Motorcycle Accident]].
For explanations of why people would go to a concert just to heckle, see [[Psychology of Heckling]]
Royal Albert Hall’s acoustics were not particularly suited for rock music. See [[Acoustics of Royal Albert Hall]]

And what starts to occur to me is that this is actually the Vannevar Bush vision, where the median user is neither a full-fledged writer or a simple reader but a linker. And part of the reason the reader can be a linker is that

they have their own copies of the document
they can add supplementary documents very easily and link to them, and
they don’t have to rewrite the main document to add links

Now you do get these capabilities in some annotation systems, but talking about problems with annotation systems is perhaps for another post.

In any case, this is the core idea of the last post: we can recapture, perhaps, this vision of the reader as the primary link author, but it requires us to think of links in a different way.


13 thoughts on “Follow-up: Reader as Link Author

  1. I think you are on to something here Mike. My ideas are still very fluid about the ways that our ideas might more happily bump into those of others on the federated wiki.
    On a not very related post I said “I have always blogged in this way but the experience of federated wiki has encouraged me to work in smallish chunks of writing that I can link to others’ smallish chunks without any overarching plan of where I am going.”

    #justlinking 🙂

    • Thanks Frances. I am starting to think this insight might be the one of the most immediately applicable to systems outside of federated wiki. I’ll check out your own link.

    • Since I’m the worst federated wiki “smallish chunks writer ever” (self-made title), I have three things to add. First, I don’t know how you took that awesomely roundabout post and cut it to 500 words, Mike. I’m with Frances, you’re onto something here. Those three sections in Beyond Conversation seem interconnected and building on something larger that I don’t think you should lose. I can see how the 500 words helps folks who are new to understanding the federated wiki.

      To model what Frances wrote in her post linked above, here are two excerpts that didn’t make the cut to today’s post. These quotes make it 620 words, but I think they add a bit to how I understand this style of writing and reading.

      “Or maybe the best trail blazers are not the Alan Kay’s of the world at all. Maybe there’s a class of people who are great readers, but lousy writers the same way there are great DJ’s who are lousy musicians. We could benefit from their brilliance and textual insights.

      It reminded me of storytelling sessions where you tell a story in response to my story, and somehow those two stories juxtaposed tell a bigger, fuzzier truth. But it gets better — because of the federation mechanisms, when you add links you add them on your own copy of a page. People seeing your links can choose accept or reject them. Good and useful connections can propagate along with the page.”

      Second, here’s 61 words from Frances–so smart and succinct–that I think extend or add to what you wrote:

      “I am trying different ways of writing, experimenting with partially-formed ideas, linking with and building on what others have written.

      These are hard clickable binaries trying to capture a world where dualisms can get in the way of understanding complex contexts.”

      Third, Luke Opperman’s got another fantastic 71 words from his post (thanks for tweet link):

      “At the other end, blogs can make explicit thoughts and connections and clearly provide concrete records of developing thought – but also take significantly more resources and often has a finality of publishing that is different from marginalia. And social sharing today seems intentionally dis-associating, especially as links are de-emphasized. I’m hopeful that current annotation projects like Hypothesis and Federated Wiki will create a middle approach that is connected and contextual.”

      And with that, I promise to get better with brevity in the federated wiki. Seeing other links made by other people is part of what fascinates me about it. It’s so much easier than what I just did here on your blog.

      • Loved this Alyson – such restraint on word length:) Maybe it’s not just about what we write but more about how we organise it to let in our reader/collaborators to help us us expand and merge and blossom and synthesise what we write.

      • Thanks, Frances. So hard for me! Ah, it’s the organization that falls apart for me as a writer in so many ways. In the federated wiki and beyond. Ward helped me set a site that’s just for me, and it’s actually helped me realize how truly awful my idea is. This sounds like I’m off my rocker BUT by pretending to be a reader/linker of my work months later, I see how it will never come together. It’s the medium of the multiple pages that’s finally helped me see that and thus I can let it go after years of thinking about it. Years. The merging and blossoming is now what I’m interested in–well put.

      • “This sounds like I’m off my rocker BUT by pretending to be a reader/linker of my work months later, I see how it will never come together.”

        That’s actually a beautiful story I don’t hear much. And really refreshing.

        What would be nice would be if federated wiki then helped you see the pieces that might inspire a new project. Is the site public?

      • No, the site is not public. Some of it is copied and pasted stuff from old files. Some of it is brand new. All of it is awful! I don’t want to bug Ward, but I’m thinking I should kill it. But then again, maybe a year from now, I’ll think differently. All of my other fedwiki stuff I’ll keep public, for sure. That site is my own private experiment/shrine of failure. I couldn’t find a page to fork, so to speak.

  2. Pingback: Beyond Conversation | Hapgood

    • Now I am home from my little trip I have watched your video and it’s sparking lots of ideas -thanks Alyson!! I loved that your experiment didn’t lead towards your original intention (of a book) but the outcomes were thinking about ways of writing forming (almost of its own accord) and reusing scraps from another project. I wonder if there is a theme of anti-hierarchy here running through what we are all saying. For me Wikipedia sometimes feels like a hierarchy masquerading as a network.
      Now I am going to write a blog post linking fedwiki to decoupage as I spent a lovely afternoon recently covering 2 boxes and experimented with a different approach for each.

  3. (Warning-my explanation may not enable you to ‘get’- the idea-but just tell me and I will try to blog later) When I was thinking again about this post and the comments I remembered a toy that I (with my now adult children?) played with called Straws and connectors l began to imagine encounterihg a network with pages as Connectors and links as Straws. It’s rather nice that the page is called Connector not the link , and one of the important thing about the straws(links) is that they are bendy and the act of building can reshape the rest of the structure. So translating that to the fedwiki, we each encounter our own personal network of linked (versions of) pages and we might see a possibility to reconnect some pages so we bring in our own (maybe stub) connector-page and join it in with a collection of straw-links and reshape the structure. (l can see this in my head-can you?) Our first act of creativity/ synthesis is to identify the straw-links and we build on that by making the connector-page a better explanation -but not too fussy or long because we still have more straws and connectors in our box that we can draw on in future.
    l did this a lot in fed wiki e.g. samplers and Apprentice Pieces but always got stuck with the connector/ page becoming too long and fussy.
    But the beauty of fed wiki is that we all have our Own structures (even though we may share straws and connectors) and so we can easily reshape by watching out for others. The downside is that our view of the forest of structures may be obscuring some really good stuff -moral: don’t get stuck with too small a neighbourhood.

  4. Pingback: The Quiet Page & Linking the Web | Heart | Soul | Machine

  5. Pingback: A Simple Proposal for Killing Comments with Annotated Links | Hapgood

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s