Reflection on #fedwiki: Two Tales of Two Forks

Reflection of Fedwiki Happening

If you have read my last two posts Dazzled by diversity and Layers of meaning at #Fedwikihappening, you will know that I was one of the privileged people who took part in a Fedwiki Happening, led by Mike Caulfield, and inspired/ supported / birthed by Ward Cunningham.  It has been an amazing experience.  I reflected before the happening (from reading about fedwiki), I reflected during it as I played and puzzled and learned (about what I could do and what I didn’t know). I am reflecting now, and I am sure will still be reflecting in the months to come so please don’t taken anything written here as other than provisional.

The first thing to say is that I have learned more about some very interesting topics posted, edited and linked by happening participants.  Here’s a flavour – if you track across the versions of the page, you can picture the development of the ideas http://frances.uk.fedwikihappening.net/maha.uk.fedwikihappening.net/illuminating-a-path/catherine.uk.fedwikihappening.net/illuminating-a-path/journal.hapgood.net/illuminating-a-path/kate.au.fedwikihappening.net/illuminating-a-path.

I would like to reflect further on the enticing possibilities of intimate and rich collaborative writing with Fedwiki but in this post I’ll share my concerns about the uncertainty that newbies may experience.

In one of the daily newsletters, Mike shared a published exchange between students (not his class) where the punch line was ” <name> DO UR OWN PAGE”.  The moral that Mike (quite rightly) drew out of this was that much of students’ experiences of wiki  was more like a lego bricks placed side by side rather than true collaboration where their bricks made a magnificent structure.  Well of course that is true, but I am a Brit and I couldn’t help thinking about that underdog student.  What if they were frustrated by their lack of understanding of the wiki technology, and that student who edited their page was really painful outside class, and was now trying to squash them in the wiki.   So I can imagine that in Mike’s classes where he knows and listens to students, and gives them lots of support and opportunities to vent that could be solved but out in the wild, learners could think they have to put up or shut up – so they turn off.

I like diagrams so I decided to invent a development process for a post, offer two interpretations, share it at #fedwiki and see what people say.  Here is what I have just posted at #fedwiki – please don’t take it too seriously.

Two Tales of Two Forks

Accidental or Deliberate Forks  - open to interpretation
Accidental or Deliberate Forks – open to interpretation

Note: This is not based on the history of a particular post but is sparked by some observations of forking at fedwikihappening.  No doubt the tales contain inaccuracies but are intended to open up discussion of the social and technical practices around forking.  These tales are two different interpretations of the development of the post shown in the diagram.

  1. A tale of accidental forking of ideas

Shilpa posted about bug-eyed monsters on Monday morning.  Siobhan noticed the post as she was very interested in bug-eyed monsters and immediately tweeted Shilpa (whom she knew from the Bug-Eyed Monster Society) to let her know she was forking her post and adding to it.

On Tuesday morning Rajesh noticed Siobhan’s edit of the post .  He forked it and contacted his mate Tom via Twitter as they had a mutual interest in bug-eyed monsters.  They tweeted back and forth, then met for coffee on Wednesday morning.  On Wednesday afternoon, Tom forked the post and made substantial edits.  Tom and Rajesh felt that they had really built on the original ideas from Shilpa and Siobhan.

Meanwhile Shilpa saw Siobhan’s post (as she but not Rajesh was in her neighbourhood), forked it and added to it, letting Siobhan know what she had done, and Siobhan responded by forking and editing on Wednesday morning.  On Wednesday afternoon, Shilpa checked the Conversation Club, rather than her usual approach of Recent Changes in her neighbourhood.  She was really surprised that the new and improved version seemed to be missing Siobhan’s and her recent additions.  Kurt scratched his head.

  1. A tale of independent development of ideas ( and a little bit of angst)

Shilpa posted about bug-eyed monsters on Monday morning.  Siobhan noticed the post as she was very interested in bug-eyed monsters and immediately tweeted Shilpa (whom she knew from the Bug-Eyed Monster Society) to let her know she was forking her post and adding to it.

On Tuesday morning Rajesh noticed Siobhan’s edit of the post .  He forked it and contacted his mate Tom via Twitter as they had a mutual interest in bug-eyed monsters.  They had already decided not to join the Bug-Eyed Monster Society as they really disagreed with their hypotheses on the reasons for the bugginess of the monsters’ eyes.  They tweeted back and forth, then met for coffee on Wednesday morning.  On Wednesday afternoon, Tom forked the post and made substantial edits to correct what they saw as the mistakes that Shilpa and Siobhan had made.

Meanwhile Shilpa saw Siobhan’s post (as she but not Rajesh was in her neighbourhood), forked it and added to it, letting Siobhan know what she had done, and Siobhan responded by forking and editing.

On Wednesday afternoon, Shilpa checked the Conversation Club, rather than her usual approach of Recent Changes in her neighbourhood.  She was really surprised that the newest version of the post was so radically different from the one she had been working.  She wondered what to do next.  Kurt sighed.

Some observations

We could write another version of this tale where Kurt invited Shilpa, Siobhan, Rajesh and Tom to a Google Hangout , and they came up with ideas on how to restructure the post into a series of linked posts  that displayed the alternative theories on bug-eyed monsters.  But, but, but … Kurt was an old hand, the others were new and were still learning about forking, journal and the implicaions of neighbourhoods.  Also, the technology is quite new, operating across servers in different continents and time zones.  In a context where there is socio-technical unpredictability, maybe we need Repair Strategies.

Comments

I would love comments, here or at #fedwiki on Twitter or on the post at #fedwiki itself.  I will try to collate what I have learned and repost at all three places.

Layers of meaning at #Fedwikihappening

I am taking part in a two week experiment with a federated wiki, and this a good explanation of what it’s about.  I don’t really know how I managed to get on board and sometimes feel like I got on the wrong train, and with a forged ticket, but I do know that I am privileged to be taking part. Mike Caulfield calls it a happening and he is an excellent event organiser. The really exciting thing is that Ward Cunningham, the creator of the original wiki and the smallest federated wiki, is present. Poor man, he has suffered two Google Hangouts with me, and I am still blundering around in the technology without much clue of what I am doing.

View in lightbox! Anisa C

“I Saw a Nightmare…”Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976 tells the story of the Soweto uprising in South Africa in 1976.  It sustains a narrative by the author, Helena Pohlandt-McCormick, and yet offers an archive including photos and stories in people’s own voices [http://www.gutenberg-e.org/pohlandt-mccormick/readersguide.html html].

This seems relevant to what we are doing at #fedwikihappening (FWH) but I am not sure how.  I am still struggling with the idea of forking posts: it seems related but somehow very different from layers of meaning in the book about Soweto.  There’s something about the wiki concept (in my mind at least) that assumes a sort of knowledge coherence within pages, even if different knowledges can exist in different forks. The dialogical layer takes place mainly on Twitter, and may not be visible to the reader. Sometimes commentary exists on a page but comments are discrete, not synthesised.  For this reason, although I have uploaded some of the ideas in this post to #fedwikihappening, they are a sub set of what I have written here.

One of the activities participants have done is ‘idea mining’ where we go and find interesting snippets to bring to the happening with a little wrap-around for ourselves.  I did this the other day with a blog post from Esko Kilpi, Advanced Work.  Although I enjoyed reading the article, and thought it would be of interest at FWH, I had a critique of it that I have not yet shared on the wiki.  This feels a bit like a dirty secret, that I am compromising my identity but I honestly don’t know how, socially and technically to bring my critique to FWH, or even if I should.  And if critique is not appropriate at FWH, what does that mean for people’s voices and identities?

Although identity is discoverable (in theory at least) at FWH, close collaborative writing is encouraged without paying attention to who has written what.

Quote from McCormick

Over time, memories similarly pass through layers upon layers of experience, and public and private thought and interpretation, and they are influenced by changing ideology and identity. In this way, all narratives changed with time.

I am really wondering about those ideas of ideology and identity. Of course, the people at FWH are really lovely, and don’t share violent experiences and history like Apartheid and the Soweto uprising, but cultural differences still exist.  Within the temporary emergent culture of FWH, people come from different places (programmers, educators, researchers and random folk like me) and heading in different directions in the future.

Engaging in close collaborative writing at FWH reminds me of satisfying writing partnerships I have experienced where looking at the finished article, I can no longer see who wrote what in some parts, at least. But that collaboration took place within small groups with people I knew or came to know well.

Within larger groups – or community as FWH is styled – how will that work?  And if we use neighbourhoods to form smaller groups, what about those who are excluded?

Helena Pohlandt-McCormick concludes the Soweto book with the sentence

This book is about those and for those who helped me break silences.

Can close collaborative writing on FWH help to break silences, or to make silences, or both?