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August 13, 2005 » 12:07 pm

Patterns at WikiMania 2005

When I first met Christine Peterson (now a Blue Oxen Associates advisor), she told me the story about coining “Open Source.” The sign of a good name, she explained, is when people naturally start using it on their own. At a meeting of developers and evangelists in early 1998, rather than argue strongly in favor of the term, she introduced it subtly. Although the response wasn’t enthusiastic at the first, everyone in the room found themselves using the term, and by the end of the meeting, they all agreed to evangelize it.    (JMS)

Similarly, my strategy for introducing and identifying patterns of high-performance collaboration is to subversively introduce patterns into various communities and then to listen. If people naturally use a pattern in conversation, the name is probably good and the pattern itself is probably real and repeating. As people become familiar with the concept, they are more likely to identify and name other patterns. Over time, the language shifts your thinking, giving you a cognitive framework for thinking about, talking about, and improving collaboration and collaborative tools. Moreover, the process itself is iterative and collaborative, which is both the right way to develop Pattern Languages and also another application of collaborative patterns.    (JMT)

I’ve been giving some variation of a stock talk on patterns for over a year now, including last week at Wikimania 2005. It usually consists of a quick introduction, a few examples, and an interactive portion where I tease out patterns from the audience. The audience banter is always the best part. It’s always different, and it’s provided me with entertaining anecdotes, new patterns, and better pattern names.    (JMU)

Last week, I mentioned four patterns that Wikis facilitate: Permission To Participate, Shared Display, Visible Pulse, and Working Draft. Tim Starling followed my talk with an overview of Mediawiki development, and when he mentioned their IRC channel, he said, “This is our community’s Visible Pulse.” I love it when the process works!    (JMV)

The discussion teased out other patterns, especially Celebration and Initiation. (Linda Rising and Mary Lynn Manns mentions both of these in their book. They have a better name for the latter, but I don’t remember it off-hand.) One person told a great story about both. His team met for the first time in Australia, and before embarking on their project, they brewed beer that they planned on drinking after they finished their project.    (JMW)

Other patterns observed and not observed at the conference and within the community:    (JMX)

  • The Celebration at the end of the conference was great, but the Initiation wasn’t particularly remarkable. This isn’t unusual for conferences, where Initiation tends to be in the form of a keynote.    (JMY)
  • One pattern closely related to Initiation is Introductions. At conferences, this generally comes in the form of name badges, which we had at Wikimania. I think there’s a huge opportunity for further facilitating this pattern at conferences, which is something Blue Oxen Associates is working on. Hacking Days also would have been significantly more effective if we simply went around the room each day and quickly introduced ourselves. It’s one of those patterns that sound obvious when you hear about it, but is often forgotten when actually designing an event.    (JMZ)
  • Conferences usually do Water Cooler well, and Wikimania was no exception. We had long lunches, a party on the last night, an IRC channel, and some organized activities in Frankfurt am Main for stragglers following the conference. In particular, the organizers did two things really well. The Haus der Jugend was an excellent choice of venue, because it was an intimate space where social interaction was practically unavoidable. Most of the participants stayed at the hostel, which meant that there was always an interesting conversation to be had by simply going downstairs and hanging out in one of the common rooms. Plus, most of us who stayed there also had roommates, which is not typical for the conferences I attend. The restaurants and bars — touristy though they were — were in very close proximity, which made it easy to grab a beer and talk. (Food is a closely related pattern.) Finally, Hacking Days served as an unintentional Water Cooler, at least for those of us who were not Mediawiki developers. Coming early is something the organizers should encourage more widely next time.    (JN0)
  • I’m very biased towards highly interactive event design, and it seemed like it would have been especially appropriate for a Wiki conference. That said, the panel format worked better than at most conferences, and I think the Wiki culture of Permission To Participate had a lot to do with that. The audience interacted easily with the presenters at all of the talks I attended, and most of the speakers did a nice job of incorporating feedback into their presentations. One thing they did not do well was actively promote and integrate the conference Wiki as a place to take notes and have additional discussions. Again, this seemed surprising for a Wiki conference — yet another indication that making patterns explicit is a good thing.    (JN1)
  • Another favorite — also found in Linda and Mary Lynn’s book — is Spotlight On Others. This runs rampant throughout the Wikipedia community, which is wonderful. Tim cited me when mentioning Visible Pulse, and by the next morning, Sunir Shah had incorporated Permission To Participate into his talk on conflict resolution. I found this time and again in people’s talks. One reason it occurred so often during the conference is that the organizers used a Wiki to develop the program transparently. People watched other people’s talks develop and incorporated their content even before the conference began.    (JN2)
  • A critical pattern, especially for inter-organizational collaboration, is Neutral Space. Wikipedia would not have been successful if it did not have an open content license (which facilitates Neutral Space) and, to some extent, if it were a for-profit company. At the board panel on the last day, several people brought up the question of online ads. On the one hand, ads have the potential of bringing in a tremendous amount of revenue, which could be put to good use for the community. On the other hand, it breaks the Neutral Space pattern that has served Wikipedia so well. The community was more or less split on this issue. My vote: No ads!    (JN3)

One last pattern that I both observed and missed was Users Talk To Developers, a pattern I first described in, “An Introduction to Open Source Communities.” Previously, I criticized the Mediawiki developers for not practicing it enough. With the whole conference finally behind me, I want to both soften and and strengthen my statement.    (JN4)

Many of the Mediawiki developers came to the project as Wikipedia contributors. Brion Vibber, one of the leaders of the project, probably never would have joined had it not been for the Esperanto Wikipedia, of all things. After having more time to interact and observe the developers, I think that on average, community interaction is more prevalent among the Mediawiki developers than it is with many other projects.    (JN5)

That said, it’s still not nearly what it can and should be. During the sessions on politics and developing countries, several panelists complained that the tools had a way to go to meet their needs, and yet, none of the developers were attending their sessions. Hossein Derakhshan noted that techies are generally not interested in issues outside of their sphere.    (JN6)

Not all the blame falls on developers, however. As great as it would have been to see more developers abandoning the technical sessions in favor of the more social ones, it would have been fantastic to see more Wikipedia contributors attend some of the technical sesssions. Both communities need to learn and respect each other’s language if they truly want to engage collaboratively. Bridges are critical to make this work. Note that this applies not only to Mediawiki, but to all Open Source projects.    (JN7)

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