Upgraded Blosxom and Plugins

I finally upgraded blosxom to 2.0, which has been available for a few months now. I upgraded Tatsuhiko Miyagawa’s ping_weblogs_com_xmlrpc to v0.06 (after fixing a minor bug), and I installed two new plugins: entriescache_purple and Rob Hague’s cooluri.    (BJ)

entriescache_purple    (BK)

entriescache_purple is a slightly modified version of Fletcher Penney’s entriescache plugin (v0.61). Old versions of entriescache and entries_index had a pretty significant bug that prevented them from working nicely with other plugins. Fletcher did a good job of not only fixing the bug, but improving entriescache to the point where it’s really the only caching plugin anyone needs.    (BL)

entriescache supports metadate tags within the entries themselves. I hacked it to support PurpleWiki metadata instead. It’s a very minor hack, and it truly is a hack, but it works great. I’m not going to post my changes to the Blosxom Plugin Registry, because it’s mainly targeted towards users of my purple plugin. However, the diff (to version 0.61 of entriescache) is available.    (BM)

cooluri    (BN)

Rob Hague’s cooluri plugin solves what I consider to be one of blosxom’s biggest flaws: lack of stable permalinks. Now, instead of relying on path-based (category) permalinks, I can use date-based permalinks.    (BO)

In reality, date-based permalinks aren’t necessarily stable either. Some bloggers repeatedly revise blog entries, which means that the entry date changes, and hence, the date-based permalink is no longer stable. However, I don’t plan on using my blog this way, whereas I may very well want to revise categories, so date-based permalinks are the way to go for me.    (BP)

In order to get these permalinks working properly with my other plugins, I had to make some minor modifications to seemore and purple.    (BQ)

Response to Marc Canter

I meet a lot of interesting people in this business, but a few stand out more than others. Anyone who’s met Marc Canter knows what I’m talking about. Marc is a big, boisterous fellow, mostly good-natured, and very outspoken. The guy is sharp and passionate, and has a proven track record of getting things done in the Valley, including cofounding MacroMind (which became Macromedia). He’s also got an incredibly cute baby daughter, which is a bit unfair, because it makes it difficult for me to get mad at him.    (B5)

Marc recently complained about Blue Oxen Associates. Among his complaints were:    (B6)

Now I have nothing againist Eugene Kim and his stalwarts, but what they created and what they do is pretty lame – compared to what’s going on out there – for free, everyday. What was it about Blue Oxen that Socialtext, Phil Pearson, Dave Winer, Paolo Valdemarin, Clay Shirky, Cory Doctorow, Danny Ayers, Dan Brickley, Lisa Rein, Mitch Kapor, Mark Pilgrim, Aaron Swartz, and hundreds more aren’t doing everyday?    (B7)

Why did we need a white paper on why open source is a good thing? Why do we need yet another Wiki – ever if it is purple?    (B8)

I just really think that Pierre’s money could be put to better use.    (B9)

There are lots of problems with what Marc says, the biggest being that he’s got most of his facts wrong.    (BA)

First, Omidyar Foundation has not invested in us. They funded our first research report on the open source software community. We are completely self-funded (by me), surviving on my initial investment and on clients.    (BB)

Second, we are not in the business of open source software development. As a company that uses, evangelizes, and works to better understand collaborative tools, we naturally do some development. Our policy is that everything we produce is open source, be it software or research. PurpleWiki happens to be the first of those tools, and so we make it available.    (BC)

Is PurpleWiki the Wiki to end all Wikis? That’s not our intent. Our intent is to understand and explore ideas that will help us improve collaboration, and then to disseminate those ideas as widely as possible. PurpleWiki is more than a bunch of purple hash marks spread out on a page. There is a lot of deep thinking behind its architecture, much of which was inspired by Doug Engelbart‘s earlier work. The Purple Numbers are the most visible manifestation, but there are others that will become more apparent eventually. The point is, we want to make those ideas accessible, and if they are useful, we want to help spread those ideas. That goes for all collaborative tools, not just Wikis.    (BD)

We’ve done this. For example, we worked closely with Mike Mell who worked closely with Simon Michael to implement Purple Numbers in ZWiki. We host an active community of tool developers who are working together to make their tools more useful and interoperable. We’re always exploring new ways to make a difference.    (BE)

Third, our research report was not about why open source software is a good thing. It was a preliminary exploration into why open source communities work. We’re not the first to explore this question, but I think we are especially qualified to explore it for a number of reasons. More importantly, our target audience is not open source developers. These folks don’t need persuading. Our audience is people who know nothing about open source software, except perhaps that it exists. There is an enormous language and experience barrier that prevents these folks from understanding what makes open source communities tick. Our thesis is that all communities — independent of their domain — could benefit from understanding and emulating open source communities. In order to test this thesis, we first have to overcome the language barrier.    (BF)

Fourth, Marc listed a bunch of people doing great work in this space as if they were our competitors. They are not. I know several of these folks, have worked with some of them, and hope to work with many more. Our goal at Blue Oxen Associates is to better understand collaboration, so we can help improve it. In order to do that, we need to put our money where our mouths are and collaborate with others working towards the same goal.    (BG)

When I founded Blue Oxen Associates, I consciously avoided seeking seed money and going for the big splash up-front. Some of the things we’re trying to accomplish are not obvious, and require further thinking and development. Starting small and growing slowly means we have to focus, sometimes at the expense of interesting projects and work, often at the expense of attention.    (BH)

Nevertheless, I’m surprised and flattered by the attention we’ve received thus far. The participants in the communities that we host are incredibly supportive. We have an amazing advisory board. I constantly run into people who know about us and compliment us on our work. And, the blogging community has said some great things about us as well. I’m even flattered that Marc thought enough of us to devote some space on his blog to call us “lame.” Like I said, it’s hard to get mad at a guy who means well and has a cute baby daughter. I hope he’ll continue to follow our work; perhaps “lame” will evolve into something better once he actually understands what we do.    (BI)

Howard Rheingold on Smart Mobs

(The last in my series of retroactive summaries.) Howard Rheingold spoke at Stanford on October 24, 2003. His talk, entitled, “Smart Mobs: Mobile Communication, Pervasive Computing, and Collective Action,” centered around several themes raised in his most recent book, Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution.    (AZ)

Rheingold suggests that there is a threshold for collective action, and current technology is causing us to approach and, in some cases, surpass that threshold. He cited many, many interesting examples, among them:    (B0)

  • The most recent presidential election in South Korea, where a web site that sent thousands of e-mails and SMS messages in the days preceding helped determine the outcome.    (B1)
  • The Howard Dean campaign.    (B2)
  • The observation that the personal computer became a tool for the masses in the United States when the price came down to one month’s salary of the average lower middle class family ($2,000-3,000). Rheingold then stated that wireless handhelds will reach that threshold on a worldwide basis (approximately $70) within the next three to six years.    (B3)

Rheingold described a project that a friend from Microsoft Research developed. The friend took an IPAQ with wireless networking and a camera, and developed a bar code reader that would query the UPC database and then do a Google search on the product. Rheingold scanned a box of prunes in his friend’s kitchen, which resulted in articles on Sun-Diamond Corporation that raised questions about its environmental practices. What would be the impact of a tool like this if it were available on a wide scale? Such a scenario is not only possible, it is probable within the next few years.    (B4)

Missing Data in Qualitative Research

I’m currently working with Miroslav Klivansky and Josh Rai on Blue Oxen Associates‘ next research report — an extensive case study of the Blue Oxen Collaboration Collaboratory, to be released next month. The study is based on analysis of the community’s archives correlated with the results of a detailed survey of the community’s participants. The goal of the study is to discuss best practices within this community and to propose a framework for examining communities and collaboration. Internally, this is an opportunity to both improve the collaboratory itself and also refine our research methodology.    (AS)

We spent a significant amount of time developing the survey for the study, which was an amazingly difficult process. We had two goals in designing the survey. First, we wanted to gather information about participant behavior that we couldn’t gather from the data itself. For example, we had know way of knowing how much time each participant spent following the community’s discussion. Second, we were trying to determine whether or not the community had QWAN (Quality Without A Name). The problem with this question, of course, is that you can’t just ask it on the survey and expect to get meaningful responses.    (AT)

While struggling with these problems, Miroslav drew our attention to an article by Supriya Singh and Lyn Richards in a recent issue of Qualitative Research Journal — “Missing data: Finding ‘central’ themes in qualitative research” (v3, n1, pp5-17). The article was therapeutic in that it not only empathized with the challenges we were facing, it identified them as standard steps in the research process. Additionally, the article served as a testament to the NUD*IST qualitative analysis tool (the predecessor to NVivo).    (AU)

Singh and Richards write    (AV)

It is rare to find research accounts that do not make the emergence of a theory appear a smooth, even inevitable process. Our own experiences, and those of our students, have never fitted such smooth images, and in discussions we have often found that others are helped by our accounts of the puzzles and anxieties, and the hard detective work, which we have experienced during the analysis stage when a picture appeared to be emerging, but jigsaw pieces were evidently missing. (6)    (AW)

They then explain that the initial research question will inevitable evolve, and hence, there will always be missing data. They also add that survey questions will not always garner the desired information, and hence, the research process must be iterative in order to fill in the blanks. The authors go on to describe the research process for two studies with which they were involved, and explain how they reacted when they discovered missing data.    (AX)

Both authors used the NUD*IST tool extensively, and apparently, the results of their projects “contributed to the further development of the software” (15). I have not had a chance to experiment with NVivo yet, but I hope to do so soon. It sounds like an intriguing tool.    (AY)

A Village Across the World

My friend Ying Qian recently completed a documentary, A Village Across the World, with her film partner, Jie Li. From the synopsis:    (AO)

A Village Across the World follows a group of international English-teaching volunteers into the cultural and emotional landscape of a Chinese village. Tucked away in the mountains, the Huangtian Village at first seemed a poor, forgotten outpost unaffected by dynamic changes happening elsewhere in China. Yet the splash of the volunteers’ entry uncovered rich historical memories and changing power structures that directed the life of the village. As the “foreigners” became increasingly involved in the villagers’ lives, both sides reflected on the fruits and dilemmas of intercultural contact and economic development.    (AP)

The film is 48 minutes long, in English and Chinese with English subtitles.    (AQ)

I saw an early cut of the film, and think it’s outstanding. Ying and Jie are looking for support to help cover film festival entrance fees and finance a followup documentary. Go to the movie’s web site and help support two talented filmmakers burgeoning careers.    (AR)