March Conferences

This weekend, we’re having our fourth FLOSS Usability Sprint, once again sponsored by the good folks at Google. Participating projects will include Mozilla, WiserEarth, Social Source Commons, and Drupal! It should be a fantastic event, and we still have some slots for usability folks, so if you’d like to participate, please apply by the end of the day today.    (LYO)

Tonight is another installment of WikiWednesday at Socialtext‘s offices in Palo Alto. Bryan Pendleton of Xerox PARC will be discussing his research on conflict resolution and coordination on Wikipedia. I had a chance to talk briefly with him about his work last month, and his talk should be absolutely fascinating.    (LYP)

Finally, there’s going to be an unprecedented gathering of folks in the facilitation, Organizational Design, and collaboration community on March 21-23 called Nexus for Change. It will be held at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio (near Detroit). If you’re interested in catalyzing transformation in your organization and in society via collaboration, this is the place to be. I am tremendously bummed that I’m going to have to miss it. I did everything I could to rearrange my schedule, and it just wasn’t to be. Many of my colleagues and friends will be there, as well as some of the deepest thinkers and practitioners in the business. I highly recommend it to everyone, but I’d like to make a special pitch to those of you in the Collaborative Tools business to attend. Should be a tremendous event.    (LYQ)

Collaboration as a System

I spent this past Saturday in Sebastopol “tutoring” Gail Taylor, Todd Johnston, and Tiffany Von Emmel on online Collaborative Tools. I lured Matthew O’Connor into helping by boasting of Gail, Todd, and Tiffany’s deep thinking about and practice of collaboration.    (LVC)

One of our exercises was to walk through all of our respective digital workspaces, demonstrating how we read and wrote email, and worked with online tools. I had gotten some idea of how Matthew worked when we paired at the Wikithon earlier this month, but I was still blown away by his walkthrough. He’s really thought deeply about his work processes and has optimized his online workspace accordingly.    (LVD)

Matthew expressed surprise that he was the only one who had done this, especially since I had proclaimed these folks to be gurus. I didn’t have a chance to discuss this with him on Saturday, so I thought I’d post some thoughts about that here.    (LVE)

To be good at collaboration, you have to treat it as a system. That system includes things like communication, community, Knowledge Management, learning, and leadership.    (LVF)

Most Collaborative Tools companies are either in the communication or the Knowledge Management business. They’re usually selling pipes, PIMs, or document management tools. All of those things have something to do with collaboration, but they are not in and of themselves collaboration. Then again, no tools are. A hammer is a tool for hammering, but it is not itself hammering.    (LVG)

When I think about High-Performance Collaboration, I envision groups with excellent Group Information Hygiene. Ideally, you’d also like every member of the group to have outstanding Personal Information Hygiene (like Matthew), but it’s not a prerequisite. You’d like to see every member to be past a certain threshold of competence for all aspects of the system, but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone to be great at all those things. On a great basketball team, you’d like everyone to be in good shape and have good fundamentals, but some players are going to be superior shooters while others will be great rebounders. It’s not necessary, nor realistic, nor possibly desirable to have 12 Magic Johnsons on a team.    (LVH)

Implicit in my One Small Change post is that there is no one thing. I can think of a number of small, concrete changes that could result in significant improvements in collaboration. This is one of the main reasons why Pattern Languages — collections of named, concrete patterns — are fundamental to The Blue Oxen Way.    (LVI)

Personal Information Hygiene is a critical pattern, because it fosters trust. My advice to groups with trust issues would be to eschew squishy exercises and look at people’s Personal Information Hygiene instead. However, past a certain level, I don’t see great Personal Information Hygiene as being the primary hallmark of a great collaborator.    (LVJ)

Granular Editing

I’ve been working with Doku Wiki a lot recently — it was what we used for the St. Louis Collaboratory workshop — and it reminded me of yet another reason why Granular Addressability is more important than we think it is.    (LFO)

My biggest takeaway from working with Doug Engelbart on the HyperScope this past year: Addressability is for more than linking. Indeed, HyperScope takes advantage of addressability to support some powerful navigation capabilities.    (LFP)

Well, addressability can also be used for editing. And in fact, it is. Both Mediawiki and Doku Wiki support granular editing. The reason? Mediawiki is designed for encyclopedias (specifically, Wikipedia. Doku Wiki is designed for authoring documentation. In both cases, you end up having long pages. Editing long pages in your browser is a major pain in the rear. It’s much easier to edit specific sections.    (LFQ)

Augment, of course, also supports granular editing, except the granularity supported is much finer.    (LFR)

This is yet another example of the following law of Collaborative Tools, which I first mentioned in my manifesto:    (LFS)

Good ideas get reimplemented over and over and over again, often independently. It behooves us to identify these ideas, name them, and implement them interoperably.    (LFT)

(This is also the fundamental principle underlying Pattern Languages.)    (LFU)

Congratulations, Kaliya!

Congratulations to Kaliya Hamlin, aka Identity Woman, for winning the Digital ID World yearly award this past week. You’ve likely met Kaliya, although you may not know much about her. In short, Kaliya is one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever met, and she’s a template for how to be successful in life. The template? Pursue your passions unabashedly, barriers be damned. She’s neither a technologist, an academic, nor an entrepreneur (although she certainly has an entrepreneurial spirit). She made Digital Identity (among other things) her field not out of ivory tower interest, but because she realized that it would have a tremendous impact on the things she cared about in the world: spiritual activism and saving the world. How does she do it? Pure doggedness. She’s not afraid to learn, and she’s not afraid to be persistent, qualities that have helped her succeed.    (L61)

I vividly remember the first time we met at a Planetwork Forum meeting in 2003. Jim Fournier had asked me to help integrate Collaborative Tools into the 2003 Planetwork Conference experience, and I gave a brief talk at the forum describing what I was about and what my plans for the conference were. Kaliya approached me afterwards and gave me the names of three people I had to talk to. It’s been like that ever since.    (L62)

It’s been fantastic watching Kaliya grow and succeed over the past few years. Everyone in this community knows who she is, and I’m thrilled that she’s getting this recognition so that the wider community realizes it as well.    (L63)

Angry Rant on Wikis

Earlier this month, Jonas Luster invited me to speak at WikiWednesday. I didn’t have anything prepared, and I didn’t feel particularly motivated to prepare anything, so, I told Jonas that I was just going to rant. Jonas, being Jonas, loved the idea. So after IIW wrapped on May 3, I headed up to Palo Alto. I promised folks at IIW that I was going to give an angry rant on Wikis, and so several people decided to come watch, including Phil Windley, who blogged it. Feedback was great, except for a few complaints that I wasn’t all that angry. I promise to get more worked up next time, folks.    (KK2)

I’ve made all the points I made in my rant before in some form or another, often on this blog. Nevertheless, it was the first time I shared these ideas as one semi-cohesive thought, and so it’s worth rehashing the points here.    (KK3)

Overview    (KK4)

There are two things that make Wikis cool:    (KK5)

Lots of folks have latched onto the open access part, and there’s been some interesting exploration in this area. Very few folks know about or understand the Shared Language aspect. I think this is a huge loss, because it’s what makes Wikis truly transformational.    (KK8)

Open Access    (KK9)

Since I had just come from IIW, I started with digital identity. First, I said that all Wikis should support some form of distributed Single Sign-On, be it OpenID or something else. Implementing Single Sign-On does not imply loss of anonymity. Most Wikis give you the choice of logging in or not; implementing Single Sign-On would give you the additional choice of using a single identity across multiple sites.    (KKA)

Why would this be useful? Consider Wikipedia. As my friend, Scott Foehner, commented in a previous post on this topic (to be visible again when I turn comments back on), Wikipedia actually consists of a number of different Wikis, one for each language plus a number of special Wikis, such as its community site. Each of those Wikis require a separate user account. Not only is this a huge inconvenience, it effectively prevents you from having a single digital identity (along with your associated reputation) across each of these sites.    (KKB)

Simply having Single Sign-On across all of the Wikipedia Wikis would be valuable. More importantly, the identity community has converged to the point where it doesn’t make sense to roll your own protocols. There are several good existing protocols to choose from, and many of those are in the process of converging.    (KKC)

Reputation is closely associated with identity, and it’s also been one of the most popular topics in the Wiki community over the past year. However, most people have a misguided notion of what reputation is and what we should do about it. Reputation is what others think about you. Reputations exist in every system, whether or not they are explicitly represented. Reputation cannot be quantified. However, you can identify the factors that determine reputation and make those factors more explicit.    (KKD)

In Wikis, this could manifest itself in a number of ways. For example, one way to determine the quality of a page is to view the number of people who have edited it. You could make that number explicit by subtly changing the background color of that page — slightly yellowed for a page with few contributors and bright white for a page with many contributors.    (KKE)

The important point here is that you are not making a value judgement on reputation. You are not saying that a page that has many authors is better than a page that does not. All you are doing is making it easy to see that a page has many authors. Readers can determine for themselves how much weight (if any) to place on this factor for the reputation algorithm in their heads.    (KKF)

The most important button on a Wiki page is the Edit button. That button implies Permission To Participate. It should be one of the most visible buttons on any Wiki. If a Wiki looks too good, that discourages participation. Who wants to edit something that looks like a finished product? Ward Cunningham used to suggest sprinkling typos across a Wiki page to encourage others to participate.    (KKG)

At this point in the rant, I plugged both Ward and MeatballWiki. The Wikis success is no accident. A lot of the fundamental design features that make Wikis powerful were completely intentional, a testament to Ward’s brilliance. Additionally, most of what I ranted about is not new to the Wiki community. A lot of it — and more — has been discussed on the venerable MeatballWiki. If you really want to get a deeper understanding of how to improve Wikis, you should be on Meatball.    (KKH)

Shared Language    (KKI)

Last September, I wrote:    (KKJ)

What really makes the Wiki’s LinkAsYouThink feature special is that it facilitates the creation of SharedLanguage among the community that uses it. As I’ve said so often here, SharedLanguage is an absolute prerequisite for collaboration. The lack of SharedLanguage is the most common roadblock to effective collaboration, be it a small work team or a community of thousands.  T    (KKK)

It bears repeating over and over and over again. Wikis are transformational because they facilitate Shared Language. This is a feature that should be propagated far and wide, both in Wikis and other Collaborative Tools.    (KKL)

I noted two possible convergences. The first is Wikis and tagging. They both share a similar principle, namely namespace clash, and we should look at ways of combining these two concepts. For example, where’s the tag cloud view of a Wiki’s page index? Another idea: Clicking on a tag should also return Wiki pages of the same name. Technorati should be indexing Wiki pages and treating their titles as tags.    (KKM)

The second is implementing Link As You Think in all tools. Blogs that are built on top of Wikis (such as TWiki and JotSpot) have these features, but you don’t have to build a tool on top of a Wiki for this to work. This blog runs on blosxom, but it has Link As You Think. Chris Dent‘s blog runs on MovableType, and it has the same feature. It shouldn’t just apply to blogs, either. It should work in web-based forums and other Collaborative Tools.    (KKN)