Bad Guys and Underwear

My friends Fen Labalme and Elaine Labalme send out an email twice a year celebrating the summer and winter solstices. This year, they related this great exchange between Elaine and their adorable son, Steven:    (MDJ)

Steven: “Why do we wear underwear?”    (MDK)

Elaine: “Because it makes Mr. and Mrs. Happy feel better.”    (MDL)

Steven: “Do bad guys wear underwear?”    (MDM)

Elaine: “Probably.”    (MDN)

Steven: “I bet Darth Vader doesn’t wear underwear.”    (MDO)

My money’s with you, Steven. And thanks, Fen and Elaine, for enlightening all of us about Mr. and Mrs. Happy. Happy Summer Solstice, everybody!    (MDP)

Internet Identity Workshop 2007, Day One

Quick thoughts from day one of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW):    (M9G)

  • This is the fourth IIW. The first one was in October 2005. Amazing. It feels like we’ve been doing these for at least five years.    (M9H)
  • Over half of the participants were there for the first time.    (M9I)
  • I opened the conference with an introduction to Identity Commons. Got some good feedback, and great support from others who have been active in the rebirth of Identity Commons. My big goal is to get the community to think of Identity Commons as “we,” not “they.” We’ll see how successful we are at the end of this workshop.    (M9J)
  • We participated in a nice exercise where folks got into small groups and surfaced questions. It got people interacting, and as Phil Windley noted afterwards, people stayed in small groups chatting away well after the day had ended.    (M9K)
  • One thing that struck me about the group exercise: I heard no new questions. A common characteristic of Wicked Problems is not knowing what the questions are. A good number of us seemed to have successfully identified most of the key questions a long time ago. This is both a sign of progress and of concern. We as a community are starting to face growing pains, and community memory is becoming more and more of an issue. Doc Searls suggested that in addition to surfacing the questions, we should have asked, “Okay, who has the answers?” I think some variation of that would have made an excellent complementary exercise.    (M9M)
  • I like Pibb, JanRain‘s Web-based real-time group chat tool that uses OpenID. (Think IRC on the Web with OpenID for identities.) But I also agree with Chris Messina; Pibb needs permalinks — granular as well as thread-level.    (M9N)
  • We had a series of lightning presentations following the group exercise. They were all well done. Remarkably, they were all about basically the same thing, only told from different angles, something that Mary Hodder also observed. I think this is a good sign. It shows the ongoing convergence of our community. There was also a lot of Spotlight On Others — folks referring to each other’s work, even borrowing slides from each other — another sign of a healthy community.    (M9O)
  • There wasn’t anything new conceptually, but there were many more implementations, yet another sign of progress. Speed Geeking basically consisted of 15 different implementations of Single Sign-On, which doesn’t make good fodder for demos, but which is great for the community.    (M9P)
  • Two Speed Geeking projects stood out: Vidoop and Sxipper. Vidoop is user authentication via image recognition and categorization, which in and of itself is interesting. But what got people buzzing was its business model: sponsoring images that would be displayed to users for authentication. I don’t know if it’s viable, but it’s definitely creative. Sxipper is a Firefox plugin that handles account registration and login. What’s really interesting is what’s happening beneath the covers: It’s essentially an OpenID Identity Broker running from your browser. It looked very slick; I’m looking forward to playing with it.    (M9Q)
  • Doc Searls gave his traditional day one closing talk. I’ve heard bits and pieces of this talk many times, but I never tire of listening to him speak. He’s just a fantastic storyteller, and he’s always on point.    (M9R)
  • I carpooled with Fen Labalme, and as we were discussing our takeaways on the way back, he said, “I’m glad I didn’t sit with you at dinner.” He wasn’t joking, and I wasn’t offended! I felt the same way! One of the really special things about this community is that there are no snobs. We all like to hang out with each other, but we all also really value quality time with folks we don’t know. You could really see this at dinner. I didn’t see any cliques, and there was plenty of mixing.    (M9S)

The Story of Glormf: Lessons on Language and Naming

Jack Park recently asked about Link As You Think on the Blue Oxen Collaboration Collaboratory. I’ve written several blog posts on the matter, but there’s not much else out there. This was a great excuse for me to tell a few vignettes about Shared Language and the importance of names.    (KMO)

Glormf    (KMP)

This is Glormf, courtesy of the uber-talented cartoonist, Brian Narelle.    (KMQ)


Fen Labalme coined the term (originally spelled “glormph”) at an Identity Commons retreat in July 2003. We were strategizing about next steps, and we found that we were all struggling to describe what it was that we were all working on. Although we all had different views of the proverbial elephant, we were also convinced that we were talking about the same thing. In an inspired moment of clarity, Fen exclaimed, “It’s Glormf!” Much to our delight, Brian was listening to the conversation and drew Glormf for all of us to see.    (KMS)

Glormf’s birth lifted a huge burden off our shoulders. Even though Glormf was mucky, it was also real. We knew this, because it had a name and even a picture, and we could point to it and talk about it with ease. The name itself had no biases towards any particular view, which enabled all of us to use it comfortably. Each of us still had a hard time describing exactly what Glormf was, but if anyone challenged Glormf’s existence, any one of us could point to Glormf and say, “There it is.”    (KMT)

We had created Shared Language, although we hadn’t rigorously defined or agreed on what the term meant. And that was okay, because the mere existence of Shared Language allowed us to move the conversation forward.    (KMU)

Ingy’s Rule and Community Marks (KMV)

Ingy dot Net‘s first rule of starting a successful Open Source project is to come up with a cool name. I like to say that a startup isn’t real until it has a T-shirt.    (KMW)

Heather Newbold once told a wonderful story about how Matt Gonzalez’s mayoral campaign buttons galvanized the progressive community in San Francisco and almost won him the election. As people started wearing the green campaign buttons, she described the startling revelation that progressives in San Francisco had: There are others out there like me. A lot of them. I was amazed to hear her speak of the impact of this recognition, coming from a city that has traditionally been a hotbed of activism.    (KMX)

There’s a pattern in all of these rules and stories. I struggled to come up with a name for this pattern, and the best I could do for a long time was Stone Soup (courtesy of the participants in my 2004 Chili PLoP workshop). I loved the story associated with this name, the parable of how transformational self-awareness can be. But, it wasn’t quite concrete enough for my taste.    (KMY)

I think Chris Messina‘s term, “Community Mark“, is much better. Chris has actually fleshed out the legal implications of a Community Mark, which I recommend that folks read. Whether or not you agree with him on the details, the essence of Community Marks is indisputable: Effective communities have Community Marks. Community Marks make communities real, just as the term “Glormf” made a concept real. That’s the power of Shared Language.    (KMZ)

Pattern Languages and Wikis    (KN0)

Pattern Languages are all about Shared Language. Much of Christopher Alexander‘s classic, The Timeless Way of Building, is about the importance of names. In his book, Alexander devotes an entire chapter to describing this objective quality that all great buildings have. As you can imagine, his description is not entirely concrete, but he does manage to give it a name: “Quality Without A Name.” Call it a copout if you’d like, but if you use the term (or its acronym, “QWAN”) with anyone in the Pattern Language community, they will know what you’re talking about. Shared Language.    (KN1)

Ward Cunningham was one of the pioneers who brought Alexander’s work to the software engineering community. He created Wikis as a way for people to author and share patterns. Not surprisingly, an important principle underlying Wikis is the importance of names. Regardless of what you think about WikiWords, they have important affordances in this regard. They encourage you to think of word pairs to describe things, which encourages more precise names. They discourage long phrases, which also encourages precision as well as memorability. The more memorable a term, the more likely people will use it.    (KN2)

Ward often tells a story in his Wiki talks about using Class-Responsibility-Collaboration Cards to do software design. One of the things he noticed was that people would put blank cards somewhere on the table and talk about them as if there was something written there. The card and its placement made the concept real, and so the team could effectively discuss it, even though it didn’t have a name or description. (Ward has since formalized leaving CRC cards blank as long as possible as a best practice.) This observation helped him recognize the need and importance of Link As You Think, even if the concept (or Wiki page) did not already exist.    (KNG)

Open Source: Propagating Names    (KN3)

One of Blue Oxen‘s advisors, Christine Peterson, coined the term, “Open Source.” In February 1998, after Netscape had announced its plans to open source its browser, a few folks — Chris, Eric Raymond, Michael Tiemann, Ka-Ping Yee, and others — gathered at the Foresight Institute to strategize. At the meeting, Todd Anderson complained that the term, “Free Software,” was an impediment to wide-scale adoption. After the meeting, Christine called up Todd and suggested the term, “Open Source.” They both loved it. But, they didn’t know how to sell it.    (KN4)

So, they didn’t. At the followup meeting a few days later, Todd casually used the term without explanation. And others in the room naturally picked up on the term, to the point where they were all using it. At that point, they realized they had a good name, and they started evangelizing it to the rest of the community.    (KN5)

Names change the way we think about concepts, and so propagating names widely can shift the way people think about things. This is what happened with “Open Source.” This is what George Lakoff writes about in Moral Politics.    (KN6)

The mark of a good name is that people naturally start using it. A name can come from the top down, but it can’t generally be forced onto people.    (KN7)

WikiMania Hackfest Day 4

Bits and tids:    (JM7)

  • I didn’t plan my Hacking Days schedule very well. I missed most of the first day, when the Mediawiki developers apparently made progress on a new metadata design. Days 2 and 3, from which I based most of my criticism, focused on servers and reliability, an area to which I really couldn’t contribute, not because I’m ignorant, but because I’m powerless. This morning, they discussed Single Sign-On and usability, two areas that I do know something about. Sadly, I missed these sessions, because I was too busy spouting on and on about how we really can save the world. Owen Davis, Fen Labalme, Kaliya Hamlin, and the rest of the gang will undoubtedly kick my butt when they read this. In my defense, I managed to talk a bit about Identity Commons later in the day. I also plugged the FLOSS Usability Sprint, and met Zeno Gantner, who’s done some usability studies on Mediawiki.    (JM8)
  • I was one of the featured participants for the afternoon “Wiki developers informal discussion,” along with Ward Cunningham, Sven Dowideit, Christophe Ducamp, and Brion Vibber. Domas Mituzas, Wikimedia Foundation‘s head of operations, asked Ward, “Why Camel Case?” I won’t go into the explanation here — I have a long interview with Ward, to be published eventually, that explains this in detail — but you should know that hating Camel Case is a running joke among this community. I laughed along with everyone else, but when Sven mentioned his desire to remove Camel Case from TWiki, I felt compelled to pipe up. I gave a balanced defense, describing Camel Case’s advantages over free links, but also acknowledging the appropriateness of free links in Wikipedia. Then I got a very amusing introduction to Erik Moeller, one of Mediawiki‘s core contributors and the Wikimedia Foundation‘s chief research officer. Erik had a strongly worded response. It got a bit heated, but never overly so, and I closed by saying that we were in violent agreement. We laughed about it over dinner, but then we got serious again. We also talked about Purple Numbers. I’ve explained many times why I may seem like a poor evangelist, but I think Erik was one of the few people who appreciated my perspective. He was clearly not a big fan of Purple Numbers — as it turns out, he was somewhat familiar with my work — but after hearing my explanation, he responded, “Only intelligent people are going to understand what you just said.” Fair enough. Fortunately, regular folks don’t need to get Granular Addressability for Granular Addressability to become ubiquitous.    (JM9)
  • A group of us broke out into a small group to discuss a Wiki Interchange Format, knowing full well that this is an issue that’s been discussed many times before (Wiki:WikiInterchangeFormat, MeatBall:WikiInterchangeFormat). Nevertheless, I think our discussion was not only constructive, it has a high chance of succeeding. See my summary.    (JMA)
  • Magnus Manske, the original creator of Mediawiki, participated in our Wiki Interchange Format discussion. He also mentioned a clever idea: a “shopping cart” where people could aggregate and possibly export Wiki pages they were interested in.    (JMB)
  • Sven Dowideit demonstrated the prototype WYSIWYG editor for TWiki, based on Kupu. He also showed a WikiText editor with real-time preview, which was pretty slick. Also, Ross Mayfield showed me a prototype editor for KWiki in response to my previous post. Very good to see these things.    (JMC)
  • So many people have come to this gathering to learn from others with different experiences. Granted, all of these experiences center around Wikipedia, but I’m still envious. My neverending quest is for folks interested in collaboration to look beyond their own narrow domains for deeper insights.    (JMD)

i-names Not Centralized

The Identity Commons i-name fundraiser got Slashdotted today. I haven’t been all that impressed by the comments on Slashdot in the past, but they were useful this time in revealing a fundamental misunderstanding about the Identity Commons infrastructure (and a problem with its messaging). Identity Commons is not centralized. This is not a non-profit version of Microsoft Passport. It was designed from the ground up to be fully distributed. See Fen Labalme‘s post for a deeper explanation and some additional comments on the Slashdot responses.    (7VR)