35 Year Anniversary of Open Space Preservation

This coming election day (November 6, 2007) will mark the 35th anniversary of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District‘s formation (Measure R). I’m not talking about the group process, I’m talking about the preservation of natural Open Space, one of the reasons the Bay Area is so beautiful. The latest district newsletter cited a beautiful passage from the campaign materials back then:    (MBZ)

Open space is our green backdrop of hills. It is rolling grasslands — cool forests in the Coast Range — orchards and vineyards in the sun. It is the patch of grass between communities where children can run. It is uncluttered baylands where water birds wheel and soar, where blowing cordgrass yields its blessings of oxygen, where the din of urban life gives way to the soft sounds of nature. It is the serene, unbuilt, unspoiled earth that awakens all our senses and makes us whole again… it is room to breathe.    (MC0)

Internet Identity Workshop 2007, Day Two

My big takeaway from this rendition of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) continues to be the growing maturity of this community as well as the influx of new faces. This manifested itself in interesting ways in Open Space today. As Phil Windley noted in his excellent synopsis of the day, almost half the room stood up to propose sessions, which was quite stunning.    (M9Y)

While there were a number of interesting topics posted, most of the ones I attended were more bull sessions than work sessions. That’s not a bad thing — talk is necessary for building Shared Understanding — but you also want to make sure that the folks who are in a position to work are working. And that’s what happened. There were a lot of ad hoc, project-oriented meetings and plotting happening outside of the sessions.    (M9Z)

This is a good lesson on the nature of Open Space, especially when these gatherings occur repeatedly in a community of practice. Norms emerge and evolve. Communities go through cycles, and the Open Space experience shifts with each cycle.    (MA0)

I managed to eavesdrop on part of a conversation between Lisa Dusseault and Lisa Heft about Open Space and this conference in particular. Lisa Dusseault was bemoaning the lack of Shared Understanding among all the participants, and explained that at IETF and similar gatherings, there was always a baseline of knowledge across participants, because there were papers, and people were expected to read them ahead of time. Pre-work is not anathema to Open Space, and it’s great if you can get folks to do it. In this particular community, I think it’s possible. But you still have to be careful when considering other ways of designing for this challenge.    (MA1)

A few weeks ago, Al Selvin told me about his experiences at CHI conferences. The first time he went, he was new to the field, and it was a wonderful learning experience. The following year, he attended again, and the experience was not as good. Why? Because it was essentially identical to the previous year. People were basically the same things as they had before.    (MA2)

What’s the difference between what happens at Open Space versus most academic conferences? Co-creation — aka collaboration aka real work — is a key part of the process. People, both old and new, get together to evolve their Shared Understanding and something new and wonderful emerges from that. You have both learning and co-creation, which are really two sides of the same coin. Sadly, many conferences are all about one-sided coins.    (MA3)

I think there are ways to make the first day even more effective for new members of the community. We heard some great ideas for this at Kaliya Hamlin‘s session on this topic, and I expect her to do great things with this feedback.    (MA4)

Speaking of community, I held a session on Identity Commons. A lot of folks who have been active in the creation process participated, as did key members of our community. One of the things I wanted to make crystal clear to folks was that ultimately, Identity Commons was simply the name of this community. As it happens, this name represents both the intent and values of this community (or in chaordic speak, the purpose and principles). What’s really unique about our values is how we collaborate with each other. There is in fact a legal entity called Identity Commons, but it is extremely lightweight and open. It’s sole purpose is to manage the shared assets of this community in an open, grassroots way.    (MA5)

The organizational elements of this entity are fascinating in and of themselves. The challenge that most organizations like Identity Commons face is, how do you embrace an identity (which implies creating a boundary between you and others) while remaining open (keeping that boundary permeable and malleable). (Boundaries and identity as they pertain to leadership were major themes at the Leadership Learning Community Evaluation Learning Circle last January, yet another instance of all my different worlds colliding.) Complicating all of this is the challenge of sustainability.    (MA6)

In order to make decisions, a community must define who its members are. Most organizations define membership as some combination of vetting, voting, and payment. I believe that a pay-to-play membership model is the main source of problems most organizations like these face. It’s simply a lazy approach to sustainability. There are other ways to be sustainable without destroying the integrity of your community.    (MA7)

I could go on and on about this, and I eventually will, but not right now. The challenge we currently face is that the growth of the community outpaced the reformation of the new Identity Commons. While we were busy gaining a collective understanding of what we were trying to do, a process that took well over a year, the overall community grew on us. Now, we’re faced with the challenge of getting folks to think of this community as Identity Commons, rather than as some entity that a bunch of folks are working on. I like to call this going from “they” to “we.”    (MA8)

Conversations with folks about this today made me realize that I was overthinking the problem. (Shocker!) The problem is as challenging as it was before, but I think the solution is relatively straightforward: good ol’ fashion community-building, starting with the existing social network. As complex and multilayered as all this stuff is, I think we can keep the message simple, which will greatly aid our cause.    (MA9)

Miscellaneous thoughts from day two:    (MAA)

  • I chatted with Larry Drebes of JanRain about Pibb, and he assured me that they would be adding Permalinks soon, as well as other cool features such as export. Call me a convert. Now I’ve got to remember to talk to them about the perplog vision, and how those ideas could be integrated into Pibb to make it seriously kick butt. I’m also going to evangelize at RoCoCo (RecentChangesCamp Montreal) later this week.    (MAB)
  • I am really impressed with how much OSIS has accomplished over the past six months. Kudos to Dale Olds and Johannes Ernst for their leadership on this project, and kudos to Dale and Pamela Dingle for a really cool interop code session this afternoon. Despite some difficulties with the wireless, it looked like they got a lot of stuff done.    (MAC)
  • Brilliant move on Kaliya’s part to invite Open Space facilitator Lisa Heft to participate. She’s an outsider to this community, but she’s a wonderful observer of people, and it’s been great hearing her take on things. She’s also performing a nifty experiment which will be unleashed on everybody tomorrow afternoon.    (MAD)
  • I chatted a bit with Kevin Marks this evening about microformats and his experience as a new Googler. When I think of Kevin, I don’t immediately think Google, but he does work there now, so technically, Google was represented at the workshop. Ben Laurie, another Googler, has also been an active participant in this community. However, as much as I generally love Google, I have been extremely disappointed in its overall participation and presence in the identity community. The Google identity experience is one of the worst on the Internet, which is all the more notable when compared to its consistent track record of superior web experiences. It’s also using its own proprietary identity protocols, which is a travesty. There are good solutions to all of this, and yet, Google has thus far ignored the quality work in this community. I’d love to see Google adopt OpenID, but I’ll settle for more folks involved with identity at Google simply participating in this community.    (MAE)

Notable December Events

There are several notable events this month. Next week is Internet Identity Workshop (IIW) 2006B at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. I’ll be speaking on Monday afternoon about Identity Commons. There will also be an Untalent show on Tuesday night, which promises to be spectacular.    (LKV)

Starting Wednesday, December 6, Lisa Heft will be leading a three day Open Space Technology Workshop. Those of you interested in learning more about Open Space should really attend. Lisa’s a long-time practitioner and thinker, and she is very well-respected in the community.    (LKW)

Allen Gunn and company are throwing a San Francisco Nonprofit Technology Center Holiday Party on December 13 at their new space on 1370 Mission. Anyone who’s ever been to one of Gunner’s parties know that this is not to be missed.    (LKX)

Finally, Todd Davies and CPSR are sponsoring Technopolitics Camp in San Francisco on December 17.    (LKY)

Happy December!    (LKZ)

An Evening with Danish Bloggers

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/62/218801606_2d3d0e5417_m.jpg?w=700    (L3I)

You can’t truly know another country until you know its food and its people. Thanks to Thomas Madsen Mygdal, I had a chance to do both last Friday in Copenhagen. Many thanks to all of you who came (14 in all!) and shared your stories and good vibes (and restaurant recommendations). Evan Prodromou teased me later about having a Danish posse. Well, you all can consider me part of your American posse.    (L3J)

I arrived in Denmark two weeks ago knowing almost nothing about the country, much less the goings-on there related to my professional world (other than Reboot). I left a week later, not only personally and culturally enriched, but also professionally enriched. There is a lot of interesting thinking going on in Denmark, and while the startup culture is not as active as it is in San Francisco or even other European countries, the desire to do with the group I met was very strong. That’s not always the case at these blogger meetups (which is why I generally avoid them, at least here at home.)    (L3K)

The evening began casually (other than a minor mixup over the meeting place) with drinks at the Barbar Bar in Vesterbro. We then walked over to Carlton for an excellent dinner. I had told myself beforehand that I wasn’t going to stay out too late, but I was enjoying myself too much. The whole group shifted to Joachim Oschlag‘s place (which was conveniently just upstairs from the restaurant) for more beer and conversation. It was hyggeligt!    (L3L)

Ah yes, hyggeligt. Hygge is a Danish word for… well, apparently, it’s hard to translate, and I’m not sure I fully grasp it. According to the English Wikipedia, hygge is equivalent to the German word, Gemuetlichkeit. Hygge denotes a sense of intimacy and closeness, and is often used to describe gatherings of people, where you share a sense of familiarity and fun with those around you. Think “hug,” but not as wishy-washy. It’s a sense of wholeness that comes from being around others, and there’s a strong association with the space that helps create this wholeness. You can see why I like this word. The notion of hygge resonates strongly with community, and I would argue that it’s a common pattern in High-Performance Collaboration as well as another aspect of Quality Without A Name.    (L3M)

I’ve got pictures of the gathering buried in my Copenhagen Flickr set. Michael Andersen also posted some pictures as well as a blog entry.    (L3N)

I can’t possibly do justice to all of the conversations I had that night, but here are some highlights:    (L3O)

Reboot and Open Space    (L3P)

A lot of these folks were intimately familiar with Open Space. A few of them knew Gerard Muller, founder of the Danish Open Space Institute and co-facilitator of the Open Space at WikiSym with Ted Ernst. Thomas had tried incorporating Open Space into Reboot a few years back, and it apparently did not work well. We talked a lot about success patterns in group process, especially hybrid processes.    (L3Q)

One of the biggest challenges with network as opposed to organizational events, where your participants feel compelled rather than obligated to attend, is getting people there in the first place. Most people interpret “emergent agenda” as “no agenda,” and they treat such events as networking rather than learning events. This is exacerbated by the length of the event, which is optimally three days for emergent group processes. (See Michael Herman‘s Two Night Rule. I’m starting to realize that many people — even those who are very good at group process — are unaware of the forces underlying the Two Night Rule, and it affects the design process.)    (L3R)

Framing the invitation is a critical component for circumventing this challenge, but it’s not easy. I urged Thomas and the others not to give up on more interactive processes, and suggested as a possible framing question for an event, “What could we accomplish together in three days?” I proposed linking such a Danish event with a similar one here in the States, perhaps associated with our “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshops.    (L3S)

Semco SA    (L3T)

Several people told me the story of the Brazilian company, Semco SA, and its CEO, Ricardo Semler. Semco is a remarkable study in decentralized, emergent organization. It’s a relatively large company, with over $200 million in revenue and 3,000 employees, and it’s aggressively decentralized and transparent. Employees set their own hours and salaries. Workers evaluate their bosses, and they regularly mix with others, regardless of projects, thus developing multiple skills as well as a greater appreciation for the many roles that are required to make an organization tick. It’s really an amazing story. Semler has written two books, Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend, both of which I plan to read.    (L3U)

I did some followup research, and I was surprised to see how widely known the Semco story seems to be. I follow this space closely, and I also did a considerable amount of research on Brazil for my Brazilian Open Source adoption study published in May 2005, but this was the first I had heard of the company or of its CEO. It’s yet another example of the group being smarter than the individual.    (L3V)

Knowing What We Should Know    (L3W)

Speaking of which, I chatted quite a bit with Raymond Kristiansen, a vlogger, about how to get more people aware of the stories they should be aware of. It’s a very difficult question. On the one hand, the notion of Collective Wisdom does not mean that every individual needs to know everything. On the other hand, it does imply that we should be able to quickly learn what we need to know when we need to know it.    (L3X)

We talked about the Featured Content pattern as a way of trickling up useful content. It’s an especially important pattern with blogs, which are great for tracking conversations, but — like Mailing Lists and forums — tend to obscure older, but still relevant content.    (L3Y)

On a related note, Raymond also kicked my butt about not creating screencasts. I promised Raymond that I’d have my first screencast up before the end of September. There, it’s in writing now.    (L3Z)

Alexander Kjerulf    (L40)

I’m a little reluctant to single Alexander out, because I walked away profoundly affected and impressed by many people. Nevertheless, he and his blog, The Chief Happiness Officer, get special mention (not that he needs it; his blog is far more popular than mine!) and soon, a blog post devoted entirely to our conversations for two very important reasons. First, he recommended a number of excellent restaurants in Copenhagen, and we ended up eating at two of those together.    (L41)

Second, every time we chatted, I found myself scurrying for my pen and notecards. It will take me three freakin’ years to follow-up with all of his stories and ideas, generated over maybe 12 hours of conversation. I plan on trying anyway, because there was a very high degree of relevance and profundity in everything he said. He is a plethora of ideas, knowledge, and — as his title implies — positive energy. I urge all of you to check out his blog, and to make an effort to meet him if you’re ever in Denmark.    (L42)

WikiMania 2006: Quick Hits and Final Thoughts

I really enjoyed Wikimania, but it felt distinctly different than last year. A big part of it was personal. The conference was held in Cambridge, my home for four years, so the location itself was familiar and uninteresting. I was only there for three days, whereas last year I came early for Hacking Days, where I had a chance to get to know people better at my leisure. I also had much more on my mind, whereas last year, I was fully present the whole time — morning, noon, and night.    (L0E)

Part of it was the conference itself. It wasn’t as international as last year, but it was still quite good — one out of four attendees were from outside of the States. There were also more visitors, folks new to Wikis who came to see what this stuff was all about. Several of these people were fairly high-level, described by Jason Calacanis as “folks who ride on the back of builders.”    (L0F)

The same held true for RecentChangesCamp earlier this year, except the spirit was quite different. There, the visitors were eager to learn and to participate, and the community embraced them. Here, many visitors stayed at arm’s length, choosing to observe from afar rather than immerse themselves in this wonderful community. At Wikimania last year, a different group of us would go out every night, laughing, sharing stories, mixing with other groups. This year, there were more clusters, more silos. I saw people — especially the visitors — sticking with the folks they knew, rather than mixing with others.    (L0G)

That is not our community’s way, and I found it mildly distressful. To some extent, it’s the price of success — especially true in the case of Wikipedia — and the result of the culture that those not acclimated to Wikis bring to the table. To a large extent, process is at fault. I find it fascinating that a community schooled in self-organization and the value of emergence continues to organize top-down gatherings. If it’s not careful, Wikimania may eventually go the way of Linux World, Comdex, and many other conferences that began as a wonderful, generative community gathering and eventually became a meeting place for fast-talking salespeople.    (L0H)

Despite my standing in the Wiki community, I’m an outsider to Wikipedia, and I only have three ways of encouraging a shift in how Wikimania operates. The first and best way is to become active in the community and in the planning of the next conference. In an alternative world, this would have already happened, but the reality is that it’s not likely. The second and worst way is to preach to the folks in the community, which I’ve been doing. I find this distasteful. It’s my personality to effect change, not to talk about it.    (L0I)

The third way is to create a space where people can learn for themselves and to catalyze that learning as much as possible. This, in a nutshell, is the purpose of Blue Oxen Associates. I’ve had some success in this area. The FLOSS Usability Sprints exposed some folks to effective collaborative processes, including one of the original Bar Camp organizers. I was then able to point to Bar Camp as a model for the RecentChangesCamp organizers, who wanted to bring Open Space to the Wiki community. Both the usability sprints and Bar Camp helped spawn DCamp, the Bar Camp for the usability community. Our “Tools for Catalyzing Collaboration” workshops have inspired a number of people to pursue similar event models.    (L0J)

In addition to helping the tech community learn about face-to-face collaborative processes, I’ve also helped other communities — from Planetwork to the World Economic Forum — learn how online collaborative spaces can complement physical ones.    (L0K)

All of this is just the start. I have bigger and better things in the works. More importantly, the meme is starting to spread. I’ve helped initiate some of this, but there are many other sparks, and others are starting to fan the flames. We will learn how to collaborate more effectively. But it will take time.    (L0L)

I’m sounding a bit ominous, and it’s an exaggeration of how I actually feel. As I said before, all in all, Wikimania was wonderful. When you bring great people together and get out of the way, great things happen. Even if there are minor obstacles, great people will find a way around them. This has held true not just for the participants at Wikimania, but for the organizers. I am amazed at the efforts, commitment, and passion of Samuel Klein, Phoebe Ayers, Delphine Menard, and the many, many others who worked ridiculously hard to make this conference happen. The whole community deserves tremendous praise. I hope it continues to do what it does well, while unabashedly exploring ways to improve.    (L0M)

One goal that the Wikimania organizers should have for next year is improving conference Wiki usage among the participants. Effective self-documentation via Wiki is a staple of Blue Oxen‘s processes, and we’ve managed to influence many others about it, including Bar Camp and the Aspiration events. But the best Wiki usage at an event I’ve ever seen was at RecentChangesCamp. The community was already steeped in Wiki culture, and the process encouraged self-documentation. The fact that neither Wikimania nor WikiSym has seen effective conference-wide usage of Wikis is an indicator that something is blocking the community’s natural instincts. It’s also a lost opportunity, as those who attend the conference seeking to learn about Wikis miss out on the chance to experience them first-hand.    (L0N)

Quick Hits    (L0O)

  • I was amazed at the number of speakers who exclaimed how honored they were to be there. Some of them were merely experiencing the euphoria of speaking at a gathering of their peers for the first time. Others were hardened veterans of the speaking circuit, including Yochai Benkler and David Weinberger. Yochai even interrupted his traditional two months beach getaway to speak at the conference.    (L0P)
  • Speaking of David Weinberger, I saw him talk for the first time, and now I know what the fuss is about. He’s a wonderful speaker — self-deprecating, sharp wit, great sense of humor, and very thoughtful. He did a Monty Python-like parody of Lawrence Lessig‘s presentation-style that had the entire audience rolling with laughter, and he managed to slip in references to Hegel and Heidegger without sounding pretentious. But I had two beefs with his talk. (Boy, I’m just Mr. Negativity today.) First, he disputed the notion that knowledge is just in people’s head, citing all the knowledge associated with the artifacts that surround us. I understand the point he was trying to make, but I didn’t like how he made it. Artifacts are not knowledge. I generally find myself taking the exact opposite stance as Weinberger — emphasizing that knowledge is in our heads, because it stresses the human element we so often forget when we think about our relationship to knowledge. Second, he made a hypothesis about Wikipedia editing behavior that practically everybody in the room knew was wrong. He admitted that he was speculating, and gracefully acknowledged his error when informed of it, but he never should have made that mistake in the first place. There were many people he could have simply asked before making such a claim.    (L0Q)
  • The best talk from someone I had never heard of was by Seth Anthony, who spoke about Wikipedia editing patterns. See Ross Mayfield‘s notes for a summary.    (L0R)
  • Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, the IBM researchers who created History Flow, gave an outstanding talk where they demonstrated some new visualizations of Wiki usage. Some of those visualizations are available in my Flickr collection. I particularly found their visualizations of user behavior interesting, because of past suggestions that such visualizations could be a powerful way to help casual readers determine reputations. The biggest obstacle (besides the computing power required to generate these visualizations)? Privacy. Even though these visualizations were based on public data, that does not automatically make it okay to make those visualizations available. Witness AOL’s recent fiasco (and read Tom Maddox‘s commentary).    (L0S)
  • I caught up with Denny Vrandecic towards the end of the conference, and I’m glad I did. He gave me an in-depth demo of Semantic MediaWiki, which he had first proposed (but had not coded) at last year’s Wikimania. The notion of encoding link types in Wikis is not new, but up until I saw the Semantic Mediawiki, the best implementation I had seen was Evan Prodromou‘s WikiTravel. I think the Semantic Mediawiki is a better approach. It’s less expressive than WikiTravel, but more likely to be widely adopted. I plan on experimenting with it and incorporating some of its capabilities into my own Wikis.    (L0T)