Glass Plate Game

One of the hits from last month’s RecentChangesCamp was Dunbar Aitkens‘s Glass Plate Game. Inspired by Herman Hesse‘s Glass Bead Game, the Glass Plate Game stimulates interesting conversations, encouraging and capturing connections between different ideas that are raised. There are no winners or losers. The game serves as a facilitative device, encouraging civil dialog and learning, and in the end, you have an artifact from which you can transcribe the conversation.    (K9X)

https://i0.wp.com/static.flickr.com/38/95674441_357009e2cf_m.jpg?w=700    (K9Y)

The game consists of a set of cards (which you can create yourself) that represent a number of different themes. There are also 24 wooden blocks, sequentially numbered, that each represents a “move” and the state of conversation. There are four possible states: “P” (permit the latest connection), “C” (challenge the latest connection), “O” (mutual understanding; move on to the next move), and “blank” (no resolution; move on to the next move). There are also several colored, translucent pieces of plastic that you use to make connections.    (K9Z)

To start the game, someone picks a theme by placing the first piece and a piece of plastic on a card. Each move after that represents a connection between two themes (cards). You make a connection by placing a piece on another card and a piece of plastic whose color matches the plastic on a previous card. Once a connection is made, you have a conversation, turning the cube around throughout to represent the state of the conversation. Once the cube is on “O” or “blank,” someone makes a new move/connection. The game continues until you reach the 24th move or until no one has anything to say. At that point, you are encouraged to transcribe the conversation, using the game board as a memory device.    (KA0)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/55/106395322_417512d869_m.jpg?w=700    (KA1)

I actually didn’t get to play at RecentChangesCamp — I kept getting pulled away by other things. I regretted it even more after the conference, because on the car ride up to Seattle, Michael Herman and Ted Ernst were saying really intriguing things about it. Fortunately, Dunbar lives in Corvallis, and on my way back from RecentChangesCamp and Seattle, John Sechrest graciously hosted dinner and a game.    (KA2)

https://i2.wp.com/static.flickr.com/36/106395321_9814c0d446_m.jpg?w=700    (KA3)

I think the concept is brilliant, and judging by the number of folks who played it at RecentChangesCamp and ordered a set for themselves, I’m not alone. I plan on hosting salons to play the game and to contribute to Dunbar’s compilations of transcripts (part of his bigger vision to transcribe a global, distributed Glass Plate Game).    (KA4)

I also think the Glass Plate Game could be a powerful device at face-to-face gatherings. The facilitative principles are similar to those espoused by Dialogue Mapping in that there is a grammar and that Shared Display is a big reason for its effectiveness. MGTaylor uses the principles of Glass Bead Game to great effect in their process. One of the best instantiations of the game I’ve seen was when I first worked with Gail Taylor at the 2003 Planetwork Conference. Each breakout group gets a white, 2’x2’x2′ cardboard box, and they are encouraged to capture their ideas on one or more side. In the report-out, the groups are encouraged to make connections with each other by positioning or stacking their boxes next to each other. It’s a great device that works really well.    (KA5)

In particular, I think the game could work really well with World Cafe. Instead of (or in addition to) butcher paper, crafts, and the other typical devices used for capture, you could setup Glass Plate Game at each table. I’m looking forward to experimenting with this possibility.    (KA6)

BAR Camp 2005 Redux

Thoughts on BAR Camp. Yeah, yeah, a little late, I know. Less late than the rest of my Wikimania notes, though.    (JQX)

Many Hats    (JQY)

The most bizarre experience for me at BAR Camp was the number of people I knew from different worlds. My brain was constantly context-switching. It made me painfully aware of the number of different hats I wear, all in the name of Blue Oxen Associates.    (JQZ)

  • Purple Numbers guy.    (JR0)
  • Wiki geek.    (JR1)
  • Identity Commons contributor.    (JR2)
  • Doug Engelbart translator.    (JR3)
  • Usability guy!!! Obviously because of the sprints I’ve organized, but awkward for me, since I have no actual background in usability.    (JR4)
  • Pattern Language hat. I’ve been doing the collaboration Pattern Language dog-and-pony show the past few months, and some folks who’ve heard me speak on the subject were there. I’ll be doing a lot more of it too, so stay tuned. Patterns are damn important, useful, and interesting.    (JR5)
  • Facilitation / event organizer hat.    (JR6)
  • Nonprofit hat. The lack of nonprofit contingent was disappointing, but I had a good conversation with Ho John Lee, who’s done some great work in that space. (We were also both wearing our Korean hats, along with Min Jung Kim, a rarity at events like these.) I also met Phil Klein, a nonprofit guy who also participated in our usability sprint the following week.    (JR7)
  • Ex-DDJ hat. Some fogies, young and old, remembered me from my magazine days.    (JR8)

All this was testament both to my ADD and to the job Chris Messina, Andy Smith, and the other organizers did in only one week. Three hundred people walked through the doors over the weekend. Amazing.    (JR9)

Talks    (JRA)

The best part of the event was strengthening familiar ties and building new ones. I met lots of great people, including folks I’d only known on the ‘net. I wasn’t blown away by the talks for the most part, but some stood out.    (JRB)

  • Ka-Ping Yee did two talks, one on voting methods and another on phishing. Sadly, I only caught the tail end of the latter, but the Wiki page is fairly complete. I’ve never seen Ping do anything that I didn’t find interesting or, in many cases, profound, and these talks were no exception. (I’ll have more to say on Ping’s latest work in a later blog post.)    (JRC)
  • Xiong Changnian presented some interesting quantitative analysis of the Wikipedia community. I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to talk with Xiong as I’d like, but for those of you who have interacted with him, try not to be turned off by his bluster. He’s doing some good work, and he seems to mean well.    (JRD)
  • Rashmi Sinha and I did a roundtable on Open Source usability on the first night. Afterwards, we both agreed that we didn’t learn much new, but simply having the conversation and especially listening to a new audience was valuable. One unintended outcome: A participant (who shall remain nameless, but not unlinked!) complained about Socialtext‘s usability, which I dutifully reported on the Wiki. Adina Levin and Ross Mayfield quickly responded, saying they’re looking to hire a usability person. If you’re in the market, let them know.    (JRE)

I was so busy chatting with people, I also ended up missing a bunch of good talks: Rashmi’s tagging session, Rowan Nairn on structured data for the masses, and Tom Conrad‘s Pandora talk, which seemed to generate the most buzz at the camp.    (JRF)

Throwing Great Events    (JRG)

I toyed with the idea of doing a techie session, but in the end, the talk I should have done was one on patterns and throwing great events. BAR Camp was great, and as with all great collaborative events, there were some common patterns:    (JRH)

  • Food. One of the most critical and, amazingly, most overlooked element in an event. Lots of credit goes to Kitt Hodsden, who made sure there were enough snacks to feed a small country, and the sponsors, who kept the beer flowing and underwrote the party on Saturday night.    (JRI)
  • Introduce Yourself. The organizers borrowed the FOO Camp tradition of saying your name and three words to describe yourself, and they did it each day.    (JRJ)
  • Shared Display and Report Out. Folks did a great job of documenting on the Wiki and on their blogs and Flickr. BAR Camp owned the foobar Flickr fight.    (JRK)
  • Backchannel. I’m not a big fan of IRC at face-to-face events, and there were definitely times when I thought it detracted from the face-to-face interactions. But, it was there, and it was useful. It wasn’t logged, though.    (JRL)
  • Permission To Participate. Lots of Open Space techniques were present — again, borrowed from FOO Camp — like the butcher paper for scheduling sessions. Lots of this was also cultural, though. I think this is the hardest thing for folks who do not live in the Silicon Valley to get — the spirit of sharing that comes so naturally to folks here.    (JRM)

I’d do two things differently at the next event:    (JRN)

  • Incorporate a ritual for new attendees to make them feel welcome and to avoid clique-formation.    (JRO)
  • Add slightly more structure. Now that the organizers have done it once, they can use it as a template for the next event — for example, publishing the time slots ahead of time, and actually enforcing them, at least as far as room usage is concerned. Also, I like scheduled Report Out sessions.    (JRP)

In the postmortem, we talked a bit about what BAR Camp is supposed to be, and I really liked how Chris positioned it: As a model for organizing grassroots, free (or very cheap) alternatives to more expensive gatherings. I’m toying with the idea of incorporating BAR Camp-style alternatives to complement some non-free events I’m organizing.    (JRQ)

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)

TARDIS, Collective Memory, and Meetings

Gerry Gleason taught me a new word today: TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It was used in Doctor Who for time and space travel. It looks like a phone booth on the outside, but it’s got infinite space on the inside. It sounded to me like infinite closet space, a place where you might store all of your belongings and never look at them again.    (2G6)

My hard disk sometimes feels like a TARDIS, the Internet even moreso. In order to have Collective Memory, we need to have better indexing of this infinite closet space. And search engines are not the end all and be all of information organization. We need to constantly refactor and distill information, a manual process that helps learning and also helps us find things later.    (2G7)

With this in mind, here are some guidelines for high-performance meetings:    (2G8)

  • Always scribe in real-time on a Shared Display. After-the-fact minutes are better than nothing, but they’re not better than real-time distillations. It helps focus conversation, and it gives you an artifact to which you can refer later. These days, when I attend gatherings where no one is at the whiteboard, I start to squirm.    (2G9)
  • There needs to be a medium for building on relationships you make at a meeting. This could be as involved as a mailing list, and it could be as loose as an attendee list with contact information.    (2GA)

ChiliPLoP, Day 3

Last Thursday, my workshop met for a second day. Having agreed on a working definition for collaboration (see Collab:Collaboration), we started working on the Pattern Language. As was the case the previous day, I knew exactly what I wanted to accomplish, and I made that clear when we got started. What differed this day, however, was that Linda Rising, Ofra Homsky, and Joe Yoder — our three experienced Pattern Language authors — led the way in terms of process.    (1CT)

We began by laying out the index cards we had collected the previous day onto a table. The goal was to see what patterns we had and what seemed to be missing. The definition that we had collectively agreed on the day before helped us tremendously with this process. For example, because collaboration — as we defined it — required bounded goals, that meant there were patterns related to the start and end of the collaborative process. There were also patterns related to interaction (meetings for example) and knowledge exchange (Shared Display).    (1CU)

Mapping out our cards also helped us identify gateways to other Pattern Languages, such as Linda and Mary Lynn Manns‘s patterns for introducing new ideas into organizations, Ofra’s patterns for leadership, Jim Coplien and Neil Harrison‘s organizational patterns, and GivingSpace‘s patterns of uplift.    (1CV)

Lots of brainstorming and storytelling happened throughout. My favorite was a story that Joe Yoder told about a factory where he had previously worked, which literally left its financial books open on the factory floor. Anyone who worked at the company could examine the books and suggest improvements. The open books were a form of Think Out Loud that showed that the company treated its operations as a collaborative process involving all of its employees, regardless of position. Tremendously empowering stuff.    (1CW)

Linda, Ofra, and Joe constantly stressed the importance of iteration and cautioned Josh Rai and me about getting too caught up with formality too early in the process. Ever fearful of being berated by Ralph Johnson or Jim Coplien, I would periodically complain, “That name isn’t a noun phrase!” Fortunately, the rest of the group kept me on track. We had plenty of time to weed out and refine our patterns after the brainstorming process.    (1CX)

We ended our brainstorming at lunch, at which point we had 36 cards. After lunch, we picked two patterns — Collab:StoneSoup and Collab:KickOff — and Linda led us through a group pattern writing exercise. (I’ll say more about these two patterns when I describe Day 4.) She gave us a letter-sized piece of paper for each component of the Coplien Form (name, problem, context, forces, solution, rationale, resulting context, known uses, and related patterns). Each of us took one piece of paper, wrote down our ideas, then exchanged it with someone else for another piece of paper. The cycle continued until we all had our say to our satisfaction. Afterwards, we discussed what we had written.    (1CY)

This was the first time Linda had tried this particular exercise, and I think it worked very well. It was particularly good at helping us reach Shared Understanding. We all had slightly different views of both patterns. Actually going through the group writing process helped make these differences explicit, at which point we were able to talk through our differences.    (1CZ)

Because Josh and I were the pattern-writing newbies in the group, we each collected the sheets for one of the patterns and promised to combine, edit, and rewrite them into a readable draft. I chose Collab:StoneSoup; Josh took Collab:KickOff. The plan for Day 4 (which was only a half day) was to workshop our results.    (1D0)

I ended the day with a brief overview of how blogs and Wikis integrated with Backlinks could be used to tie stories with corresponding patterns.    (1D1)

Chili Beer    (1D2)

Since that night was our last in Carefree, I decided to organize a margarita BOF. Earlier, somebody had told us about the Satisfied Frog, a legendary Mexican restaurant and bar that had “a thousand different kinds of margaritas.” This was the obvious place to hold our BOF, so Josh, Jerry Michalski, Gerry Gleason, and I trekked on over.    (1D3)

As with most legends, the facts had been slightly exaggerated. The Satisfied Frog only served one kind of margarita, although in fairness, it did give us the option of frozen versus on-the-rocks and with or without salt.    (1D4)

The restaurant did, however, brew its own special beer — chili beer — which was bottled with a serrano chili pepper. It had a nice kick to it, but it wasn’t overpowering. I recommend it to those with a a penchant for adventure and a bit of a heat tolerance.    (1D5)