WikiClock: The Next Killer Wiki App

Got back from Montreal and RoCoCo 2007 last Friday with a pile of notes and a case of the flu, which pretty much killed my productivity this weekend. Fortunately, spring conference season for me is over, and I’m boycotting all summer conferences with the possible exception of Wikimania in Taipei this August, which means I’ve got plenty of time to digest and regurgitate. As usual, it’ll come in bits and pieces, starting with this post.    (MAV)

RoCoCo pretty much kicked butt. Much props go to Evan Prodromou, Anne Goldenberg, Antoine Beaupre, and the entire Montreal Wiki community for pulling off such a great event. Lots of participants traveled to attend, including several Europeans, which made the experience much richer. This included representatives from every PHP-based Wiki (Tim Starling of Mediawiki, Andreas Gohr of Doku Wiki, Reini Urban of PhpWiki, Patrick Michaud of PmWiki, and Marc Laporte of TikiWiki), which was awesome. I was happy to see old friends from afar and from not-so-far, and I met several great new folks. WikiOhana is a wonderful thing.    (MAW)

The best session was Evan’s, “Wiki And…,” which he nefariously scheduled at the same time as my Wiki Interoperability session so I couldn’t attend. That didn’t prevent me from learning about his incredibly brilliant idea: WikiClock, made possible by Gordon McCreight‘s most excellent service,    (MAX)

What is WikiClock? It’s a clock on a Wiki that tells you the current time in GMT. How does it know the current time? Someone edits the time. Who edits it? Whoever feels so motivated.    (MAY)

WikiClock is a great example of a totally ludicrous application of a Wiki. The point of Evan’s session is that Wiki-enthusiasm can lead to overly narrow thinking. Wikis are great, but they’re not the end-all-and-be-all of collaborative tools. There are a whole slew of good tools out there. Use the right one for the right job.    (MAZ)

The story doesn’t end there, however. What makes WikiClock all the more ridiculous is that people are actually using it. You heard me right. The buzz from Evan’s session started propagating pretty quickly. If you check WikiClock right now, chances are the time is correct. And if it’s not, well, correct it!    (MB0)

WikiClock is that rare breed of joke, where you laugh, then you stop and think, “You know, it’s really not that bad of an idea.” Next thing you know, it’s no longer a joke. I know of only one other joke like it: Parrot, the virtual machine for dynamic languages that started off as an April Fool’s joke.    (MB1)

WikiMania 2006, Day One

Day one is over. Brain is overloaded. Very tired. Attending conference during day/evening, then working late into night — bad. Law school dorms with no air conditioning in Cambridge in August — also bad.    (KWO)

Still, much to share. And amazingly enough, I will — at least a bit. There’s something about this conference that actually gets me to blog, rather than simply promising I will. Besides, I’m going to set a new record for responsiveness to Tom Maddox, even if it is via blog.    (KWP)

It is incredibly surreal to be back at my alma mater surrounded by post-college friends and colleagues. What makes it even more surreal is that folks from all facets of my professional life seem to be here, not just Wiki folks. I mentioned having my fingers in a lot of pies, right? Well, all those pies are unexpectedly well represented this weekend. It started yesterday when I discovered that Chris Messina and Tara Hunt were on the same flight to Boston, and culminated at dinner with Greg Elin (whom I first met at the FLOSS Usability Sprint, and who invited me to join him for dinner), Daniel Perry (a lawyer who’s been an important contributor to recent Identity Commons discussions), Tom Munnecke (first introduced to me by Jack Park when I was just starting Blue Oxen Associates), and Doc Searls (who needs no introduction). Also at the dinner: Ellen Miller, Micah Sifry, David Isenberg, Britt Blaser, and Yochai Benkler. Quite a contrast from last year, when I was hanging with grassroots Wiki peeps every night. I’m not complaining, though. The conversation was fascinating, even if we didn’t talk much about Wikis.    (KWQ)

Keeping with this theme, I didn’t hear much about Wikis today, other than my interview with Ward Cunningham. I kept my questions pretty basic, as a lot of folks there had never heard him speak, but I managed to slip in a few probing questions for myself. I asked Ward about the evolution of Wiki culture, and I specifically mentioned the culture of anonymity that he strongly encouraged in the early days, but that seems mostly absent in today’s Wikis. Ward seemed resignedly ambivalent. I asked him about what makes a Wiki a Wiki, and he was decidedly agnostic in his response: anything that facilitates a permissive spirit and mode of collaboration. I’m not sure whether he was being political or whether he truly feels this way. My guess is a bit of both, but I’ll press him on this if I get a chance later this weekend.    (KWR)

I showed up late to Larry Lessig‘s keynote, but I was unconcerned, as I had heard him give his Free Culture speech before. It’s excellent, but he recycles it often. Sure enough, he was doing the same speech, and I started tuning out. Fortunately, my brain was paying partial attention, or I would have missed what may end up being the most intriguing development of the conference.    (KWS)

Larry started talking about the interoperability of licenses, and how it was silly that the FDL and Creative Commons BY-SA licenses could not be relicensed interchangeably, even though the two licenses were equivalent in spirit and intent. He then proposed an interoperability clause as well as a neutral organization whose purpose would be to classify equivalent licenses. His talk was followed by a really good panel discussion between him and Eben Moglen. This stuff is really complicated and important, but it looks like Larry and Eben are serious about working together towards a common solution. Apparently, Jimbo Wales deserves a lot of credit for getting these two to cooperate. Did I mention that I love this community?    (KWT)

Quick hits:    (KWU)

  • I shared a flight and T ride here with Chris Messina aned Tara Hunt. (Chris was presenting on Bar Camp.) Chris extolled the virtues of Voodoo Pad, which apparently has autolinking features a la my Markup Free Auto Linking Wiki idea.    (KWV)
  • Was excited to see two of my roommates from last year: Kurt Jansson, a German doctoral student and president of the German chapter of Wikimedia Foundation, and Juan David Ruiz, a Chilean lawyer.    (KWW)
  • Saw Erik Zachte in the morning, who does awesome Wikipedia work. Erik immediately told me about two cool projects I had never heard of: FON and Wikimapia.    (KWX)
  • Caught up with Rory O’Connor after my session with Ward. Rory’s a filmmaker who came to last year’s Wikimania to make a documentary on Wikipedia. What I didn’t know was that he was so inspired by the proceedings, he decided to release all 13 hours of his footage under a Creative Commons license to encourage folks to mix their own documentaries from the event. Check it out, and mix away! There’s some interview footage of me somewhere in there, and I make a cameo in Rory’s 11-minute rough cut, in the background of Jimbo’s interviews yukking it up with John Breslin.    (KWY)
  • Somehow, I got recruited by multiple Wikipedians to help with the lightning talks due to my process expertise. My expert advice: “Move those chairs into a circle, and be firm with the time limit.” Yes folks, this is why I get paid the big bucks.    (KWZ)
  • Briefly got a chance to chat with Tim Starling about the OpenID integration in Mediawiki. Tim explained that they’re going to unify the user databases across all the different Wikimedia properties. This was further validation that Yoke‘s identity proxy approach is useful. Of course, one of these days, I’m going to have to actually write down what that approach is, so that I can convince people of its utility.    (KX0)

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)