Over the last month or so I’ve been participating in the #fedwikihappening that the amazing Mike Caulfield has been running. I’ll admit I crashed the party a little, asking for an invite having seen a Twitter conversation I wasn’t part of, but I’ve been following Mike’s work for a while and was really keen to have a go at Smallest Federated Wiki. The main reason I wanted to get on board was because there was a structured reason behind it. This was a happening not just a free for all. This structure meant a lot as it provided motivation as well as tasks and purpose to participate. It’s definitely something I want to adopt if I’m doing anything similar as the structure allowed those involved to not only explore the potentiality but also put the technology through it’s paces.
I’ve outlined my experience below into a couple of thematic areas which might help
So lets start with the technology. It’s still in development and if you go in with that attitude you’re going to be OK. There are some idiosyncrasies to learn, some slightly odd concepts and practices but if you’ve ever driven a French car it’s nothing you can’t take in your stride. Things aren’t quite where you expect them or work how you might have intended but with a bit of practice you can quickly get the hang of things. I did encounter the Orange Halo Of Death but finally diagnosed that it was to do with the online security at work – so not browser or user related! FWIW – I used Chrome rather than Firefox throughout and never encountered any issues.
The Happening Process
The bulk of the happening happened over the Christmas break – which made my attendance a little difficult. There were a few days of travel in there and a strong desire to spend plenty of time with the family rather than the computer. I wasn’t prolific but did make a good attempt at trying to find my way and post some “forkable” pages.
I managed to tweak my background and flag image with a shot from my recent trip to New Zealand and a pre-job interview selfie to provide a bit of a personal look to the interface. I then set about getting my head around what is FedWiki, how does it work, how can it work better and how can I actually use this?
- You Write – That’s how you use it in the beginning, developing up a little portfolio of ideas and expressions. They’re primarily for you but they’re written with an audience in mind.
- Then you Fork – Forking is an interesting concept and the fundamental feature of the fedwiki system. Forking entails copying someone else work back to your site along with the pages history and connection to other authors. Pages are yours to do with as you wish but they are embedded with a relationship. Previous authors can see your changes and they can in turn fork them back to their copy.
- You Fork Everything – One of those interesting and idiosyncratic things with Fedwiki is that Forking is synonymous with saving, merging, fixing, connecting & reconnecting. It’s your one stop shop for all things Fedwiki. This has its advantages but it’s intellectual baggage if you come from git or other fork/merge systems. To me this was the least intuitive thing to learn. Upside is I guess, I want to fork everything now!
- You Learn – The great thing about the Happening and the forking feature is that you contribute to something bigger – others can see, edit and extend your work. You start of selfish but quite quickly your activity tends to be social. You begin to create with the intention of others seeing and forking. And even when you don’t, others see potential and do. This was a fantastic learning experience for me. I’d write to the extent of my knowledge – then someone would pick up where I’d left off. I could track that, read it, use it and then fork it to make it my own. I’ve never used something that allows you to do that so intuitively! Simplifying learning is as a process is one area I can see Fedwiki having a huge potential. Jon Udell had some great ideas about using it for learning basic composition
I’m kind of shocked at the flexility of Fedwiki as a tool. It’s really only limited by your imagination and I’m only just starting to get a sense of how it can be used. I’ve got to sit down and map some of this out a bit but as a personal tool alone I can see how it can change the way I take notes, record and map ideas. Scale that out to group work and theres some amazing potential for an incredibly tool to dramatically improve efficiency, productivity and creativity. The only drawback I can see at the moment is in publishing – but that’s really only if you’re thinking in terms of an artefact with a temporal constraint. As something living and breathing – Fedwiki would be perfect.
I’m really enjoying the blog posts on the deconstruction of the Happening as much as the participation but I’ve also tried to capture some of my reflections using fedwiki rather than the blog… because I kind of want to fork everything now! You can have a read over here and if you’ve got a FedWiki to play with have a go at forking it!
I posted this over on Frances Bell’s blog in the comments. The post and the comments provide a great insight into other participants perspective the whole thing and are worth a read.
One of the themes coming through from the shared and personal experience is this idea of Cooperation vs Collaboration. I think we’re too used to automatically assuming that group work has to be collaborative. Mike’s post bought it home to me that no – the difference here is that it’s actually cooperative.
I think a cooperative approach is a significant shift away from the norm – and perhaps mirrors the rise of auto-ethnographic research that some others have picked up on – because it actually injects the self back into the work. Despite the sell of personalisation so much of what we do, see and read is effectively depersonalised – anything that vaguely provides a clue to a personality or identity is stripped away. I think this kind of connective (rather than collective) approach provides a better way for us to learn. In many ways it’s more a kin to our existing social experiences of dealing with individuals rather than the hive mind that collective processes tend to foster.
Yes there are technical issues – but that cultural curiosity and the embedded potential have made this a really worthwhile experience.