Capturing knowledge

I like some buzz terms and phrases. Some just resonate with me, even if they turn out to be hyperbole. In fact, I think it is important to hold on to them even when the implementation isn’t what I thought it could be. Federated social network. Information worker. Knowledge capturing.

That last one is what keeps me reading on when I browse the feature list of proprietary wikae products. They are these monstrosities that include a wiki, code repo, mailing list, blah blah blah. But they claim that it will help your group/tribe/community/company capture knowledge.

For me, it conjures up ideas of AI learning how people write, and creating well-formatted documents that are linked in a sane way. But it really means search boxes or copy/paste buttons.

I don’t have an AI, or a lab to make one. But I do have the passion of an editor, someone who sees communication and often thinks it could be presented better. My analytics for the year is a testament to that: most traffic was generated from folks trying to set the hostname in Fedora 18, find Rackspace’s DNS nameservers, configure the folders in k9mail, and anything about ownCloud. I write to be helpful, and for my reference, but also because I like answering questions that are asked over and over again.

One of the missing features in those knowledge management systems is an incentive for people to use them. Sure, if your only channel for offering support is through your ticketing/forum/live chat thing, they you may think people like using it. They don’t. I hate you for it. So what would that feature be? Facebook. Or Twitter, maybe.

There was hope that StatusNet (the company) would figure out how to navigate the corporate communications waters, but that seems like a mess that we should just let die (it runs in the face of radical transparency, anyhow).

Obviously I don’t endorse those social networks. They are crap. But if I wanted to compete with those other corporate services, I would build a Facebook app that could turn a wall message (or whatever they are called) into a group/public editable page.

And that is what I am going to try as an experiment, in a smaller capacity that Facebook, but still large enough to be interesting and valuable to me.

Sunset on Denotes

This is the message I sent to Denotes users, posting here as well.

Heya folks. I am shutting off in a month or so. switched to software, and has mostly punched a huge hole in the StatusNet community, and I don’t think it will recover. Meh.

I could deal with that, since I love running me some software, but I just received notice from another site admin with a security patch. The driving force behind StatusNet was Evan, and since all his energy is behind now, we don’t have a centralized way to push out security patches (since I sent this email out Evan patched the code, so I was just confused by getting a message from the person that created the patch). That is too much of an expense to run software that I am not going to actively use.

It was a good run. I will help anyone get their content exported, if they want.

I am not giving up on a federated social network, but I am changing how I think it should be done. In the coming months I will lay out how I think WordPress could be the platform that folks could use for their public social network needs. Fortunately I don’t have time to just lay it out, because work is plentiful! ^_^

Feel free to ping me if you have any questions.


Updated to PuSHPress, networks-wide. That means we has a PuSH hub built-in, and services can use your normal feed (i.e. to subscribe. This functionality had either been broken in past versions, or didn’t work on a WordPress network, but now it is working. I am using it to mirror this site into my StatusNet account.

Eventually I am planning on getting the parts of OStatus working that allows for replying directly to the site, but even more interesting is resurrecting some of the plugins that the OStatus suite was based on, and making WordPress talk to a lot of different federated systems. Of course we still don’t have an interface for reading the streams from other systems… but it isn’t a bad idea!

Federation is hard

Federation is hard. Especially on the social web.

Mike’s assessment got me thinking about why federation is so difficult for the social web, or maybe just the web web. We have examples to work with, federated models that work. Like email or the phone network. Also, jabber.

Not that this assessment is entirely correct, but someone on Wikipedia claims, “In networking systems, to be federated means users are able to send messages from one network to the other. This is not the same as having a client that can operate with both networks, but interacts with both independently.”

The web is a terrific medium, but the metaphors we use to “browse” “web” “pages” don’t serve us well when we are trying to figure out what happens where. For instance, when I load my StatusNet profile and see who I am following, it is a different interaction I am having when I load up my buddylist in my jabber client. My web browser is serving as the client, and the server is doing the heavy lifting. Kinda. Not that it matters, because most people don’t have a server, and the federated social web is supposed to serve everyone.

There are too many projects trying to solve this to mention, though of course I certain personalities that I follow. I suspect that moving towards a clever (client-server) might be worth experimenting with. In the meantime, we should still be making sure that our non-federated social web tools are as easy to use as possible.

Thinking in wiki

I’ve been really into wikae lately, as is apparent by how much I written about it. A wiki is a particular set of features and workflows, and it has its own mindset.

I am thinking in wiki.

This site is becoming more of a journal, where my posts are either about flash in the pan events, or part of longer thought out articulations. The frequency of posts has gone down, because I am doing more mind-mapping in other places, like text files in git repos, and in various wikae.

It has brought a few things to light for me, about how I write, and what I am trying to create. Here are a few examples:

  • Temporality – A lot of the things (most?) I blog about are not important to me after a few months. That means I have old announcement posts and tons of broken links that have no value, but I keep them to provide temporal context. I am not convinced it is that useful.
  • Anti/Social – I think blogging is very important, but it does bother me that blogs are essentially silos. This isn’t really a critique, just that instead of loading up blogs with like buttons and allowing people to leave comments with their social network credentials, it is probably more worthwhile for the majority of bloggers to assess what collaboration looks like for them.
  • Our tools are aging – The software that runs some of the most important spaces on the web, like MediaWiki and WordPress, were developed a long time ago. It is easy to find feature requests from years ago, still being pleaded for. Again, not a critique, just an observation of what popularity does to software, and how dominance affects the culture and motives of the community that supports it.

These aren’t new, obviously. It is just me glancing at the gap between two software projects/workflows (WordPress/blogging and MediaWiki/wiki). Then I think about StatusNet, and how it looks like it could be practically abandoned for other projects. In one sense, that is a bummer, and I’ve invested a lot of time in it. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t so bad for things to get torn down and built back up, especially considering the transient nature of status updates, almost all of which are unimportant to me a few days afterward.

I’ve really pushed MediaWiki hard in the last couple of months. I’ve bumped up against a lot of walls, and some of them stopped me. But overall, I am happy with the result, which is a system to collaborate with those that want to, and a relatively decent way to create bodies of useful content. I am rushing as fast as I can to configure all the extensions I think I will need, so I can eventually just focus on creating. That will be the real test.

What problem does Diaspora solve?

Diaspora didn’t have a clear problem to solve. Who else is working on something like this?

This is a rant and brainstorm. Feel free to contribute in either vein.

Diaspora is getting more attention lately, but it isn’t great. I’ve come across two basic feelings, one trying to drum up excitement for it being turned over to the community (which is something I am still trying to wrap my head around), and one that is reading the obituary for the project.

I don’t really care. Diaspora is a pain in the ass to set up, and even then there are large trust loopholes that can’t be filled in with the anything I’ve seen on the roadmap. I do care about the problem(s) Diaspora tries to solve, however.

We want a secure, trusted, decentralized and sometimes private social network. Well, I do. And if that is the problem to be solved, I don’t see it working in the model of federated pods that the project proposed.

I’ve written about how the great thing about StatusNet is the lack of trust required. When I apply that goal, lack of required trust, to Diaspora, then it seems to me that we need something like off-the-record messaging. I am a network operator, so you should be worried that I am reading your messages. I know how easy it is, that is partly why I run my own services. When I need privacy, I use OTR or public-key encryption. When I use StatusNet or Diaspora, I assume all my messages will be public-viewable (with particular exceptions that defeat federation, such as in-site private messaging).

The problem the web presents to us is the faux-client. E-mail and jabber have web interfaces, but they also have obvious non-web clients. Social networking is not built that way. So maybe we should build it that way.

Who else is working on this problem? What other solutions have folks come up with?

始め: complexion

Introducing (the idea of) my theme framework premise. Complexion, all open and free and stuff. Because I am choleric like that. ^_^

A while back I asked about licensing themes for different web software. I haven’t moved much further on it, but I would like to talk about it. The idea is a theme framework I call complexion.

The idea is that I would create a layout style that could be used as a theme for the various software I use on my site. So, just off the top, that means WordPress, MediaWiki, StatusNet, and MediaGoblin. I am sure I missed some other CamelCase‘d software, but those the ones that come to mind. I would like to be able to have a unified look and feel when switching between these instances, something beyond a favicon or header (neither of which I employ).

The name comes from the classical Greek understanding of complexion. I want to have a rolling series of layouts, where the articles, header, footer and sidebars are changing over time. Then, I want to have five color schemes, one a minimalist canvas, and then four to go by the temperaments: choleric, melancholic, phlegmatic, and sanguine.

I’ve been looking at responsive frameworks to base these on, and since I use it the most, I will start with WordPress. As I develop this further I will put everything in a public git repo, and I will of course license it as liberal and copyleft as I can. I am choleric like that.

Sharing doesn’t have to be a popularity contest

Sharing is about caring. So why are you tracking shares on your blog?

High school was largely about popularity for me. I wasn’t popular, I was something like infamous. Most students didn’t like me, although nearly everyone knew of me. Faculty, for the most part, had a love-hate relationship with me, and it was mutual. I habitually called teachers by their first names, while also pointing out how moronic most students were. Basically, I had enough presence to be known, but lacked any social grace that would make me popular.

Not much has changed.

I think that is why I hold such contempt for “sharing” buttons. Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit. They all have these widgets that can be embedded on pages, and allow people to quickly broadcast to a particular social network that they pushed a button there.

That isn’t to say that it’s not useful, I am sure many people find great value is crowd-sourcing the curation of their reading lists. But that isn’t the point of these widgets. They are badges, a status symbol to demonstrate how valuable something is. It is as useful as being popular is high school.

The only shared items I read are from StatusNet. I am sure a widget or bookmark could be created that would allow the network to be flooded by links, but as it is, most are considerate acts of sharing. People observe something, and want others to be informed by it. Due to the federated nature, we don’t have anything that can count the popularity is a centralized way. It is incredibly meaningful.

This affects my work, because inevitably clients will ask for “social media” to be added to their site. Buzz terms aside, this behavior ends up propagating the idea that we want stats instead of meaning. It makes sense, one can’t report on meaning, or explain to stakeholders how important a piece of content is. We defer to currency of analytics: unique visits, bounce rates, shared items, etc.

We’ve been building tools that make it easier to build superficial relationships, and human nature dictates that we justify why we would value something like that. We tell high school aged humans to focus on their studies, that there is more to life than the microcosm that is school grounds/activities. Consider this a warning in the same vein: you are not your analytics, and there is more to life than how many times your post was shared.

Don’t be popular. Be meaningful.