Social Documentation

A long a convoluted series of thought-trains crashed together to give me this idea for a series of sites that I am now working on. It is mostly written in a notebook, but the gist of it is something I call “social documentation”.

It derives from me taking a step back and thinking about what I actually use non-Wikipedia wikae for, and how it is used by others. There are patterns in most wikae software that I like, but as implemented I can’t fit on other patterns that I would like. While I was thinking about this I was also considering how I would write documentation for my increasingly large and diverse client base.

I have a recipe in mind: WordPress + BuddyPress + bbPress + a custom theme + some plugins.

In the past I’ve been dismissive of BuddyPress because I didn’t use those patterns, and critical of bbPress because that software didn’t work the way I expected. Both projects have matured, and my understand of custom post types and the things that can be done with themes and plugins has grown. Now I think I can work with those frameworks.

And of course I am going to make it really complicated, by running my network of networks with multiple instances of social doc sites, which will share logins but have distinct communities (if I may presume that at least one other person will join me…). So there is that. ^_^

The first site that I will (well, should) focus on will be my work support documentation. That is straightforward in that it is easy to imagine what it looks like. If you’ve ever used a site that was titled a “knowledge base”, there you have it, though I endeavor to make it less boring and more helpful than most kb sites I’ve used.

After that, though, documentation changes into something for which I use wikae: aggregate logs of role-playing game sessions, notes and tutorials for video games, deconstructions and commentary on cultural artifacts (me talking about a show I just watched), comprehensive reviews on computing devices, and food recipes. Those are all real examples of what I plan to build, each a different site using a similar format, but distinct enough to power its own groups of users.

Most ideas I have don’t have as much visual/typographical design involved, so I am not practiced in explaining it. But in time it will become clear, because I practice radical transparency, and I will also be looking for suggestions and design patterns to take.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned. ^_^

Wikae spam

My wikae are getting spammed, so now I’ve got to step up my game. ^_^

Unfortunately, wikae get targeted for spam very easily. And despite this becoming more and more of a problem, the tools used to combat it kinda suck.

In order to minimize the inconvenience for legit folks, I made some changes to help me monitor the issue. They are: SpamBlacklist, Nuke and .

  • Extension:SimpleAntiSpam – Catches dumb bots right off the bat.
  • Extension:SpamBlacklist – Uses the Wikimedia blacklist, which is okay for now. I will customize it as I see patterns emerge.
  • Extension:Nuke – Mass page deleting. Pro-tip: Searching for pages without putting in anything will give you a list of recent content with checkboxes, which is a fast way to get a lot of spam deleted at once.
  • $wgEmailConfirmToEdit – This is the worst one, which requires an email address to edit. I am just turning this on so I can have a small respite until I have more time to look into this.

It is tough having a publicly editable wiki. While Wikipedia is awesome precisely because anyone can edit it, most other wikae have neither the resources nor the critical mass required to effectively combat spam. I have to think about whether requiring an account is going to be okay for my specific needs, or if I really do think my projects can benefit from more accessibility.

One cool thing about the wikae farm is that I only have to block an account once! Makes it a bit easier to manage. ^_^

The Story Machine

For NaNoWriMo this year I’ve created a set of inspirations and goals to help me write; it is my Story Machine.

I don’t have a real firm plot in mind, nor do I have more than a handful of characters, most of whom I know nothing about. So why am I so relaxed going into NaNoWriMo? Because I have a Story Machine!

It feels a bit like cheating, though I still have to do the real work. It is basically a set of inspirations mapped to goals. The novel is set up in such a way that I can jump around a lot and add new stuff when I want/need. It also corresponds with creating a basic playable version of Paracosm, which is why I am also participating in NaGa DeMon.

The inspirations are:

  • Daily article mailing list from Wikipedia – This is possibly my favorite thing that pops up in my inbox. It has the Article of the Day, a handful of This Day in History entries, a word and a quote. It is great for getting the creative juices flowing, and I like to create little stories using each element from the message. I will do that, but fitting it into the context of the novel, and seeing how it develops.
  • Role-playing Games – Specifically, the original Dungeons and Dragons pamphlets. I want to emulate the powers and abilities of those early games, and progress through to modern games in terms of pace and gameplay. It fits into the story, as we have a displaced people who are suddenly giving the chance to develop powers never seen (by most of them…). I won’t be copying them verbatim, obviously, but I feel the older games are fascinating, considering they were developed in a time before Wikipedia or the web. Their research is solid and deep, and they draw on ideas that have a lot of meaning. I am hoping to draw on that to make the characters that are powers more interesting and give them substance. I will have lot more to say about that, so look forward to that.
  • Current events – The biggest thing that comes to mind are the US Presidential Elections, as well as all the other political races. There is going to be a lot of commentary about that, but I am looking at ambient information streams as well. The weather, random thoughts of people on the OStatusphere, and things Clover are learning will be a part of the story.
  • The Enneagram – I am using the Enneagram of Personality as a basis for generating characters. I plan on working with a lot, and finding the ones I like to focus on. Let me mention that I am not an advocate of the Enneagram, though I am certainly accurately described as a type 5. I could just as easily use astrology signs, but I find the Enneagram to be really interesting in how it interacts with itself. I have created tables for rolling on it to develop personality, stress levels, motivations and evolutions for characters. It is hard to get behind a philosophy that I think is similar to Alignment roles, but it is also a challenge to read the descriptions of those types and try to get into their head for writing a character; at the very least, it is a neat tool to empathize with the people it inevitably describes, even if I don’t subscribe to it as a complete system of representing reality. ^_^

My set of goals is fairly straight-forward:

  • Word count – I intend to hit 2,000 words a day. I am not editing, probably not even going to read what I’ve written. Just write until I’ve at least hit that word count. It is the most important thing for me.
  • Celebrate and explore diversity – Another table I created to roll for characters determines their identity and orientation, as well as superficial characteristics (like the color or hair or skin). I don’t intend to have it brought up too often, but I will make a note of how people feel about themselves and how they interact with others romantically and/or sexually. I am not sure how I am going to play with the language, and as I am writing I will probably revert to using gendered pronouns for characters.
  • Internal logic – This is the part where the game mechanics come in. Paracosm is a system for playing a game, but it is just as easy to use it “single player” to build character interactions and create a consistency to have non-people characters interact (magic, technology, etc. [is there an etc? those seem like the big two]). This is actually really easy, since I’ve been working on this for years. ^_^

And that is my Story Machine. I will probably do follow-ups after November, since all my writing during will be for work or novel. In my mind I see the above elements like components going into my brain, and then operational code to produce something. Considering I just wrote over 800 words to describe my method, I should be able to do this!

WYSIAWiki

Wikimedia Foundation’s prototyping a visual editor. Will that provide a hook for more digital literacy training?

The Wikimedia Foundation has launched a prototype of a visual editor, to be used on Wikipedia, and as part of MediaWiki. You can check it out on the VisualEditor namespace on the MediaWiki site.

This is exciting, because their effort could make editing articles easier for more people. It was really depressing when I realized that nearly everyone I know is aware of Wikipedia, but has never edited it, or seen wikitext. In an amazing example of contextual privilege, I had just assumed that everyone made little edits to Wikipedia, or had wikae on their personal sites.

I’ve been playing around with LocalWiki for a while, in part because it focuses on two areas that are useful, a WYSIWYG interface and mapping. When I found out about this project I thought that it would be great for nearly all of my clients, because they all have members that can benefit from collective knowledge, especially geo-data.

It is difficult, though, because I am generally bothered by visual editors. When I install WordPress for folks (and I host over a dozen instances for my tribe), the first thing I advise is to turn off the visual editor. I equate it to speaking well, instead of good. You will be able to share your ideas, but you won’t fully understand how it is published, which is empowering in ways that most people won’t understand until it clicks.

My goal, then, is to encourage people to use sites that have a aggregate benefit, like a wiki, while also providing training in digital literacy.

It always goes back to digital literacy. ^_^

Addendum (2012-06-23): Mark pointed me to a message that links to a test wiki where the editor uses EtherPad for collaborative editing. I’ve used the embedded EtherPad into MediaWiki for writing fiction with my peeps, so this is an interesting take on it. Further down the thread it was mentioned that someone is working on collaborative editing in the visual editor. Neat stuff!