Defeated by technology

I joined Mike Caulfield’s  Federated Wiki Happening on Wednesday, along with about another 30 people. Wednesday went well. I created my bio page and contributed another page (the first assignment), had a good look round and was fairly confident that I understood the basic principles.

Since then it has all gone ‘pear shaped’. Thursday and Friday whenever I logged in I was taken to Ward Cunningham’s page, although this had my name at the bottom of it. I could not access my own pages; this meant that although I could see what everyone else was doing through Ward’s pages, I could not contribute.

Yesterday my page was reset and this morning I managed to get in to my site, although I had to start again with setting up my bio page (not a big deal). Everything was fine for about half an hour and then I found that if I clicked on my own page, I was taken to another participant’s page. I have not been able to resolve this and again it means that although I can read everything, I can’t contribute my own writing. I had forgotten how extremely frustrating, even stressful, it is to be defeated by technology.

My experience with wikis

I am not new to wikis in general. I have extensive experience with PBworks and some with Wikispaces. I have probably edited a wiki page on most days of each week for the past 6 years or more. The majority, but not all these wikis have been used to collaboratively work on research, which has involved editing each other’s writing and collaboratively sharing and building up reading and other resources. I also have a family history wiki, to which any member of my family who wishes to can add information, and I have set up, managed and contributed to a wiki for a large and complex project, which involved producing training materials for teachers working with children on the autism spectrum. Finally I have experience of working in community wikis. I have always found working in these wikis trouble free.

I was excited by the idea of Fedwiki as I thought it might add a fresh perspective to my existing practice.


There are a few things about Fedwiki, that even with my inability to work in it so far I find interesting and attractive – that’s why I’m hanging in here for now.

1. The fact that it is federated, i.e. each person has their own site, from which they can link to other people’s sites and select or reject edits of their own pages. Mike writes:

….we don’t write on each other’s pages. If you don’t like my edit, just don’t fork it back. That gives me permission to try to write the page I think is best. It gives you permission to reject my changes

2. Idea Mining. Federated wiki is not a blog. Even though there is reference to ‘collaborative journaling’ the intention is that pages will be created by participants to share a quick pass at an idea. This idea can be connected to, captured and extended by others.

We suggest a fruitful approach to journaling in wiki might be Idea Mining, the translation of things we read, see, and think into named ideas and examples that we can connect to form larger and more various thoughts. 

3. In line with the notion that Fedwiki is not a blog, we are discouraged from formatting posts – the idea being that they can then be more easily reused and repurposed. That makes sense. We are also discouraged from adding comments. Edit by adding or amending information, but don’t comment. That’s great too as it keeps the focus on the idea being considered and away from personalities and individuals.

4. I particularly like the idea that FedWiki is a neighbourhood – not a community, nor a network – but ‘The people that you meet when you are walking on the street each day’. Your neighborhood shrinks and grows based on your interaction with it, what you look at and who you read. Mike Caulfield describes it as a Sesame Street neighbourhood.

The Sesame Street neighborhood is transactional and accretionist. It’s event-driven. As you walk through the streets near your house you bump into people, and these people form your neighborhood, by virtue of you bumping into them.

So, I can see how Fedwiki could add to my existing experience of using wikis for collaborative writing. The big difference is that each person is on their own site, whereas in all the wikis I have used in the past, a group of people collaborate in one site.

All I need to do now is to be able to access my own site, without any hiccups and then I’ll be away. In the meantime, I think I’ll write here.

3 thoughts on “Defeated by technology

  1. keith.hamon December 20, 2014 / 3:44 pm

    The FedWiki Happening has been good for me, Jenny, as it has put me back into the same position that I put my students each time I introduce them to a new tech tool. Like you, I use wikis almost daily. Though I have used PBWiki and Wikispaces, I mostly use Google Sites now with my classes, and I’m too often insensitive when my students are stymied by some small issue that is so obvious to me. But that’s where I am with FedWiki, and I think I needed this reminder that if I don’t know how to ride the bike, then most anything can cause me to lose my balance. For instance, Mike Caulfield set up my account as Keith Hampson, and I couldn’t figure out how to change it to the correct spelling of my last name. Maha helped me correct it on my welcome page, but I still can’t fix it on the community list. I’m not at all frustrated by the misspelling, but I am greatly frustrated by my inability to correct it. I don’t like feeling incompetent, but here I am.

    So I have to remember what I always tell my students (usually said too glibly and sometimes without enough empathy) that learning often comes when we recognize and confront our incompetence. The key to gathering enough will to overcome our incompetences, though, stems from a conviction that the end is worth the effort, or the community is worth engaging, or some internal determination simply not to be beaten. Personally, I need a strong view of the eventual benefit or a truly engaging community as I do not have much internal will power. If something aggravates me too much, then I usually revert to more familiar routines. So far, I’m mostly sold on the potential benefits of FedWiki, and I definitely like the community I’m in, so I’m hanging in with it. I’m also on a Christmas break which gives me the time to play with it. That helps, too.

  2. Maha Bali December 20, 2014 / 4:35 pm

    Hey Jenny, this is a great post describing what you like about fedwiki.
    I think ur tech issue happens when you fork someone else’s welcome page so it overwrites your own and u lose stuff. Does that resonate?
    I have one issue with the fedwiki thing. I think we as users may be raising issues related to how we would like to use fedwiki, regardless of what it was meant for. And i wonder how much of that will be taken into consideration. For example, wikis like google sites allow comments. Why not both? Why not notify of changes (i think it is a fear of spam)

  3. jennymackness December 21, 2014 / 7:00 am

    Keith and Maha – thanks for your comments. I’m happy to report that I joined the hangout last night and had Mike and Paul’s undivided attention, so I’m sorted now. I noticed there were two Keiths in the wiki, so it’s good to know they are both you Keith. Based on the hangout I attended last night, I could now make suggestions for how to resolve your problem, but I don’t want to interfere and would hate to make things worse, so I can really recommend attending a hangout.

    Mike has written a list on points in his daily email today that we discussed in the hangout last night. All these are helpful, but it’s one thing to be sent a written list of points and quite another to have someone show you on the screen.

    Hope you get sorted soon. If you think it would be helpful to talk about this, send me an email and we can fix something up.

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