Fedwiki – further thoughts

In my last post, I wrote about what I like about Fedwiki, despite my technical difficulties. I can now access my site and am slowly finding my way around, but still have lots to learn and understand. My focus is on this at the moment, rather than on completing the tasks set by Mike Caulfield.

Alan Levine has written a great blog post, which I think closely resonates with my own thinking.

For me, as I explained in my last post, the attraction is in the mining of ideas that interest me and inform my personal practice; ideas that I can aggregate/fork into my own site to edit, amend, expand or simply store for future reference. This can challenge existing ways of working with social media, such as in Facebook or on Twitter, where the focus is on social interaction and personal connection. In Fedwiki the focus is on ideas. Someone somewhere wrote today that Fedwiki is somewhere between Facebook and Twitter in the affordances it aims to provide.

It has been interesting to see how the challenge to existing ways of working manifests itself and how we almost unconsciously try to revert to known ways of working with which we are comfortable. So there have been many posts in the style of blog posts (commentary, opinion, summaries) rather than a quickly mined idea, which can be copied/forked to your own site if you find it interesting. Of course the commentaries etc. can also be forked, but this wasn’t the original intention of Fedwiki. There have also been requests for avatars to identify people, for a comments box facility, for a ‘Likes’ tag. And there has been discussion about whether or not Fedwiki should be used for collaborating on producing documents. Personally, like Alan Levine, I think not, but I am going to test this out with another ‘happening participant’, because if Fedwiki is going to be used with groups of students, presumably this would be the purpose.

I have just noticed that on someone’s site, there is a comment about whether or not we need a common language to be able to work effectively in Fedwiki. There has already been some discussion about whether Fedwiki promotes certain cultures. For me some of the language used has been ambiguous and confusing.

For example, ‘Forking’ was a completely new term for me, which has never arisen in my previous work with wikis, or in my career in education. I do not have an edtech, nor an instructional design background. I’m still not sure that I understand ‘forking’. In a Google hangout that I attended with Mike Caulfield and Paul Rodwell (which was super helpful) it was explained to me that I could think about it in terms of keeping a notebook in which I write down my ideas. A friend also keeps a notebook in which she writes down ideas, but she lives at a distance from me, so I can’t see her notebook. Forking takes a copy of her notebook and puts it in mine. She can take a copy of what interests her from my notebook. This is a good explanation for me – so for lay people like me, couldn’t we just talk in terms of ‘copying’?

I have also been a bit confused by the use of words like community and collaboration, both of which seem to promote ‘groups’ rather than the idea of ‘neighborhood’, and joint working rather than parallel mining of ideas. It seems to me that collaboration requires a different focus and a different starting point, for example, ‘a course’ rather than ‘a happening’. A course would spend more time on ensuring that everyone gets to grips with the technology, before initiating any collaboration activities. Gilly Salmon’s 5 stage model comes to mind.

I’m happy that this is a ‘happening’ and not a course, but I think the ideas of collaboration and community have possibly set up expectations that a happening might not be able to meet. I’m not sure how much some of this confusion is down to use of language and different interpretation of words like community, happening and collaboration.

Would I use Fedwiki with a group of students? Only if the students’ focus was on the functionality of the technology itself. I think Fedwiki would need to be more user friendly for those whose first interest is not technology. That’s my thinking today. I might have changed my mind by the end of this happening on Jan 1st.

5 thoughts on “Fedwiki – further thoughts

  1. Jason Green December 22, 2014 / 5:06 pm

    I think the use of the term “fork” shows the technical background of the original SFW community. The term goes at least as far back as the dawn of UNIX, which starts a new process by making a copy of the “parent” with the fork() call.. This language was adopted to describe the process of making editable copies of a code base so several programmers could work on it at the same time. Note , for example, the fork button in github. It came from there into SFW.

    Mike has a page on forking as cultural feature that refers to a blog post by Anil Dash that I found helpful.

  2. jennymackness December 22, 2014 / 5:15 pm

    Thanks Jason. That’s helpful. It adds another level to my understanding which is slowly growing. It makes sense that you would need a system to allow several programmers to work on it at the same time. Thanks.

  3. David Jones December 22, 2014 / 10:37 pm

    Jason’s description of forking from UNIX/github perhaps also shows how the original metaphor of copying pages from a notebook doesn’t quite do justice. A fork does create a copy, but in UNIX, github and SFW it also provides ways for the copy (child) and originator (parent) to communicate and update each other.

  4. francesbell December 23, 2014 / 12:05 am

    @Jason please don’t take this as a snipe but a feature of #fedwikihappening is that you see the article on Forking as cultural feature as being from Mike where in fact I wrote it with appreciated but minor changes from others. I think that there is something strange happening with Mike’s fork to directory. I think that we could have interesting experiments with non-attributions but mis-attributions are just plain confusing.

  5. Kate Bowles December 23, 2014 / 5:03 am

    Forking was also the cue word for me: the sign of a precise practice wrapped in apparently simple metaphor. So I thought as I went in that perhaps the only thing I might achieve is to figure out what the words mean and where they come from.

    I keep thinking (and I’m sure I’m not alone here) of Adrienne Rich’s “Dream of a Common Language.”

    But overall I’m finding it really compelling to learn how to work for a community whose language I often don’t understand. Instead of feeling stupid, I feel entirely freed up to work at the part I can contribute. Continually surprised by how good this feels, how unlike work.

    This is how medieval cathedrals were built: many, many different crafts and guilds, many individuals, continually adjusted over centuries.

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