Some final thoughts about #Fedwikihappening

The Fedwiki Happening finishes today. A big thank you to Mike Caulfield, Ward Cunningham, Paul Rodwell and the Fedwiki team for the invitation to join this unique event. It has been great to end 2014 working in an environment which has made me rethink my assumptions and ways of working online.

I have written two prior posts about this Fedwiki experience: Defeated by technology and Fedwiki: further thoughts

Others have also blogged about the experience. Their posts are very informative.

Mike Caulfield appears to be delighted with the outcome – that’s good because he and his team certainly put the work in to make this Happening happen. They must be exhausted.

Now that it has ended I have mixed feelings about the experience. I don’t feel quite as excited as I did at the start. It will take me a while to think through why, but here are some initial reflections.


I have written in a previous post what I really like about the technological affordances of Fedwiki, but the experience was not without difficulty.

I started off badly and wasn’t really able to get going until the third day. This was the result of a combination of something I did, and something ‘they’ did (the Fedwiki team), i.e. mistakes were made on both sides (or at least that is my understanding, but at this point I doubt my understanding of any of it).

In the wiki, someone else who arrived late wrote that he doubted that he could catch up. The response was that it should be possible to enter Fedwiki at any point and catching up isn’t really necessary or an issue. That might be true if you already know how the technology works, but trying to enter the Happening late and learn the technology was a bit of a tall order. At this point everyone else seemed to know what they were doing, or at least know more than I did. At this point I really had to force myself to keep going.

For support, I attended a Google Hangout, which was extremely helpful. Mike and Ward Cunningham ran these twice every day barring Christmas Day. This covered all the time zones, with Ward even doing one at 4.00 am for our Australian participants. That’s dedication for you! I was only able to attend two Hangouts and I needed more technical help. Although I always received a prompt answer when I asked a question, there’s a limit to how much you feel you can bother someone and take up their time. All this reminded me of how important it is get access right before starting on ‘the work’. I understand that you can learn a lot from your mistakes and by ‘doing’, but it’s very time consuming working this way and I would have liked to have had more of a sense of achievement by the end.

I still don’t know who sees what, but I know for sure that I am not seeing what others are seeing (although I also know that that’s to be expected) and they are not necessarily seeing what I have done. So I don’t know why, if I edit a page, for example a page that Frances has written, and fork it, she won’t necessarily see my changes. Must be something I am doing wrong, or have failed to understand, but I don’t know what.

And yesterday someone collated links to people’s blog posts into one page and I found that David Jones has written a number of blog posts. That was a surprise. David Jones does not even appear in my list of Happening Folks and I can’t see him anywhere on the wiki. On reading through his posts, I see that he has his own separate Fedwiki. Maybe he hasn’t yet connected with the Happening Folks, even if he can see what we are doing.

So how it all works remains a bit of a mystery to me.


Learning in the wiki

When I started what I really liked about Fedwiki was the focus on ideas rather than people and personalities, and the possibility of being really selective about which ideas to interact with. Over the past year I have become disillusioned with social media and this felt like an opportunity to get away from it.

As the Happening has rolled out, I can see that it is a really good tool for mining ideas, but from observing how it has worked it doesn’t seem possible to keep ideas separate from the people who contribute them or to keep them separate from social media. Twitter was used during the Happening and people were blogging, including me. There was quite a bit of writing in the beginning about dominant voices; and there has been writing about attribution, lack of attribution and misattribution. My conclusion is that there will always be dominant voices and personalities, and that it’s the norm for people to want to know who wrote something or contributed an idea. So ultimately there was some focus on collaboration and community, but I am not convinced that Fedwiki is the place for either.

My sense is that thinking about Fedwiki in terms of collaboration and community is confusing and possibly dilutes the philosophy behind mining ideas that I was so attracted to. Better for me would be to think of Fedwiki in terms of co-operation and networking. Stephen Downes’ words come to mind:

Collaboration belongs to groups, while cooperation is typical of a network. The significant difference is that, in the former, the individual is subsumed under the whole, and becomes a part of the whole, which is created by conjoining a collection of largely identical members, while in the latter, the individual retains his or her individuality, while the whole is an emergent property of the collection of individuals.

Fedwiki  is a wonderful tool for sharing and amplifying ideas. There have been some great contributions; in particular I have enjoyed those associated with improvisation, music and learning spaces. For example the video of Tallis’ Spem in Alium was posted as a contribution to ideas about collaboration and the chorus of voices in Fedwiki.

There were many more unpredictable and surprising connections made between ideas in Fedwiki. This is the strength of Fedwiki. If I were to use Fedwiki with learners, I would use it for collating a rich bank of ideas around a given topic and enabling each participant to organise and edit the ideas as they wished. I would try to keep the focus on ideas rather than people, so I wouldn’t encourage collaboration or community although I am not anti collaboration or community in the right place.

It will be interesting to see how Fedwiki develops.

Many thanks to Mike, Ward, Paul and the team for all their efforts to make this a memorable event. A wonderful way to end 2014. I am now looking forward to having time to slowly go back through some of the fascinating ideas that have been contributed and reflect on their significance for my own work, research and practice.


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.

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.