2007 USSF

F1.02 “Collaboration with wiki processes on the internet”

AboutUs, Inc. Westin Rm 1407. Friday June 29, 10:30 am-12:30. Mark Dilley, About was the presenter. A woman videotaped the meeting and also gave a short talk about her use of wiki. There were about 18 people in the audience. This session was about how to use wiki software as a way of forming group consensus and promoting collaboration. Wiki is a program that allows multiple users to edit a document from remote locations.

Mark is a former labor organizer from Michigan who moved to Portland to do wiki organizing full-time. He gave some background about wiki and then we did one on the walls of the meeting room. Helen Royce, a sociologist, is involved in peace stuff so we did a wiki on “World Vote for Peace.” Mark put that up on the wall and then asked people to put relevant words up. We did this for a while. Some put up phrases, like “No War, No Warming!”. These were discussed. Some words were turned into subtopics and placed on a different wall. I took fotos of this. Mark compared wiki with email, forums (list-servs) and web blogs. Wiki is best for many to many collaboration. You need to learn how to do it and this takes some effort. The key is to use the “recent changes” and the version histories to see how the document is evolving and what has happened lately. There is also some syntax to be learned. [[ double brackets indicate a link, or something that should become a link to a separate page. The name of each page is important.

Mark favors “open-edit” wikis, but companies and other groups restrict the access to particular participants. Mark also prefers that participants provide their real identities, but anonymous participation is also sometimes allowed. Mark also favors a very horizontal approach to the process, no wiki master, but rather what he called “soft security.” With soft security if someone comes in and does something bad, like scratching the whole document, it is easy for other to fix the mistake. They can easily go back to an earlier version and restore it. Disagreements can be worked out by having a discussion amongst the contenders and everyone can see the arguments that are put forth on the wiki. There are edit wars, analogous to flame wars, but Mark sees these as a source of valuable energy that can improve the product. He says that protestors can usually be incorporated to become enthusiastic participants by giving them a section or a page.

A young man from Global Justice in DC told of his organizations campaign in the AIDS movement to expose the practices of Abbott Pharmaceuticals, a large transnational corporation. They have had to shelter their wiki. AbbottGreed?, from Abbott employees who try to wreck it. Mark calls this “locked down.” Mark’s approach assumes a degree of common purpose among participants.

The guy from DC also compared wiki with something called “google docs” which is somewhat similar but does not have the ability to see recent changes and version history.

I told about being at the World Social Forum in Nairobi and attending the discussions of the Bamako Appeal, a manifesto-type document produced by Samir Amin and a group of 15 intellectuals at a hotel in Bamako in 2006. The problem of process and legitimacy was repeatedly raised and it occurred to me that the way to write a manifesto or charter that allows participation from people all over the world is a wiki-festo.

Marks says it is cool to “camel case” phrases by jamming words together and using upper and lower case to make unique, google searchable targets.

Mark says there is a wiki index that tries to list all existing internet wikis. You can see there are a lot of moribund ones. The key is to find people who will contribute energy.

Marks says there are about 200 different wiki softwares. The most popular is Wikimedia that is used with the wiki encyclopedia, but it was developed for encyclopedia entries. Another one is Oddmuse from Switzerland. Mark says it takes a pretty good tekkie to set up a wiki on a server. He recommends using a “wiki farm” that will do this for you for free. Wiki farms are:; One, called Dreamhost is going belly up. Ideally you want to use one that will allow you to download your content so it can be used on a different host. To find more, search wiki farms on google.

Marks says these are free like kittens, not free like beer.

He asks all the audience to go to to sign up for a group who attended this meeting. There was no signup sheet. He also mentioned something called but I did not get what that was.