This is a page about building a software system to support CategoryDecisionMaking, specifically GroupDecisionMaking, with application to a particular complex, many-person, many-year dialogue.

While discussing WhatCommunicationSoftwareToUse, we came to the conclusion that no one off-the-shelf piece of software does everything that we want this system to do. We hope that off-the-shelf software (Compendium or some WikiEngine?) that covers many of the requirements will be adequate in the short term. We hope that the remaining requirements can be covered with a reasonable amount of programming.

Building a support system for large strategic dialogues

I have been gradually fleshing out a project on developing a long-term strategic vision for a group that I sometimes frame as the U.S. sustainability movement and sometimes as the the American Left. For convenience, I have given this project a working name: the Convergence Institute project. The project has three major components:

1. A residential center for Fellows of the Institute, scholar/activists from diverse movements and progressive traditions.

2. An ongoing set of dialogues between leaders and thinkers from various progressive movements organized and hosted by the Fellows.

3. An electronic community and decision support system to help integrate these various dialogues over time and space.

I am writing this group for help in thinking about the last of these three components.

Assume that we have a Convergence Community consisting initially of a dozen or so and ultimately of a few hundred or thousand people. These people are trying to figure out how the Left, broadly defined, can put the world on a path to a just, prosperous, and sustainable future. This is treated as both a political/policy question and a technical/economic question. Assume that there is a reasonable recruitment mechanism for people likely to have something intelligent to say, but that these are very busy eople, not techies, who will not keep coming back unless the community provides value to them. The conversation takes place over a decade or more, with people joining and leaving and many new ideas and approaches being discussed, tried, shot down, and compared to real-world experience and historical data.

In order to keep track of this conversation and let people join in late, rely on a piece or system of software. My current and very tentative fantasy for this software is something like this:

  • It would have some of the aspects of a wiki, in that the vision and decision-making process that emerges should be community-created through a web-based interface.
  • It would provide some kind of spatial representation – something more than threads, perhaps like a flow chart – displaying the various strands of the argument and how they fit together. This relationship structure– call it a dialog map – would also be community-maintained.
  • The dialog map would have a fractal-like quality, in the sense that you could see an overview of the major flows and branch-points of the arguments or you could drill down to all the sub-arguments and evidence that supports or opposes a goal, outcome, or causal relationship.
  • There would be an easy and intuitive interface going from nodes or other structures in the map to threaded discussion about those nodes or structures and back again
  • There would be easy and intuitive interfaces for linking to external data sources and for downloading files that support particular arguments or decisions.
  • There are easy and intuitive tools for adding quantitative and qualitative decision support functions to arguments as they are made. These tools should be highly visual in nature, in the sense that whatever quantitative analysis they perform should show up as visual analogs on the map. Specifically:
  • * Parts of the dialogue that constitute strategic choices should be convertible into decision tree format, assigning probabilities and values to nodes to turn the dialog map or relevant portions of it into a decision tree; * Parts of the dialogue that constitute plans should be convertible to project planning format, with the usual support for time lines, dependencies, uncertain or contingent planning, and critical path analysis; * ** Parts of the dialog that constitutive descriptions of social, political, or economic dynamics should be convertible into system dynamic models that show the strength of various causal forces and the feedbacks and limits that they describe.

In terms of visual analogies:

  • The dialog map should provide a good model of the structure of the underlying dialogue – something like Compendium,
  • The strength of a path in decision tree analysis might be reflected by its width, brightness, or hue, with probability allocations showing up at each node as pie charts, sluices, or some other appropriate analog.
  • Project planning visuals would be done in the usual way.
  • Dynamic systems modeling would consist of colorful, snap-together modules that produce visual analogs of stocks and flows at each node so that one can literally watch the model run. The modules would be assembled by drag-and-drop. It would let ordinary people without mathematical or programming training build sophisticated models with non-linear feedback. Numerical outputs would be stored for when you want them. Simulations could be deterministic or stochastic

The dialog map and the related modeling system or systems would need a reasonable versioning system (modeled on the Current Version System?) that enables people to see how the dialogue or model has evolved over time, and to save and name model versions, linked somehow to the current dialog map.

In terms of a web interface, ideally people who have a password would be able, through their web browser, to do anything that they could do with that program if they were local except delete it: see the output screen, press buttons, type into dialogue boxes, etc. They should be able to mess about with files to prepare data for input to the simulation or output for presentation. Finally they should able to download files to the folder and upload files from it. Archived models and dialog maps should be accessible but not deletable.

I am a lawyer and do not actually know anything to speak of about IT.

So here are my questions:

1. How much of this is this possible with a sane investment of time and energy?

2. How much of it can be done with currently available software, ideally open source, but commercial in a pinch?

3. Assuming that I will not be able to start with a system that does all of this, or even most of it, what would make the most sense as an initial kernel from which to grow the system over time?

4. Might there be interest in people working to grow some existing open-source system, such as Compendium, in the direction of this larger vision? How might I find out?

5. Are there other vital features of a community support system that are missing here? Identity and resource pages for participants, maybe? What kind of tools might help to link the dialog support system more immediately to the daily needs and concerns of the activists, scholars and opinion leaders who compose the community?

I started out by assuming that this vision was absurdly over-ambitious not only in its sum, but in most of its parts. However, I have become increasingly convinced that almost all of the pieces I describe have out-of-the-box standard solutions if I can only describe them correctly, and that the real challenge will be one of integration and establishing a reasonable growth path.

For example, i was talking to my housemate Martin a few days ago about being confused about whether everybody who logs in would be working on some central model, or if they each had their own conflicting version of the model. Each approach seemed to lead to intractable problems. And he said “Oh, like CVS.” “Huh?” “You know, the Current Version System people use to design open-source software.” Well, of course i had never heard of the Current Version System, but it was immediately evident that a whole lot of people had put a lot of time and energy and thought into what was essentially the problem i was describing, and probably come up with a pretty good solution.

A few things I have learned, mainly about existing software:

There is a family of programs intended to support mind, argument, or dialog mapping. In fact, there are books about it. Keywords that if handed to your favorite search engine will help you find these include: Mind mapping (MindMap), dialog mapping, argument mapping (MappingArguments), argument visualization (ArgumentMap), collaborative tools.

Compendium is a pretty cool product for dialogue mapping you can download from (not yet quite Open Source).

Rationale “argument visualization software” focuses on mapping arguments rather than dialogues.

“Decision Explorer” is a pretty expensive product that does dialogue mapping but also integrates some decision-making tools.

Dialogue-mapping or mind-mapping software shades over on one hand into into decision-support software that offers decision trees, critical path analysis, and so forth; and on the other hand, into groupware like FacilitatePro and GroupSystems’ Think Tank to support distributed meeting process rather than, or in addition to, creating a shared mental map. (The latter are quite expencive and I am not aware of any open source equivalents.

There are a gazillian programs that support decision trees and project planning, but I know very little about them yet, and don’t know which might be open source.

There are at least six different programs that look a lot like the “system dynamics” part of what I have just described, and two of them, Stella and VenSim?, have been used in curricula aimed at teaching the system dynamics way of thinking to high school or grade school students. They were built by people who wanted to do just what I wanted: to enable ordinary people to build and understand models of complex systems. VenSim?,, is free in its basic configurations.

The best-known global models, World3, (which supported the “Limits to Growth” books) is available in both Stella and VenSim?, and many other models as well. So my current notion is that, instead of being just one program, we have 2, but the programs support each other in a similar way as under the unified vision. Of course, World3 does not include a political model, and it has very little sub-global detail, but it does suggest some of what might be possible along these lines. The idea is gradually build the model up parallel with the dialogue map, allowing people to run their own simulations, tweak the parameters, and see what happens – and to tinker with the guts of the model as well.

For the first few years I see this as a small community of invited friends. Somewhere down the line I would like to look at the much more challenging problem of letting anybody do it. But by then there should be money for it that does not come out of my own pocket.

In terms of a web interface, . We have programs like:

Compendium can save its entire output as HTML, so I think it may be possible to do a “read only” version after each modification that could be accessed by anyone with a password, like a regular web page. I am not quite sure that this includes all the database-linking facilities of Compendium, though I see no reason in principle why it couldn’t.

In terms of starting with off-the-shelf software and growing in this direction, my best current sense is that you could do a lot of this with Compendium, VenSim?, GoToMyPC?, and some kind of group software that supports threaded dialogue and easy file and content manipulation – if there was something open-source to provide roughly the functionality of a Yahoo group, that might do the job. Or should it be more wiki-like?

You’re a very important person, your work is crucial, and I do not want to see your time wasted.

Properly answering your question will take a while. We tend to write here sporadically, and according to whim.

Your question is the sort of question that we like to answer. We do have insights into what you are asking. There are even scattered answers to several sub-questions throughout this wiki.

But there is no guarantee we will write the response.

You have provided your e-mail address.

In the event that we respond properly to this question, I will make sure that somebody emails you to let you know that we’ve responded.

I am trying to think of where best to take this question…

…are you okay with calling people on the phone? I have a few people you may want to call directly, to get some answers. No fees. (We understand the gravity of your work.) I am available for free consultation as well. My phone number is 206.427.2545.

For CommunityWiki: “Where can we best send this question?” Or, if you have the time to start a response, …

Yes, I would be very happy to talk to folks on the phone, to call them or have them call me. My cell is (510) 507-4820. Folks are welcome to call any time between 9AM and 12 midnight, Pacific time.

And I would be happy to talk to you – what is a good time to try and reach you? You can respond here, or by email or phone, as you wish.

Welcome Andrew! I will take some time to think about what you’ve written above and try to give some useful feedback.

Thanks! Looking forward to it!

Welcome to the CommunityWiki. Your vision of the software you want brings together many of the things we’ve been talking about here. Such as MappingArguments, DebateTool, WikiDebateBase, WikiDrama, FracturedDemocracyBuilding.

Perhaps it would be good to put your vision of software on its own page. Would you call it DecisionSupportSoftware? or DialogMapSoftware? or something else ? I’d be happy to make that page for you.

These sorts of questions – “I want to build a web site that does X and Y and Z. Doesn’t there already exist software to do that? What is it called, where do I get it?” – are exactly the sorts of questions that the SoftwareBazaar was designed to handle. Alas, I haven’t attracted enough people yet to make it a really useful resource yet – perhaps you can help with that problem.

Right now, InkScape is the best open-source program for drawing diagrams and maps. LionKimbro and I have discussed building a kind of wiki that makes it easier for people to collaboratively edit such maps and diagrams. (linear diagrams can already be collaboratively built using the EasyTimeline).

Thanks, David!

I would like the map to work like the table of contents, or index – to be a natural way in for people entering the dialogue at a late point; a place to hang a wide variety of stuff, from budget information to historic timelines; and a want the dialogue map ultimately to evolve naturally into an actual model of the process under discussion.

But what I want right now is something that exists, that I can get up and running in a hurry, that can be used to post a map of the first discussion we host on the web within the next three months. I am leaning toward using the open-source dialogue mapping software Compendium, because it has a bunch of these capacities already built-in. But I admit that I am very worried about investing a lot of time and energy into a product that may not ultimately be the right one. Specifically, as of this moment Compendium is feature-rich, and well-designed to be collectively used. But it is not well-designed to be collectively maintained. People are working to change that, but i have no sense of the likely timeline, and it is not an effort to which i can contribute directly.

What i think i will do is install Compendium on my machine, start playing with it, and write a review here somewhere. Then I will look at the other software people recommend, write up pro and cons of various approaches, and invite comment. Please do continue to send software ideas my way.

One thing that I can say offhand is that the description Andrew gives above of the system that he envisions reminds me of some of the concepts in Wiki:VisualTour. Wiki:VisualTour was an idea that was implented in the world’s first wiki, that allowed the wiki to drive a visualization pages and connections between them.

So, when I read Andrew’s concept laid out above, it seems, just off the top of my head, that the “core” of the system could be a wiki engine, that drives a network visualization of pages. Then the tools for things like decision trees, project management tools, could be added as some type of module, or built in to the wiki engine itself. I think it can work with wiki. If you built on top of a wiki engine, I don’t think you’d have to bother with anything like GoToMyPC?, or other remote desktop tools. The old Wiki:VisualTour idea makes me think that an OpenSource wiki engine could be modified to provide the framework for what Andrew is describing.

In ArgumentMap, LionKimbro linked to, which appears to be a wiki-driven structured argument mapping system created by a private company.

In my humble little opinion, the optimum, based on your stated intended usage would be to build this based on existing OpenSource software technologies, and attract a community of people who can help develop it, maybe also sources that are interested in funding the development (sources that are enthusiastic about assisting the development of OpenSource software tools). But, this also has the potential for being more time consuming.

I don’t exactly what type of feedback would be useful for you, but perhaps CommunityWiki could help you by isolating your wish list/description into it’s own DocumentMode page, and then creating sections that show what we know already exists that fits or comes close to fitting your descriptions, both from pages within CommunityWiki and elsewhere. And then on the same page, or a connected page, we can also brainstorm and execute some TheoryBuilding around your ideas based on the wide angle view we can collectively take of what is out there. These pages could then also possibly spin off into their own wiki for your project, whatever direction it goes in. It could turn out that some of the ideas we have on pages like ProjectSpace, and maybe some concepts in CollectiveProblemSolving could work for your frankly awesome idea.

Sam, thank you so much for these thoughtful comments. I agree that Visualtour and Standpedia sound like good candidates to asses next to Compendium as candidates for the initial nucleus. I am not quite sure that I fully understand what a DocumentMode page is yet, but to the extent that I do, it sure sounds helpful. What input from me beyond what I have posted above would be most useful in getting this next step started?

Dear Sam-- I took a look at Wiki:VisualTour and the documentation made the following claim:

“The VisualTour? was a relatively easy way to look a few clicks ahead in your wiki browsing. At the bottom of every page is a link to the tour which picks up right where you were browsing (“or take a VisualTour?” in the bottom). The tour was inspired by suggestions to VisualizeTheWiki? (There you will also find scripts which visualize wikis).”

This appears to claim that clicking on the VisualTour? link on the wiki takes you back, not merely to the entire map, but to the specific portion of the map that connects to that wiki page. I observe this because this is something that i want to do as well, and because Lion suggested to me that while the technology to link from graphical objects to web pages is now a no-brainer, the technology to link from pages to objects embedded in a big page is not there yet.

I have a general question that i would like to address to people about what kind of help i need to make this fly. I know i need some basic assistance in setting up a web server and learning how to link the web-based software and any non-web-based software. I think that has to be someone who is physically present. But when we start thinking about actual development of new open source capacities, is this still true? Or would it make sense for me to show up in all the forums like this one i can find, do my little song and dance, and ask if there is anyone who would like to be involved? In your experience, how important is physical interaction and face-to-face contact for (a) clear communication and (b) maintenance of commitment to and enjoyment of what will certainly be an all volunteer effort for some time to come?

One of the reasons that i am leaning toward Compendium at this moment is that there is an existing community of people who are doing open-source development on it, and i have already established that a number of the capacities that i regard as missing are on their development wish list, and i know that I am not going to be adding any capacities to the software. But if i found one or more people with the technical skill that were interested in working on the project, i would certainly be inclined to substantially defer to that person about a development path, given a shared understanding of the ultimate goal and near-term constraints.

On the other hand, I am someone who, given dialogue diagramming capacity, can intelligently diagram a dialogue, and given a modeling capacity, can intelligently build models. So i like to think that i can assure someone who puts time and energy into building such a capacity that it will be put to good use, in at least three senses: use that is technically proficient and credible; use that is carefully tailored to provide politically significant input to processes with national and global strategic significance; and use that will, if it is effective, serve the common good.

Please consider everything that I am writing in here as just brainstorming with you. I don’t want to send you off on wild goose chases, of course. And in fact, based on everything you are saying here, it looks like your best bet, in my opinion at this time would be to stick with compendium, and maybe use the version that can be shared via Jabber, that is referenced here:

I say that because it looks like compendium is coming the closest to what you want, and if they are already working towards the features that you want, and they already have an open source way to link Compendium-to-compendium via Jabber, then this makes progress on what you need. Compendium can also share databases asynchronously, which is neat, though is not a real-time sharing.

If compendium seems like the best candidate to you, then joining their developer mailing list, and building relationships with as many of the people involved seems like a good direction to consider (meeting up with them F2F, inviting them to conferences, etc).

  • Thanks for pointing out compendium, I am downloading it and playing with it now, and I already am thinking about ways it can be used to help track discussions in virtual and F2F meetings! Awesome!

I hope this helps. Again, it is just some thinking out loud and brainstorming by me. Just my opinions, based on what you’ve written here. Hopefully some more Community wiki people will chime in, too.

Before I create a page or pages as I suggested in my last response, I am going to follow LionKimbro’s lead and see how he responds, and what directions he suggests, or at least give him some time to respond to so that I don’t end up unintentionally hijacking it. Because he is frankly more knowledgeable in this overall area than I am. Plus, I’d like to give anyone else a chance to give input too, as there are a lot of people with knowledge in this area active here.

Down at the bottom, if you click on Administration, there is then a link to the Index of all pages

This is my best current thinking: 1. It does make sense to start with Compendium. This conclusion is based mainly on four factors.

  • Compendium provides solid dialogue-mapping tools and the capacity to link in related databases and documents.
  • Compendium is open-source and already has an active community of developers.
  • Compendium is at least somewhat multi-user friendly, through Jabber or VNS.
  • Compendium has the essential core of what you would need to link a dialogue map to other web-based community-building tools, such as a wiki. Specifically, it does something that Lion told me (in a a long and very helpful phone conversation, thanks Lion!) could probably not be done in the current state of technology: provide a unique HTML anchor for each node in the visual map.

2. I will need a technical support person who is willing to work with me for at least the first year or two that the project is underway. There are too many decisions here of which I simply do not understand the full implications. The Jabber/VNS decision is a solid case in point. I should probably have this person before hosting the first dialogue, which I would like to do no later than February.

3. The technical support person does not need to be local, but probably does need to have an interest in the underlying dialogue and the challenges involved in creating a useful map and building a lively community connected to that map. That person could attend the in-person dialogues via Skype videophone or some similar technology. If they chose, they could take on a visual note-taking role, though this is not a requirement. It would be a big plus, but not a sine quo non, for that person to also be interested in joining the Compendium development community.

Is there anyone here who:

  • thinks they fit that bill, or
  • knows someone who they think would fit that bill, or
  • can suggest a good way or ways to find someone who they think fits that bill?


AutoWiki? is An imaginary but (i think) not terribly difficult feature to add to a piece of dialogue or argument mapping software such as Compendium.

I have now identified several different fora in which there are people who want, or are talking about, or say that they intend to build, or claim to have built ArgumentMap or dialogue mapping software that can be edited collectively (asynchronously) over the web. At least two of these, Compendium and Standpedia, also currently produce unique web tags for each node of the argument. So let us suppose (though I think this is not quite true yet) that we start with an application that produces a map that is editable by any group member (with good “restore” and history functions!!). When the AutoWiki? feature is turned on, we require that, as the map is constructed, each node and line be named meaningfully, using the common wiki CamelCase naming convention. You would need a special proceedure to add such names if you turn it on for an existing map without them. The meaningful names would be used in addition to or in place of the existing automatically generated tags for linking purposes.

AutoWiki? will then automatically create a reciprocally connected wiki page of the same name for each node or link. The top part of the page would be a group-editable space that says what the connected node or link is and does. The bottom part would be for discussion about it. This portion could also be group-editable blank space, or it could be something more structured with identity makers, date & time of postings, tools to add linked uploads and live hyperlinks, etc., and be editable only by the poster and the moderators. For non-technical communities i would tend to prefer the latter.

Within the wiki, use of a page name creates a link to the named page in the usual way. But the page name in the header is a link that takes you to the same-named node in the dialogue map.

Each page would also have an assortment of finders’ tools accessible from it. These could include automatically generated pairs of links, one to each node to which it is connected and one to the corresponding page; a pop-up index of all the pages on which that page/node name occurs; and a link to an automatically generated alphabetical list of all the pages and nodes in the system.

I am not sure if documentation and evidence should be attached to the attached to the map or the wiki page or both, though my leanings are to just the wiki. I’m not sure what you do with a page, or documentation attached to a page, if the node is deleted. Maybe a permanent bin for deleted structures?

As someone who is not a professional programmer, I may be kidding myself about how hard it would be to create such a system, but it seems to me that the bulk of the hard work has already been done in the existing open-source code for Compendium and most wikis. I suspect that Compendium should go through one more generation of improvement in its asynchronous updating capabilities before we start adding features that depend on those capabilities, but this is only a not-very-well-informed guess. And of course you would not need everything imentioned on the first pass. For example, the finders’ tools could be added later.

Sam tells us that the reverse application, from an arbitrary Wiki to a map of the wiki as a dialogue, alredy exists in Wiki:VisualTour. If this is a straightforward add-on as it appears to be, I wonder why more people do not use it now? It is true that the map generated automatically by reference to CamelCase terms or the equivalent is not as meaningful as an ArgumentMap, because it is not the result of MappingArguments and because wikis are usually not arguments, and may not even be dialogues. For example, the links in an ArgumentMap or dialogue map may themselves have content, such as implication or causation, which are not necessarily there in the automatically generated VisualTour? map. Are there tools that should be available on the map level to get the most use out of such a map, besides the node-to page links? Especially for large and complex wikis, there is a lot that one could do with the map itself, such as cluster analysis.

Most wiki already support manually generating something that looks exactly like that.

  • The graphics designer manually adds a new node to the map, and links it to a plausible-sounding name for a wiki page.
  • Someone who clicks on that node on the map gets that wiki page. If that page does not already exist, the wiki software automatically creates a blank page with that name page. (Most wiki already do this. For example, if you make up any CamelCase phrase, and slam it onto the end of or the end of , the wiki makes it look like that page already exists with some default text like “Please describe …”.)
  • People from your wiki community can manually adjust the page so there is a definition/information at the top, discussion below, and reverse link(s) back to the map.
  • Some wiki engines (such as Wikka Wakka and MediaWiki) allow moderators to split the page into 2 parts with 2 independent ACLs. (For example, only moderators can edit the top few paragraphs, but anyone who passes the CAPTCHA can edit the bottom of the page).
  • Most wiki have a “simple” way for people to sign and date-stamp their posts.
  • All wiki that I’ve ever seen allow links to external web pages (except for the links trapped by the spam filter).
  • Many wiki allow uploads of pictures and other files, and have a convenient way to link to them.
  • If the node from the map is deleted, the wiki page remains unchanged. Perhaps other wiki pages refer to it; or perhaps the graphics designer will link to it from a different map (and then your wiki community will update the reverse link).

Certainly an automated system would be nice, but I don’t see it as essential for “version 0.1”.


Your basic idea is correct: All these things are simple.

Where I think you start to go astray, is in calculating how long it takes to perform these simple actions.

I’d caution against asking big and involved questions here, and proposing a lot of ideas, unless you are have a goal of promoting from MeatballWiki:GuestRole to MeatballWiki:VisitorRole, or perhaps eventually MeatballWiki:CommunityMember role. (See the nice chart on: MeatballWiki:CommunityRoles.)

Answering the questions you are asking, by text, involves a great deal of back-and-forth, a great deal of text, and a lot of time.

The likelihood that we get to the questions that you really care about gets that much smaller.

That, and: It has taken me 3 hours to write what I have just said here. ;) There have been numerous rewrites.


I agree with Sam: I think the thing you want to do, is to:

  • Go to the Compendium website.
  • Sign up for their mailing list.
  • Ask their community for help in making what you want to make.

One more thing:

Compendium is not OpenSource.

See: the Compendium Licensing Agreement, and then see the Open Source definition.

I am not a lawyer, but here is my interpretation:

  • It cannot be used in a commercial environment.
  • It cannot be shipped with a distro.
  • It cannot be packaged with any other software.
  • You can modify it, but you can’t distribute it modified.
    • You would have to require that people apply your patches themselves.

I may be wrong, but I’m guessing that they think they’re going to sell a pro edition at some point, closed source, or they just want to keep that option on the table. Regardless, as it stands, they definitely don’t want anybody to take this software and release it in a way that they can’t control.

So, despite source availability, it is not what the OpenSource community calls: “Open Source.”

more discussion

Dear Lion--

In asking about how simple or complicated it would be to link together an open-source wiki and Compendium in the way I suggest, what I am really trying to do is put it in a procedural category.

  • If it would take less than 4 hours, i might be able to pay someone to do it.
  • If it would take less than four days, i might be able to find someone in my own extended communityto volunteer to do it.
  • If it would take less then four weeks, I might conceivably talk somebody who is already doing development to put it on their “to do” list, but probably not on my time frame, and should probably be looking of alternative approaches.
  • If it would take more than four weeks, I can forget about it. I should be focusing on finding more primitive and manual ways of trying to achieve some linking of the electronic community and the map, or dump the whole Compendium thing and go to a feature-rich forum or wiki and some more primitive mapping facility like VisualTour?.

I’ve been on the Compendium Yahoo group for a couple of weeks. I actually posted the AutoWiki? idea there first. I have gotten a lot of enthusiasm for the idea from my fellow users, including one person so taken with the project that he volunteered to give some time to it. I have gotten two nibbles from folks with technical capability, but so far, they are just nibbles. I’ll be trying to cultivate them, and keep you posted. I only just learned that there is an entirely separate developers group, and i might poke my head in there too, although it looks to me like all of them are on the group I am already on as well.

One of the reasons that I put the AutoWiki? vision up here is that i thought there might be some folks on this list familiar with the inner guts of open-source wikis. It seemed like it might be at least possible that if i could get a someone who has been doing Compendium development on the same phone line with somebody who knows wikis really well, they could work out some really simple way of doing something that resembles what i was suggesting. Compendium claims that it is designed to be interoperable with other software. I quote, with parrot-like accuracy and degree of understanding, language from the Compendium website:

“If you’re technical, you can exploit our XML scheme, the Derby or MySQL? relational database, and public Java classes to connect Compendium to other databases and computational services. (If that sentence meant anything to you, then check out our developer website!)”

I have also identified the little cluster of interesting connections. One of the developers of Compendium is doing so as a consultant to the Knowledge Media Institute in service of a project called the Open Content Initiative, out of the Open University in the UK. The Open Content Initiative is a $10 million effort to put non-credit university-level courses and tools to self-organize or run classes with distributed learners on the internet for free use. It is funded by the Hewlett Foundation – which has also funded my organization, RP, and does considerable funding of sustainability work around the world.

(KMi is also working on a project called the KMi Semantic web portal that you might find interesting).

I have begun corresponding with Bob Horn (thanks to LionKimbro for pointing him out to me) about the particular problems associated with this dialogue, and we have scheduled a meeting in early January. Some of Bob’s more interesting public interest dialogue mapping has been funded by The Hewlett Foundation which has funded RP, and which is the primary source of fumd for the Energy Foundation, which in turn is the primary source of funding for me. As you can imagine, I find these connections quite intriguing, though i think it will be at least a year before i will be in any position to apply for grants for this work. Gotta get a non-profit set up first, for one thing.

This is another example of a lesson that i am learning only very slowly. For me, this project is entirely driven by the content. I have this big, hairy question, “How do you revive a genuine Left in the U.S.?” and nothing resembling a good answer on the horizon, and not even any very good method of proceeding toward an answer. And I don’t see anyone else who has a clue either. So I imagine this series of dialogues as a machine to generate and test candidate answers, and I start pitching it informally to acquaintances who are affiliated in one way or another with groups that will have to buy in on it if it is going to fly. A lot of them say “great idea,” but very few have offered to help. I mean, all those people are super-overcommitted. It is the nature of the business. And this is along-term project if ever there was – important, but not urgent, and so on the bottom of the stack.

But every time i have talked to people who’s central work is process rather than substance, I have gotten serious expressions of interest and offers of help. It is not a world i know very well, and i am still not sure best to use this fact, but i think it is going to be important. If people like Horn jump on board, then this could turn into something funded on the one-year time frame, rather than the four to five year time frame I had been anticipating. Having some hunk of funding pre-committed would certainly make me a lot less queasy about buying a one to two million dollar residential facility on a $70K income. (I still find it hard to comprehend that banks are willing to lend me that kind of money for a house purchase, but I have established that they are. Using a product called a “stated-income loan,” it’s not even a stretch, apparently.)

Oh, and i posted to the Compendium Institute group website to ask if they had plans for commercial development, or conversely, for full open-sourcing. I’ll let you know what I learn.

On a personal note, I have probably been spending too much time on this particular piece of this project, especially as i type with two fingers (that long ethics posting took me most of the night to type). Big, complicated and scary as significant software development seems to me, it is still a lot safer then some of the other key pieces, like spending my entire retirement savings on a 8 to 12 bedroom house in the hope that i can find people who want to get involved to fill it up, or cold-calling the directors of major non-profits to ask them to co-sponsor Compendium Dinners. One could argue that I have been using this part to avoid that part. But so far, it has been a lot of fun, and it seems to be opening some interesting doors, so I am not ready to back off quite yet. It has occurred to me that fancy custom software is a way to tweek people’s interest and give the impression that this is a serious operation, and for the next couple of years at least i will need all the help I can get in that direction. And I do seem to have a knack for gigantic, hopeless, decade-long projects operated on a shoestring, and some history of success with them – I and very much hope to have U.S. climate policy whipped by 2015 or so, and would like to have something interesting to take its place by then.

Compendium Institute

Here is the answer I got from the Compendium folks:

Re: [compendiuminstitute] Compendium license question Andrew, The current agreement is an artifact of Compendium’s institutional history. Our intent is to get to a true open source license. We’ve been working towards it for some time, but there are still some hoops to jump through. Al

Wow! Thank you for asking! That’s excellent news!

I’ve been wanting to write here; Just can’t do it this moment.

I am pleased to report that some combination of my prodding, fortuitous timing and a confluence of similar interests by other, has led to a lively discussion on the Compendium yahoo group on all three of the key issues discussed above: the proper architecture for to allow distributed groups to construct dialogue maps; several different approaches to linking maps to wikis, from simple imports of maps into wikis (TikiWiki is already set up to allow import of FreeMind? maps and for building such maps on the fly, though not, so far as i can see, for creating maps of the wiki itself) to full integration of Compendium with a wiki along the lines that I have described above; and finally, to issues around open-source licensing or lack thereof. It is clear that both some version of distributed construction and some kind of linkage to wiki-like capabilities are at or near the top of the development priority list for many people, perhaps including the developers who will actually do the work. See especially the threads: “Asking for what you want: AutoWiki?,” “Shared Compendium reqts and fanatasies,” “A user’s perspective,” and “Compendium license question.”

The technical discussions are well over my head, and i do not understand the implications of the architecture choices at issue. It would be great if somebody from here with more technical background then i have could stick there nose into this group and clue me in to what side i should be on. I have some related questions I hope someone here might have a view on, e.g. do we care with which wiki software they integrate?


I am trying to figure out what this page should be. I think this decision should be based on four factors:

  • What would be most interesting or useful for me?
  • What would be the most work for me?
  • What would be most interesting or useful for the community?
  • What work do others want to do on it?

I only have good information on the first and second, and need feedback. Here are some things this page could turn into:

1. A log of my quest for StrategicDialogSupportSoftware tailored to my project and needs, with occasional requests for support and comments and information contributed by others. This is more or less what it is now.

2. A description of my conclusions about StrategicDialogSupportSoftware tailored to my project and needs, with history and false starts edited out.

3. A catalogue of different kinds of StrategicDialogSupportSoftware, with lists, reviews, and links. I did some of this up front, but am doing lees as I hone in on my likely choices.

4. A discussion of what StrategicDialogSupportSoftware out to be, in the abstract and based on the community’s experience.

(1) is more or less what it is now. It is also the least work for me per unit of value to me. However, it feels a little narcissistic at times, and I wonder if I am giving anything to the community of value comparable to the help I am requesting from it, and occasionally receiving. (2) would also be easy to do. The stuff I would be editing out and tossing would be dross from my point of view, and the resulting page would be shorter, clearer, and closer to my model of a wiki page usually looks like. But for someone working on a project different from mine, the stuff I would be tossing, such as the discussions of the software I do not end up using, might be more valuable than what is left. (3) Seems more like the kind of page I imagine this wiki was designed to produce. It would be a considerable amount of work to create. I could take what I have and push it in that direction, but I do not think I would be likely to take it all the way to where it should be in this vision without consistent interest and participation by others. (4) would be interesting and stimulating, but is probably beyond my competence, though I suppose I could make a stab for others to improve. (4) might be regarded as an accompaniment of (3), such as an overview.

What do others think?


I was able to download and play with compendium. Some friends and myself even used it to try and map out a brainstorming session. Results are that I am pretty impressed with Compendium. So, it’s definitely good that they intend to create a more open “open source” license.

I think it is going to depend on how exactly Compendium folks decide to integrate wiki software, on the question of “do we care which wiki software they integrate?”

I am looking over the Yahoogroup list right now, and I’ll try to come back soon and talk some more here and there.


About your VisualTour? question above (sorry, I seemed to have overlooked it previously), each node in the visual tour graph was a wiki page. It was a script that told a GraphViz? server to basically look ahead as it went through pages, then draw a graph of all of the pages that were linked together. I don’t know exactly how they would do this in Compendium. I am going to guess that it will depend on what object is embedded in the page. In Wiki:VisualTour, the objects were CamelCase links to other pages in the Wiki:VisualizeTheWiki, if you scroll down towards the bottom, they show the Graphviz source code, which apparently is looking at information from the web browser for what page you were last looking at. If your StrategicDialogSupportSoftware is not an application that is used through a web browser, I don’t think that this will work.

Lastly, maybe we can put together some conference calls to speed-up the brainstorming and discussion process, and out line those into this wiki (we can also record them)?

talking to software developers

Dear Sam --

Your offer of participating in a conference call is greatly appreciated, and likewise for anyone else interested.

I have a news that makes it especially timely, and i may have to make a decision soon on which i could use this community’s advice. I was approached by a developer today, who may be interested in creating a proprietary version of exactly the software we are looking for in exchange for us helping with the requirements and conceptual development, and beta testing the result. They might even be able to help us raise some money for the underlying dialogue.

I have been becoming attached to the idea of doing this project mainly with open-source software, but I have to say this is tempting. They also mentioned the possibility of augmenting some open-source program but with additional proprietary add-ons, so they would be contributing to the value of the commons as well as taking from or competing with it, but this is by no means certain. I am not sure if i would most prefer talking to y’all first to clear up my own intentions or position, or after to help me assess the offer, if any, or maybe during, as full participants. The later seems to me to be ideal if there is anyone here who would like to be a full participant in the development process if we go the open-source route, and maybe less so otherwise.

The developers described in the last post want to meet with me early next week!!

The folks involved say they are inviting me to join the “a bay area initiative to create the next generation of visualization software.” Friends in the software industry are writing me vague but dire warnings to be careful and go slow, and get non-disclosure agreements and such, none of which i am currently inclined to do, but it sure has me unsettled.

I would like to go into this meeting as well-prepared as possible. Would anyone who thinks they have stuff to say that i should know about, concerning either the technical or the business aspects, please contact me? Talking on the phone would be great – maybe we could have Sam’s proposed conference call by then?

The folks in question are John Garn, director and founder of ViewCraft, and Jean-Michel Decombe. John looks like someone with a history of public interest and non-profit work and my impression of him is positive, though based on only a single conversation and few minutes of Google research. I know even less about Jean-Michel, and have not yet spoken to him, but he is a founder and director of Groxis, which is doing interesting work on what i take to be tools to visualize an arbitrarily-defined space of web-pages. Does anyone know anything real about either of them, or have suggestions on what i should be looking for??

I don’t know the exact situation, so I can only give general advice.

Immunize against this “next generation” hype. New software offers new interesting functions, hopefully. That’s it. Anything that can be invented in the IT industry now will be an old hat 5 years from now.

The question is whether the new features will solve your application problem. Probably not, because your application needs are a moving target. You can’t specify what is needed up-front. It is not visualization primarily. So you need a continuous, step-by-step development process according to your needs during the next 5 years. You want to build a community, so it must be community-oriented.

Wiki:ExtremeProgramming together with an OS base project could let you reach your goals whatever they are, given that you spend your money carefully, moving always in the direction of the community priorities.

commercial developer or open-source developer ?

So this is where I am so far:

I will need to decide whether try to go down the path of working with a commercial developer or working with primarily open-source software, perhaps as soon as next week. On deciding, I need to commit full-out.

If I go with the developers, I should form a true partnership with them, in which my use of their software becomes a highly visible and attractive feature of the Institute, one of the key things that makes us stand out. We would not merely beta-test the software: we create buzz, among some of the most influential, interesting, and well-connected individuals in contemporary politics (at least in the non-profit sector) for a product that will ultimately replace the Group (e.g. the Yahoo group) and the wiki as the most widely-used web communications tool for distributed consensus-building, decision-making, and collective action. The goal is to contribute to the design of a product that would become the industry standard, purchased by perhaps five or ten percent of the more than a million nonprofits in the U.S., plus more abroad, and a reasonable share of the for-profit enterprises as well; that will make those enterprises more effective and so contribute to a better world. The developers in turn have a stake in the success of our dialogues that causes them to cheerfully recruit large donors to finance it and big-name entrepreneurs to endorse and perhaps participate in the process.

If, on the other hand, I go with the open-source folks, our commitment to open-source development of software as a common asset shared by all becomes a part of the Institute’s identity and public persona. Software and music, literature and the genome, the formulae for AIDS drugs and for Coca Cola, all are part of the universal heritage of humankind that ought properly be made available freely as a birthright to all. Our failure to do so is one of the most basic irrationalities produced by our current economic order, where people sweat and suffer and sometimes die trying to acquire knowledge that may be costly to produce but is essentially costless to reproduce. We will call on the open-source community to support our efforts and do our best to learn the lessons of that community in how to create sophisticated, productive, output-oriented distributed dialogues around difficult and complex topics. We will also seek to understand the business model of open-source enterprises create analogous processes to support our activities where possible.

On the developer side: Plus

  • They may be willing to build exactly what we need on a reasonable timetable.
  • They may be able to raise money to help fund the underlying process.
  • The may be effective partners for us in a large number of ways


  • We could get locked in to a product that may fail, go down an unfavorable development route, or become too expensive to afford.
  • If they are starting cold, it might be a long time before we get an even minimally functional product.
  • Their ability to raise money four our process may be minor or mere hype.
  • Working with them may undermine existing and future efforts to do open-source development of similar products that we basically support

On the open-source side: Plus We are philosophically and politically aligned with open-source development.

  • In Compendium we already have an open-source program that can produce a map a dialogue of the dialogue and turn it into web pages, with a bunch of capabilities: collapse or expand sub-arguments, attach documents, etc. – so we can start fast.
  • We have a diverse community of possible developers to draw on, and most of the capacities we want are already being requested by others.
  • We can make our software freely available to interested partners, and possibly make money or build reputation by training and the like.


  • There is as yet no software that does everything we need. Foe example, Compendium does not yet produce results that are editable through a browser, nor that are easily linked to wiki pages.
  • We are at the mercy of developers who are unaware of or indifferent to our existence.
  • we continue to struggle with no budget except for our retirement savings.

I am still trying to specify and clarify the criteria that I will use to answer my original question – how to decide which rout to persue. This is the best I can do so far:

1. How fast can the developers get a product that draws a map, and publishes it to the web, and supports links in and out up and running? Are we agreed on the priority of the core set of mapping and wiki/forum functions that I outline above?

2. Given that we are contributing valuable services not only to the development process, but also to creating buzz around the product, to providing non-advertising advertising that is carefully targeted to opinion leaders and influential individuals, it should be in the interest of the developers to help make the dialogue process fly. What resources of finance and prestige can they bring to support that effort? Could they supply $50k/year for two years, with some of that being framed as matching money to challenge foundation grants, or would it be overreaching to ask for that much?

3. Is Compendium development fast enough to give us the capacities we need on the timetable we need? Can we find any developers in the open-source community who are interested enough in our project to give time and effort to pushing Compendium in the directions we need?

4. Is there a “middle way,” in which the developers augment the open-source software by adding better and more transparent linkages and then construct proprietary add-ons, making their money doing training, customization, and by adding new functionalities for hire.

A language issue: both ways you have to do with developers, either (1) “developers of proprietory software” or (2) “developers of open source software”.

There are some differences worth noting:

  • you talk either (1) to management or marketing people (2) to the developers and community people
  • you can share software (1) with nobody who doesn’t pay (2) with everybody
  • you have (1) a key selling point for your community sitting on a scarce resource (2) you have no KSP because everyone has access to the same technology
  • energy comes from (1) a thriving commercial vision, maybe even unrealistic (2) you and your peers who actually spend or generate money / time / funding for a realistic goal
  • the projects ends when (1) the company runs out of energy (90% chance) (2) never really, as long as someone sees sense in it

This puts you in a paradoxical situation with no “silver bullet”.

If you are able to put $50K or more into development I think that (2) is the better choice. It puts you in control of the process and you can produce a value for the community. I guess that a 3-year times $20K development process would give you a 50% chance to succeed, a 5-year times $50K would practically guarantee success (90%), more money would probably reduce the chances again.

If you want to go without spending money, I’d suggest (1). My best guess is a chance of success of 30% within 2 years. It will probably fail because the company has to go not towards your needs but towards hype-able features for the enterprise market.

companies that might be interested in supporting StrategicDialogSupportSoftware

I don’t know if this was already mentioned but companies like SocialText and JotSpot (both in the ‘enterprise’ wiki market) would also be very interested in getting some marketing buzz. Additionally the SocialText product is OpenSource.

I liked this quotation from Socialtext CEO, Ross Mayfield: “Simple tools with simple rules yield the best results.”

commercial developer or open-source developer ?

I admit that i would be more inclined to go open source if I had any offers from open-source folks to do development for us – or even a good way of finding such people. Again, this project has no budget at this point, except what i take out of my retirement savings to finance it – hence the appeal of seeking a contribution from for-profit developers. We are trying to find some way around the chicken-and-egg problem to create momentum.

companies that might be interested in supporting StrategicDialogSupportSoftware

Just a link to International Association for Public Participation an organisation with similar goals?

commercial developer or open-source developer ?

I think there are many ways to contact OS developers. There is the Free Software Foundation that is politically orietned and might take interest in the project. Nominally a million developers use the sourceforge and other open source platforms. Here in Austria e. g. we have an organisation OSalliance which organizes OS developers and service providers for larger projects.

There are also great people like HansWobbe who have enough money to give any support to a project they are really convinced of. Talk to him, I think you could be on the same wave-length.

commercial developer or open-source developer ?

I’ve been hanging low; Quick thoughts:

  • I’d love to join in a conference call on the subject.
  • I’d be excited to work on something like this, full time, provided that (A) it’s OpenSource software, and (B) there’s payment.


This may be a project where a form of PinkoMarketing?/ SocialSynergy:PeerInvest, or similar-type fundraising could make possible a fully funded OpenSource project. This is one of the major goals of SocialSynergy:PeerInvest, and of my involvement in BarCampBank: to create realistic models for community/peer funded projects.

In this case, I envision that it would be possible to first envision the product of development as much as possible, and then seek out and/or attract the different people who can create/program the system into creation.

Attracting investment would be best done by creating an at least partially “open” business model, which lays out the general direction, and intended markets, and possible markets that can be generated, by the existence of the technology and the knowledge of how to use it. One interesting way to pursue this is through a for-profit cooperative model, where owning shares in the cooperative=sharing in the long term revenue generated. So, investors share in the revenue, developers share in the revenue, etc etc. The cooperative could also serve to foster the business entities that create business models around the technology. This is the type of thing that we are discussing with BarCampBank.


Sam, I really want to talk to you about this. If you are willing, could you email me your number? I’m at hoerner(at)

the myths of structure ?

Here are some thoughts out of left field:

  • Have you tested using Compendium with:
    • at least 3 people,
    • answering, resolving issues,
    • for 2-3 months..?

The reason I ask this is because:

  • I’ve tried out a lot of notekeeping systems.
  • I find that I can’t really judge a system until I’ve used it for 3-6 months.
  • At that point, I understand to some degree how it scales.

For instance, if you have a notebook, with 80 pages, you will find: “Wow! I can find everything I need in here!” But that’s just because the use is small. As you stretch out to 500 hundred pages, you find that you can’t find anything anymore: Scale matters a lot when you’re talking about an IntelligenceSystem?.

Compendium is suspicious to me, because it’s high on structure.

I have a favorite paper in this territory: It’s called: Formality Considered Harmful: Experiences, Emerging Themes, and Directions.

Briefly: Conversations and problem solving operate in a sort of hysteresis: They don’t tend to flow in water-fall “A → B → C” fashion. (See: section Opportunity Driven Problem Solving in Wicked Problems & Social Complexity.) Rather, they jump all over the place. Nor do our expressions fit a nice even water-fall pattern. Nor do rules in a system. (Why we favor soft process, rather than hard, here on CommunityWiki and MeatballWiki.)

You asked the question once here: “If someone shouldn’t be allowed to do something, why doesn’t the software here account for that?” The answer to that question is directly related to the “Formality Considered Harmful” paper. It takes far too long, and requires much too much explicit social agreement, and so on, to express in software the rules of the social actors. You have to teach the system what people are, then what their security priviledges are, and then you have to write the software to either permit or to deny. And then by the time you’re there, you don’t want to change anything, because now someone has to go back and change all that stuff. (That would be AlexSchroeder.) And social rules change all the time. I mean, you are seeing it happen now, with the CommunityWikiGovernment.

So too it is in discussion, with presenting points and counter-points and so on.

Consider my post in EthicsDiscussionB, near the top. How would that have looked, in Compendium?

It would not be the same thing. It would not be the same thing at all. The communication I made would be almost impossible in Compendium. But the spectrum of communication in regular human dialog is incredibly diverse. We exhibit here only one tiny little part of the spectrum of communications.

And yet, we know, that it is useful to see things arranged, and formalized. What is the answer to this?

What I think, is that:

  • It is best for people to communicate in very “open” technologies, such as mailing lists, and wiki, and chat rooms, where there is only minimal structure imposed from the outside.
  • As concrete data starts to become available, manually construct it into summary shapes.
  • As people find patterns of conversation that work for them, incrementally develop formalisms, in support of the (I will use the “E” word now:) systems that emerge.

That is, I believe in incremental notekeeping and manual reworking; Not trying to get things into an ideal representational form at the beginning.

This brings us straight to the LackOfReworking problem, which is just as much a problem in the material world, as it is here in our virtual wiki world.

But I believe we have found the answer to the LackOfReworking problem: Make it somebody’s job to do it.

So, in summary:

  • I think Compendium is too structured for regular communications. People are going to keep trying to “cheat” around the system, in order to say what the system will not allow them to say.
  • So use open systems instead.
  • Manual reworking is the key.
  • Assign somebody the task of doing it.

Tools like Compendium may help the person make the chart and diagram that you want in the end. But I would want to test it for 3 months, with a group of people, before I committed to actually hosting full-on discussions on it.


This suggestion is actually quite in tune with my own gropings. I have been urging the Compendium folks to create a version that automatically creates a wiki page for each node or link (but not conversely. I think most of the discussion will happen in the wiki, while the map will serve as a sot of visual index and overview. The initial map will be done by us, from the raw material of some in-person conversations. But i would still like participants to be able to edit the map, even if they don’t do it very often. I think it is important to a sense of ownership of the larger dialogue to which the individual dialogues sum. More on structure below.

I have not given the software even a minimally adequate test. However, i have located some people who have used it in a business environment, and am arranging to interview them. Pointed question suggestions welcome.

developing custom code

Actually, I do have in mind a software program that would be:

  • visual
  • open ended (like wiki and mailing lists)
  • collaborative
  • and OpenSource

I believe that InkScape can be adjusted, in relatively minor ways, to be this medium.

First, you fork InkScape.

Then, you make a few changes to it:

  • Improve the text editing pane, so that it’s more like a rich text editor, rather than a “text as graphic” box with the text entry on the second tab. No: When you look at it, you see a page, and you put the text in the page, and can select parts and hit the italic button to make it italic, and so on.
  • Make save and load default to saving and loading pages from a server.
  • Simulate a “RecentChanges” by making the first page loaded actually be an SVG rendering of “Recent Changes” on the server.
  • Rig it up so that it automatically hooks up for real-time collaborative editing by the Jabber interface. Yes: InkScape has, built into it, already, shared real-time collaborative editing, by Jabber interface.
  • Make it so you can attach macros to icons / clipart. So if you hit something like: C-x question, and then press spacebar over and over again, it flips through your clipart library entries labelled “question.” You could fill it with the OCAL so you have a ton of artwork, ready to use by name. So you hit C-x snowman, and you get a snowman. And you hit C-x house, and you get a house. You don’t like it, you press space, and get a different house. And so on. So any common set of icons you want, you can put in that library.
  • Make hyperlinks resolve within Inkscape, rather than in a web browser. Apply a wiki-like linking system, so that CamelCase or specially bracketed text is automatically hyperlinked to a new page. You click it, and the Inkscape editor gives you that new graphic.

If you did all this, which is hard, but not too hard, you would have a visual, open ended, collaborative, OpenSource platform for communications.

If you want to do Compendium style stuff, it would be easy to do so: You just reshape the text however you like (squish it up real small, or expand it to be big, and so on,) put down whatever icon you like, and so on.


  • You need a client program: InkScape. This is actually a very major drawback, in my book.

Now, this project I described, easily fits Helmut’s timeline. (Which, is more or less accurate, by my view.)

If you are able to put $50K or more into development I think that (2) is the better choice. It puts you in control of the process and you can produce a value for the community. I guess that a 3-year times $20K development process would give you a 50% chance to succeed, a 5-year times $50K would practically guarantee success (90%), more money would probably reduce the chances again.
If you want to go without spending money, I’d suggest (1). My best guess is a chance of success of 30% within 2 years. It will probably fail because the company has to go not towards your needs but towards hype-able features for the enterprise market.

Yes, quite right.

If I were to do this, here is how I would do it:

  • Have someone (and this may well be me) see if they can implement one of the features, and sniff around the code a bit. Perhaps something easy: “Make save and load default to saving and loading pages from a server.”
  • Then see if you can make RecentChanges for this modified Inkscape work.
  • Decide if this is something that you want to fund further.
  • If you decide to go further, there are interesting things that can be done here, because you are not alone: There is also the OpenSourceDevelopmentLabs? (OSDL) which presently funds InkScape development. You might be able to work something cool out with them, that might bring you one of three things: (1) Money (to develop,) (2) Consultations with BryceHarrington? (author of InkScape, to speed development,) or (3) Endorsement, recognition, props, etc.,.
  • Pay whoever it is to implement the rest of the features, over time.

If the project is really succesful, and lots of people start using it, there are ways to spin businesses out of this: If you can convince some large company that this is a great way to do documentation, host discussions, and so on, then you can do the SocialText thing, and offer training support, feature addition, integration, migration, and so on. RedHat? does this, SocialText does this, and so on. People make fun of this, because it’s kind of a new way of doing things, but it really works, companies are making money (more than they spend) doing this.

"next generation" vs "present generation" vs "previous generation"

Then again, all this stuff we’re talking about: It’s aweful experimental, aint it?

Why strive for the next generation of tools, when most companies aren’t even up to speed on the “present” generation of tools?

What I mean is:

Most companies are using something like:

  • A hand maintained semi-automated corporate intranet.
  • Mailing lists.
  • Some sort of calendaring software.
  • Maybe they’re using Exchange, if they’re big, or something.

I’ll call that “previous generation,” where “previous” means “2000.”

I’ll make up something and call it “the present generation,” as in 2005.

It has such rocking amazing advances such as:

  • full text search – concept!
  • tagging – this is super new technology
  • wiki
  • blogs
  • forums
  • instant messaging
  • SocialBookmarking
  • mailing lists – still useful

If you wanted to really rock the boat to 2006, you could introduce things like InkScape real-time, Gobby real-time, but since y’all will be living together, it’s not so important.

Believe it or not, in my experience, most companies are still in 2000, with only a few shoots of 2005 coming up.

Platform 2005 has some maturity now, and can be wired together without too much work.

To aim for Platform 2007, though, might be a little risky?

And I mean: Your goal is to have your conversations and answer your questions, yes?

Do you also want to simultaneously be testing what we call a “bleeding edge” platform, at the same time?

When I say, “bleeding” edge, I mean: “There’s blood dripping down the rough hewn blunt metal, because people have been cutting up their internal organs on the deformaties of the thing.” It’s called bleeding edge because its so new, it’s broken.

On CW, we work on some bleeding edges, because, well, that’s what we’re here for. We’re here for that.

But, are the people in the community you are working with going to be there for the comm. tech? I’m a little skeptical, …

You might want to consider platform 2005.

And then, take baby steps to 2007: Cheaply solve the ContentRouting problem. I’ve been meaning to rewrite InkscapeToOddmuse for a while now, anyways; I wouldn’t need to charge anything, it’s easy enough to do in my free time. I’ve been wanting to make it work to a generic “Image Server” for a while; that’s a project I nurse in my head.

short-term goals; ease of use

Dear Lion –

As always, I find your posts stimulating. Moreover, as seems to be becoming the pattern, I seem to be stimulated mainly to disagree. I am not quite sure what to make of this, except to say that I find it more fun to disagree with someone when I am not at all sure that I am right. And unlike ethics, where I would say we are fairly matched, here I am clearly making claims in areas belonging more to your field of expertise than my own. Still, here goes. Do correct my errors, and note that i responded above to some of your other comments.

There are many, many cases where you want to bring a group of people together to engage in a discussion of make a decision where the commitment of the people involved is limited and the organizers do not have direct authority over the participants nor the resources to compensate (or threaten) them. This is the typical situation in collaborative processes in the NGO setting, where I work, and a common one in academia, user groups, and many other settings. I think of it as the problem setting for the software we hope will be the solution.

In such a setting it is essential that the cost of entry be low and the rewards immediate. Organizers of this sort of process may have significant investment in making them go well, and can be asked to spend some time climbing the learning curve. Also, once a participant has bought into a process and become invested in its methods and outcome the participants are often willing to devote genuine resources to making it work. But before such buy-in takes place, even quite minor barriers will cause potentially valuable participants to put their energy elsewhere.

Something I would put in the category, not of a minor barrier, but of a significant one, would be the requirement that participants install a piece of software and learn how to use it. For most of the on-line dialogues I deal with on a daily basis, this would be enough to guarantee that the process collapses before it gets properly started. So I think you just have to have a browser-based interface for any process that will not be done by the moderators or a committed core. If that means you lose interesting functionality, then it does.

I would also add that, while the degree of flexibility that you are suggesting is undoubtedly and spectacularly cool, also wonder if it would really serve the particular purpose I have described well. It seems to me that the mandatory objects-and-arrows character of most of the mapping software I have looked at constitutes the grammar of a sort of visual language. Eliminate the grammar, and you can make a more expressive range of pictures, but you lose the meanings embedded in the grammar. I kind of see this collective whiteboard + text as a cool thing, that might well be useful to the overall dialogue process I describe, but not as the mapping tool itself. (I am still leaning toward Compendium for that, but – and this is the topic for another post – it is bothering me more and more that Compendium maps are ugly. You sort of don’t want to spend much time studying a Compendium map. Some other dialogue mapping programs, though much less full-featured, have nonetheless got much better esthetics.)

It is worth noting that people generally feel like they know what a browser is and what it does from experience, even though they lack any technical understanding of the process. Moreover, I have observed that this familiarity can result in people feeling like they are using software that they know how to use, even where the procedure that they must use on a remote page is quite different from what they most often do and has complex and subtle coding embedded in it. This is especially true where the actions can be identified with common actions that people take on web pages, such as making a choice by point-and-click, filling out a form, etc. So I point and click, and suddenly I am playing Bejeweled, which is not at all the same as the usual radio buttons, or a fill out a form and get back instructions on how to knit a sweater. The browser interface tricks you into thinking you already know things when you don’t.

Most people in my circles know how to use Yahoo Groups and the like (though even there some are challenged by, e.g. the file storage functions), and blogs; but only a few have ever tried to contribute to a wiki, and hardly any have used any graphical representation software outside of MS Office. So to respond to your bleeding edge question: for my personal project, I want to have something that works in three months, four tops. It does not need to do everything that it ultimately will, but it has to have a way for naive people to get in immediately, and it has to display the vision of what it will become, either immediately or shortly thereafter. I think it is fine if it displays it by having us do by hand things we ultimately want the software to do.

Beyond that, the question is whether it serves the dialogue or detracts from it. Do shiny bells and whistles that nobody in this particular group will use attract money to develop more basic features and finance the underlying dialogue? Then let’s pour them on, by all means. Do I end up with a great piece of software and a bunch of individual dialogs that never go anywhere because they are never connected, because the tool that we were hoping would connect them got hijacked to an internal development dynamic of some kind, whether open-source or commercial? Let’s not do that. I’d rather just have a Yahoo group. Can we do something innovative and interesting that also genuinely contributes to the functioning of the group? That is the best of both worlds, and would be fabulous.

The design challenge I throw out is this: It has to be easy to use without training. Assume that no feature that un unsophisticated user will require more than 2 minutes to figure out will ever be used. The formatting features here at this wiki, for example, are far too complex for this group. If you have to search for the page that contains the instructions, you’re dead. Better to copy the much less elegant set of editing buttons from the top of MS-Word, and let people believe that they already know how it works.

More generally, it will not work to do the easy things badly in order to do harder things well. To take a not-so-random example: I never did get my picture up right here. I struggled with picture-editing software that I hardly ever use for 45 minutes to try to do reasonable cropping and resizing to a pixel-based standard (which I had never done before). Then I could never did get the insert instructions straight, and somebody else had to do it for me. In my setting, pictures are critical, and there are lots of people whose voices we will need who are way less technical than I am. I’m an academic, and I’ve written macroeconomic models in C++. When I am trying to get somebody my age who as spent the last 30 years organizing Farmworkers to participate, I really want the site to be able to resize his picture for him.

developing custom code

Lion, your ideas for improvement to InkScape are fantastic! I’d love to see some of those changes you suggest above. I agree with you that people are often in the area of about 1998-2000 when it comes to software and hardware technology they are using.

ease of use

Andrew, having helped many, many people learn to use SocialSoftware over the years as part of my business, I can see where you are coming from as far as ease of use concerns go. This is often one of the biggest hurdles successfully implementing many SocialSoftware systems. Especially with people who do not easily uptake new evolutions in social software.

Yet, I can tell you from direect experience that the SocialSoftware platform that you create and use does not have to be totally geared towards the unsophisticated user in order for you to succeed, and in order for it to be used by the unsophisticated user. After all, these unsophisticated users are out there buying complicated technology, like surround sound DVD players, and programmable coffee machines, and who knows what else. So, they can deal with complex technology, and they can read manyuals. The problem often is, that there is no “manual” that can detect and show all of the individual frustrations that people are out there strugglig with.

I have observed, in working with people and showing them how to use software, that often people know more than they think or say that they do about the technology they are using. People will say “I’m not very computer savvy, I don’t know much about this”, yet, I often find they know almost a huge portion of they need to know about what they are trying to learn. I like your example of the web browser, and how say that people know what a browser is and what it does, and that this “tricks” them into feeling familiar with things that they are not otherwise familiar with. I think that millions of people, in one way or another, learned the interface of the browser, whether it was actually an intuitive interface for them as an individual or not, because it was the only thing standing between them, and all of those great things on the WorldWideWeb that they had been hearing about. Same thing with the Windows operating system. A lot of people still don’t know what half of the functions of the Windows OS do, but they are able to get a tremendous amount of work done with it. Same thing with Microsoft Windows/Office Suite. Even the keyboard interface itself. A lot of people use it, yet are not familiar withit’s advanced features (or advanced features of keyboard shortcuts in conjunction with other programs). The point is, these people use these tools because of the tangible benefits they get from their limited use fo them.

I agree that the types of users you are talking about would likely not be able to easily figure out OddMuse in it’s present state, without at least an hour or two training. Although, they might figure it out some of it, if there was a tangible benefit that they could see and understand.

I often see that people put out design challenges for SocialSoftware that basically say “make so easy that even grandma can use it”. Yet, what people want the software to do, is something that “grandma” hasn’t yet realized or learned can be accomplished in software.

Also, it’s worth noting that the browser interface is not the only thing that tricks you into understanding. Part of the trick is also the webpage/site design. But often, webpages, or sites, and even some applications are limited in scope, so it is easier to test the usability, and adjust and control the experience. For more complex SocialSoftware applications, that are designed to be very flexible and functional, the experience cannot be controlled so much, when asking people to do work with these tools.

Although, that being said, if you know the extent of how you want people to use the tool, then you can scale down (I won’t call it “dumbing down”) the tool to the key functions that they will need to get work done. And, you can develop those to have the automated functions that will the experience easier for the user. I have found it to be very useful to be able to add and remove features in web applications, depending on who the end user is. Unfortunately, very few web applications make this possible.

Clayton M Christensen gives a general overview of users of disruptive technology with the following framework in his book “Seeing What’s Next”:

  • Current non-users (sometimes called “new market” consumers): These are people who previously did not use this type of product or tool at all, because it required too much expertise. Once the product or tool becomes simple enough for them to use, they become the “new market” for it. They will be totally new to this type of technology, but the technological innovation allows them to do something that only experts or Pro-Amateurs were able to do previously.
  • “Overshot” users/customers: these people are current users of this type of product/technology/tool who find existing products or services too complicated, and too expensive. They are already looking for the existing technology in question, but they are seeking it at a lower price, and higher ease of use, more reliability. These people people are still trying to do the simpler things/functions of that the technology or tool accomplishes most of the time, while the improvements and innovations of the type of product or service they are using has actually passed them by. What they want to get done remains consistent, while the products/tools they use tend to be improving at a fast rate.
  • “Undershot” customers: These are current users who actually want more features and more complexity and functionality, and are willing to pay more, also sometimes known as “lead” users, CommunityWiki users, pro-ametuer user (see { Von Hippel’s “Democratizing Innovation”] for a description of this user).

Although Christensen was offering this framework as a way of finding potential markets, it’s also useful for thinking about how and why people are using new technologies, and for informing the design of technology based on who is using it.

We might benefit from doing some PlainTalkBackCasting” first (which you’ve already started here). Where basically you describe, as realistically and plainly as you can, the type of work that you envision being done, and the people who will do it (novice computer users, etc), and how things will happen for those people. What will be accomplished by the use of the tool, or tools. Then, we can try and trace back to the here and now, the alternative ways that we can get to that future point(AlternativeFutures?).

I know that you have explained a lot, but the design challenge you put forth is a design challenge that I am finding is universal to SocialSoftware. Because, in general, in the SocialSoftware industry, the “new market” is people who won’t use tools unless the tools are highly self explanatory.

use cases

So, we could still modify OpenSource tools like InkScape to fit the needs of the project, but we would want to really get a good vision of the final product beforehand. I have a general idea of your vision of the final product, Andrew, based on your original description at the top of this page. And, from that original description, I see that you are describing a “system of systems”. And, I recommend that we try to look at these sub-systems, and see what they actually are, and how you envision people will use them, too.


I’m worried that specification would require 3 months..!

I need to go quickly, but briefly: I don’t see how to make a really good design, in 3 monts of free time.

Good design, I personally think, is something that evolves on the scale of years.

And very commonly, in computers, what happens is that the people adapt, rather than the software. “Well, it’s been around for 10 years, this is just how it works.”

I don’t have any wise insight to add to this.

short-term goals

Lion, Sam, how about this: All i am trying to do in the three to four month span is to set up a system that allows you to easily bounce back and forth between a wiki and a dialoge map, both composed from pre-existing software. The map does not even need to be remotely accessible, much less group-editable by intuition alone.

But to say that is where it starts is not to say that is where it ends.

The system Lion described could initially be introduced as an an optional add-on, a sort of group whiteboard or collective doodle space. But i think that if this tool – call it Noodle – is what you hope, it will be so attractive that it will eat the rest of the system, with a suitable migration path. Perhaps a year down the road you begin porting the wiki pages text pages into NoodlePages?. Or maybe you start at the map end, having made easily available some (improved?) visual conventions that preserve the argument grammar. And from your end, it means that your new system (i admit with some embarrassment that i understood virtually nothing in your description of improvements you want to make) does not need to do it all before we begin using it.

Sam, how would you tackle it from the other end? That is to say, if you begin with my description of the problem, of helping a large, diverse, changing community of activists to maintain a dialoge around developing common strategies and strategic vision, of attracting them there and keeping them coming back – what functions do we need right away? Which can we wait on? What do we want it to do that current software does not do?

custom code development

I think the thing to do would be to make an InkScape / (GIMP or ImageMagick?) toolchain that:

  1. takes an Inkscape SVG,
  2. renders it out into a PNG,
  3. cuts it up into a table,
  4. not only hyperlinks, but also anchors the parts of the table that are outgoing links

Such a tool would be generally useful, simple to construct, and solve the problem you are having.

We’re “cheating,” by rendering out a table. You won’t be able to zoom in and out, for instance. And, while the solution is simple to construct, it will involve a lot of tedious detailwork. I estimate it could be made in 1 month, give or take two weeks, of full time effort.

Installation will be non-trivial, but that can be solved with a friendly document and a few trials.

Other possibilities:

  • upload to the Google Maps mashup tool I’ve seen, that gives a zoomable addressible interface to any large image

long term goals

I feel like the discussion is losing its sense of connection to my original project. If it wants to do that, OK, but I think the page should hive in that case. Let me recap.

I think the American Left has lost its way. It lacks a unifying vision and a long-term goal, once provided by socialism. As a result, we are having our butts handed to us. Recent losses by the Republicans do not undermine the long-turm conservative trend. If this continues, it will be disastrous for the human race and the planet as a whole, since without a strong Left we can anticipate a worsening environment and ever-increasing inequality of power and wealth. (I argue in EthicsDiscussionA that if these self-centered and short-sighted values are further amplified by the Singularity it could mean the death of most of us within the next thirty years or so, but you need not accept this alarming vision to see that ecological disaster and continually increaseing inequality would be a bad thing).

In an effort to solve this problem, starting with neither fame nor money, I propose to host a series of dialogs on those questions: what should be our long term goal and our strategy for getting from here to there, bringing together smart people from diverse movements and progressive traditions. I am also trying to create a residential institute – sort of a combination group-house and non-profit – to host the dialogs and keep them going. What we have to offer attendees is mainly one another’s company, interesting questions, and a free gourmet dinner, cooked by us. I am looking for “names” to co-host the first few dinners.

I did not set out to create any software. I just worried that the dialogues would be disjointed. It seemed to me that if we in the Institute (still existing entirely as my fantasy, mind you – but then, so was a cap on global warming pollution from California three years ago) tried to play the role of keepers of continuity, we could not help but become identified with particular positions within the dialogue, undermining our role as the dialogue’s host.

So the idea came to me of a map of the dialogue, showing key arguments and how they are connected. If we could draw such a map for the first three or four dialogues we host, we could show each dialogue to the next one as note-takers, not participants. We could integrate the pictures into one big picture to demonstrate the connections. And over time, I hope the map will evolve into a pretty good representation of the major contending strategic visions on the Left, the arguments for and against each one, and the sorts of evidence you would need to choose between them. (I also have a dream of developing a quantitative political/economic/environmental model that contains the same causal relationships as the map and is sort of isomorphic to it, and then feeding the modeling results back into the conversation. This last is the only software project – modeling project, really – that I personally want to do.)

Then it occurred to me that, because the map would be sort of a cool thing, and because the participants in the dialogues see it as a representation of their ideas, it might motivate them to have some sort of continued involvement with the Institute – that an electronic dialogue and community might spring up in which some of the invited dialogue participants, who will generally be pretty high-powered folks, might want to have some ongoing participation. If we wanted that, we would need to give them a place to talk, linked to the map somehow. And in the best of all possible worlds, we could hope that the larger community takes over the task of maintaining the map, except for integrating the verbal, in-person dialogues. That would strengthen the participant’s sense of ownership, and reduce the resource requirements for what I see as a time-intensive yet largely volunteer process, at least for the first few years.

So I went looking for software to do all this stuff, found most of it, but found that it was generally not well-designed to work together. That is about where I was when I showed up here. Since then I have learned a lot, seen a bunch more cool software tools, been approached by developers, and engaged in discussion about open-source development.

O.K., now with that background:

Whey do we want to develop the next generations of organizational communication software as part of this project?

Why should our central effort be to develop better drawing software for the web?

Why do we even want to get up to 2005?

I know I want a good map-making software, good wiki- or forum-making software, a way to link them so that you can bounce back and forth quickly, and a way for unsophisticated community members to use them remotely. All password-protected. Oh, and a way to store files and stuff.

Can I get this core list of things? Can I get them quickly?

Do I need more than this? What more do folks think I need to support this dialogue process?

As a closing aside, the Compendium community currently has four different ways for multiple remote users to work on one map. They are in various stages of development, as described below.

  • Using a database shared via an SQL server. This one is pretty much done and being distributed with the core application.
  • Using a third-part application sharing utility like RealVNC?
  • Using the Jabber XML messaging protocol. This is an experimental version, available for download but not fully integrated into the core release.
  • Then there is the GlaxoSmithKline approach, which is a pure web-only implementation, but I am not sure what they did or how. There seems to be some legal complication about the code, which is not currently available, but they are still saying that it will be straightened out. They describe it as follows: “Web Users. No software for scientist to install. Easy to use. Accessible with browser. Add node from web. Send email alerts of changes. Email has links back to discussion. Easy navigation. Good help. Minimize mistakes. Upload local file references to web site. Automatic login. Facilitator. Start a discussion that can be exported to web site. URL to send to scientists.”


Many of these founder’s problems are fitting better to mb than cw. The main problem is that talk is cheap and people like to discuss things they are interested in, especially in their own places, but actually supporting a new project in a new space by daily work is something entirely different.

The technical issues tend to get their own dynamics quickly. It’s easy to put something up that may seem to point into the right direction. But it is hard work to arrive at something that works with all browsers. SVG, Java, Flash, Javascript, … they all have their drawbacks. The web is a technological mess.

If your browser happens to support SVG, then e. g. this ProWiki page may work: It would be even simple to add a simple macro extension to support the drawing of compendium-like or better maps. But to make a useful tool from that, to fully integrate with wiki, is real work. We also have these mapping needs in various communities and did a number of development spikes, but didn’t yet accumulate the necessary energy and perspective to attack the problem.


Is there some sort of editor or something that lets you manipulate these graphical elements through a graphical interface, or do you place them by writing text?

Andrew, currently this is just written as text.

By the way, may I introduce you to ThomasKalka (see posting below)? He is one of the most prominent online community founders of the German Left (see CoForum), a reliable collaborator and one of the nicest guys available online.

Hey! It works on my FireFox 2.0! Andrew, you should check it out, if you haven’t.

meta-discussion about this page

This page seemst to include much interesting stuff. Could the here-working spend some time on refactoring ?

short term goals


My immediate thoughts:

  • start running with what you have – I would put more effort into assembling your community, than on the software, at this point: This conversation is very costly.
  • as technology improves, (it will,) work it in
  • don’t use anything that’s not “ready” yet, but keep your eyes peeled – reason: Your people are more interested in conversation, than debugging software.
  • mapping very well may be crucial; cultivate it as a SoftTechnology – that is, I would assign a person to be a mapper, and just have them do it by hand with InkScape or whatever. Adapt social processes to make space for the needs of the mapper.
  • I’d even try to integrate key parts from in-person interaction.

I agree with HelmutLeitner; The primary community-building and “getting to action” that you would like to do better fits the MeatballWiki. If your question is something like: “How do I make a community centered aruond action?”, – SunirShah & Co. will likely have very good things to say to you, and new questions to propose to you, that would set you in a better direction.

That said, I’d like to invite you to make a page called AmericanLeft?, or ConstructingAnAmericanLeft?, or LongTermVisionForTheLeft?, or StrategicVisionForLeft?, or something. Reference this page in that one, and that one from this one.


I have just spent time looking at Meatball Wiki for the first time, and i agree that it looks like a good match for the questions I am asking. But i don’t know if it is a better match, because i have not figured out how the groups are different. Are folke advising me to pick up this whole discussion and move it over there, or start it over over there, leaving it, or some piece of it hers, or what?

I assume that if a community member invites me to start a page, then starting that page conforms to the community’s norms. however, it would be nice if the community members were designated as such in some easily knowable way (that i knew), as several people have invited me to make pages and i do not know the membership status of all of them.

talking to software developers

I just had a long conversation with Jean-Michel Decombe,one of the two developers who approached me about working with them on creating this knowledge-mapping application, in anticipation of the dinner meeting we are having next Tuesday (a week from tomorrow).

I feel it would not be appropriate to go into the finer details, especially of the features of the software they are thinking of developing, except to say that it appears to be very much in tune with my own thinking and hopes – something that integrates mapping with decision-making tools, and is fully collaborative.

However, my sense is that they are not currently planning on software that will be open-source, almost certainly initially, and perhaps not ever. They are perhaps open to such models, but it is not where they start.

I have told them that I am currently keeping all my options open, but that they could almost certainly clinch my commitment to beta-testing, promoting, and really co-developing their software would be if they could either (1) find a business model that will take them to fully open-source code, and commit them to doing so, or (2) find a way of helping me to raise significant money for my dialogue process, presumably from large donors in the software industry.

If someone could point me toward resources on financial backing for open-source development, that I could share with them, and/or consider in the alternative to them, I would be grateful. I am looking for both general and concrete suggestions.

wiki API questions

Do all/most/any commonly used wikis have a application programming interface that you let you hand the wiki a page name, tile and text and the wiki would automatically create a page with that page name, title and text? And maybe hand back a URL? If not, would adding such an API be the work of minutes, hours, days, weeks, or what?


My apologies for not posting any earlier, but days are especially precious for me at this time. That being said, I cannot help but pondering what to do next, so in that context, I am beginning the process of setting 2007’s Goals and making the necessary commitments. Mapping is definitely a big area of interest for 2007, as is Oddmuse. a couple of quick ideas …

  • Since I generally insist on ‘reliability’, we almost always need to have “spare” resources (since we are very uncomfortable when more that 45% of our resources are committed to operational systems, governed by Service Level Agreements & Contracts). Is it possible to collaborate a bit by offering 90% avalability of the 50% of our capacity that is almost always idle?
  • Some of our Clients crave the ability to do a bit of small prototyping, like I’ve seen the members of this community “knock off” for no other reason that to have an informed discussion. Out of respect for the opinions held by several members of this community, I have been reluctant to even suggest “getting paid” rather than being free. It might be worth at least knowing if discussions of how to collaborate “for a fee” would be in bad taste, here.

“Don’t mind me, I’m just goofing around (with ideas).” - Royal Canadian Air Farce.

wiki API questions

Andrew, it seems to me that writing a command-line tool to do it should be trivial, and in fact Oddmuse has these: Oddmuse:Automatic Posting and Uploading. Basically the fact that these are CGI scripts makes sure that there is an API. If you know the code, it’s just a matter of figuring out what kind of parameters to set, figure out whether you need to GET anything first (such as a page lock for wikis that do exclusive edit locks), and simulate session information (important for those wikis that only use a cookie without allowing login via parameters like Oddmuse does).

Now, if you want to have a command-line tool that works without going via webserver and CGI, that would be a bit harder. It works for Oddmuse because the Perl CGI library automatically adds such an interface as well, but I don’t know how this would work for other implementations based on PHP or ASP or anything like that.

Andrew, BayleShanks wrote the WikiGateway, that allows for easy programmatic access to most wiki. I think he even had a section of his directory tree bound to wiki, so that the files were mirrors of the contents of the wiki, and creating a new wiki page was as simple as creating a new textfile. Short answer: Yes, most popular WikiEngines support one programmatic interfaces or another.

All the wiki I know let you create a URL with any plausible-sounding wiki page name. You already have the URL. As soon as anyone enters that URL into a web browser, the wiki automatically creates that page.

Would Email2Wiki do the other things you want the API to do?

please don't feel obligated to post here; feel free to take a break and come back when you are less busy

Hans, …

I personally have no objections to what I believe you’re proposing. I think it’d be a great thing. I personally don’t have any objections whatsoever to collaboration for a fee. Its good that you bring this up now, as we go through the CommunityWikiConstitution ratification process. This is timely and relevant information.

That said…

Please don’t feel bound to any conversations here. If I could somehow repulse you from CommunityWiki, temporarily, that is what I would do..!

meta-discussion about this page

Andrew, by mentioning mw as a social resource I didn’t mean to move or suspend this technological discussion here. The topic “how to organize an online community for the American Left” is very different in its social aspects, a totally new discussion.

Basically mw and cw are one and the same community although they concentrate on different topics and use different modes of collaboration and even wiki engines. Both are about to organize a kind of “board of members” but you won’t need to take this into account.

The point is that’s in the MeatballWiki:MissionStatement to help online community founders with their projects, at least on a theoretical level, by providing know-how. A lot of information exists in pages like WikiLifeCycle, MeatballWiki:CategoryConflict or many others, but it’s not easy to access and probably only a small part of what is in the minds of the mw contributors, available through dialog only.

talking to developers: funding

Hans, developers are not shy to work for money. They do all their life. Of course we don’t know how a paid project may influence the athmosphere of an online community, especially if persons or concepts are competing. But it will be interesting to explore and see this and there is no way to avoid this exerience when wikis and communities become more important and connected to real world projects. There are communities where moderators are paid. IIRC Ward Cunningham is working full-time as director of the Eclipse developer’s community. I’ve predicted that there will be professions like “online community designer” or “online community consultants”.

Hans, Lion, Helmut…is there currently a page on CW or elsewhere that is already covering the discussion you are having here. I am extremely interested in the topic of the types of business models and funding that you are discussing here. I am interested in thinking about how OpenSource software developers can be funded to work on projects. And,

I am also interested in the roles that Helmut has proposed (“online community designer” or “online community consultants”) here, and on ProWiki (like WikiProvider, WikiConsultant, etc) this is perhaps a slightly different, but related subject. Perhaps this could be the subject of it’s own wiki (OpenSourceBusinessModels?). I think it could benefit all of us and our projects, to pool our knowlege in this area, and to use that knowlege base to launch experimental projects from around these models. I know that I have already found that, in the US, there are right now opportunities for some of the roles that Helmut describes, and I have been payed cold hard cash to help people set up open source software communities and learn how ot use them effectively. Is anyone else interested in moving and pursuing this branch of the discussion?

Uh, er, yr-… …What?!


Would you like to do that here in CW, or perhaps create an OddWiki instance and talk about it there (perhaps with NearLinks back to CW and MeatBall)?

meta-discussion about this page

OK. Better late than never for chiming in. I don’t think I can still say “welcome” to you, Andrew and get away with it.

I’ve resisted jumping in because there is so much being said on this page and was having trouble finding a place to add value, but I have been pleasantly lurking. Lots of overlap with things we’ve been thinking about on Collective Problem Solving.

talking to developers: funding

I am definitely interested in discussing OpenSourceBusinessModels? (perhaps more when applied outside of OpenSource software development). This has been hot on my brain for the last week or two and I’ve gotten excited about a couple unique approaches that would be great fun to discuss. May even be relevant to CollectiveProblemSolving (let’s hear it for SocialSynergy:OpenValueNetworks).

I also spent the last six months trying to land a serious gig doing online community consulting and online community product design. Learned about what people are looking for, where things are headed, etc and was able to get on a good project. Might be helpful if the discussion gets to that.

And in an attempt to answer Andrew’s question… not sure if the OpenSourceBusinessModels? I’m thinking of would be useful for the developers and situation you’re in - particularly since OS business models are sort of a tangential affair by definition. I imagine working them into a more concrete business plan would be required as well, but there are some proven models out there - Red Hat and BitKeeper? are two successful organizations that leap to mind (One started with an add-on services model, the other with a corporate-crippled software model). Many large organizations such as Tivo and Apple have profited from enclosure.

There are also some typical “paths” that OSS developers may take to make money which aren’t exactly business models per se - such as going to work for OSS-friendly shops who benefit from the code they’re supporting, or using OS projects to make connections and build cred. While paths such as these aren’t nearly as glamorous as OpenSourceBusinessModels?, they’re far more common ways of benefiting.

Sam, when I talked about earning money with and in wikis, it was to encourage Hans and Andrew primarily. Of course this could be a topic of its own. Whether this is sufficient to grow a separate wiki community falls in the same class of questions like Andrew’s “how to organize an online community for the American Left”.

meta-discussion about this page

I think we should try to stay focused. Andrew asked a number of questions, directly and indirectly. We should do our best to answer them and help. That’s the best way for us to advance and to unfold as individuals and as a community. Step by step, the simplest thing that could possibly work, transformations respecting the existing, lowest energy consumptions paths, ChristopherAlexander’s view of how life unfolds.

Keith, welcome to the discussion!

Keith, thanks for jumping in!

Helmut, I totally agree with you that we should stay focused here. This is precisely why I was thinking about moving the WikiConsulting?, and OpenSourceBusinessModels?, and related drift out of this page and thread. Yet, these are, at the same time, discussions that i am deeply interested in, and feel that I can give some substantial contributions on. Also, it somethign that I know Christophe, Lion, Keith, and possibly you and Hans are all interested in. I brought up creating a seperate wiki only because I didn’t know if discussion of this would be unwelcome in CommunityWiki by anyone. Anyway, now that I think about it some more, I think that this OpenSourceBusinessModels? discussion would be the most at home at BarCampBank wiki. So, I’ll probably start it up there.

Also, in focus with Andrew’s main questions: I agree with Lion and Helmut, about taking the discussion to Meatball. But, I think that it should be a simultaneous discussion. One page that continues here, and a page that is started there. The idea that I am thinking of is: What to copy to Meatball, and what to keep here? I think that we can actually keep the entirety of Andrew’s original post here, and continue to work on it.

I think that we can take Andrew’s description where he starts out:

“I feel like the discussion is losing its sense of connection to my original project. If it wants to do that, OK, but I think the page should hive in that case. Let me recap.

I think the American Left has lost its way. It lacks a unifying vision and a long-term goal, once provided by socialism….”

I think that Andrew could benefit from both conversations going on at the same time, perhaps. Just my opinion.

short-term goals

Getting back on the core topic here, I don’t know if Andrew is still leaning towards using Compendium. Or, if he is thinking about creating something else. I have experimented with compendium in face to face conversations recently, and I think it canbe a good tool for simpl mapping-out of multi-way conversations about complex topics. I also liked Helmut’s example WikiProjectWorkMap.

If I were in Andrew’s shoes rigth now, trying to get this project going, I mght think about starting it out on a small-scale, with some volunteers with different levels of technological ability, and use Compendium as the tool, and think about how to use that tool with the existing people and their existing abilities. For instance, you may have one person who is really adept at using a tool like Compendium, and a few others who are not, involved in a conversation. So, you could have a teleconference, and have one person be kind of the “notetaker”, and map that conference with Compendium while it is happening, and display it via VNC on a webpage in real time for everyone else to see and refer to while they are discussing. Experimenting with this in a “pilot”, or experimental way, can help you work out good strategies, and show you where the real weaknesses and possibilities are in the tool. This can then in turn help inform you about whether you should use compendium, or how you should design other tools. This pilot project could be actually be a wiki site of it’s own, where the mission is to attract people to try and help you solve this problem of how to visualize and carry on the conversation. An open KnowledgeCommons? meta reseource that is also tied to your pursuit of an application, and best practices for using it. This ties into Lion’s suggestions that you should get started now, work with what you have and what is available, and see how you can possibly improve on that with the ultimate direction being driven by your ultimate goals.

long-term goals

Finally, belatedly, …

[Advice] & (partial) response to some of Andrew’s posted and emailed points.

(1) Focus on the needs of the Authors you are planning invite to particiapte in this long-term exercise.

(2) Keep your technology options open. It is becomming apparent to me (i.e. it’s just my opinion) that you will need to change your technologies many time throughout the type of exercise you are contemplating; so you may as well plan to do so; likely very frequently - especially in these early stages. I can (and should) expand on this a great length, but cannot at this time.

[hwoOffer] …

(1) I will respond to you email further, ASAP, but cannot tell when that may be (possibly “early next year” = 2 0r 3 weeks.)

(2) I will continue to ponder your situation as a background task since I think I may be able to at least offer more advice (just what you probably feel you don’t need) and may be able to convince some of my associates to “collaborate” a bit in the side discussions that are taking place while we are launching the memorial Foundation for Ada. None of us are likely to do more than that before the end of this year, given that the holiday season is already overlapping with the funeral plans.

(2a) “Collaboration” is most likely to take the form of sharing some of our non-monetary resources with you. In case its not obvious, I personally am budgetting the bulk of my Not-For-Profit contributions to the Foundation for at least 2007. I will continue to support the business enterprises that I am already engaged in (and some of these may find reasons to share or contribute non-monetary resources that you may find “mutually beneficial”, which is what I’m pondering.) I have quiesced - I needed a spell checker, sigh… - my personal Investment & Income producing activities for the foreseeable future since this is a very low priority for me.

(3) I will definitely communicate further before the end of the year, all be it, briefly.

[caveats] …

(1) You should not assume that I am making any additional commitments at this time or that I may be inclined to do so in the future (based on what little I know at this moment).

(2) You should not depend on me for anythng at this time. I will try to be as helpful and responsive as I can within my current constraints, but can promise little other than to ‘ponder’ your needs.

[ps] This does not belong on this page, but “I’m writing where they’re reading”. Please feel free to remove it somewhere else or Wiki:DeleteWhenCooked.

talking to software developers

Another serious software candidate

TheBrain is the most interesting software package i have seen after Compendium. It is more oriented to knowledge mapping than to dialogue mapping, but it has a bunch of related capabilities that look well worked-out, and i really like the way it lets you explore a map dynamically. Note that the map on the top of the homepage is active if you have Java enabled.

There is also a map of a big hunk of the web (they say 2.5 million URLs) that uses their technology at WebBrain

I have written to ask them a bunch of questions, and i will report back when i hear from them.

My meeting with the developers has been repreatedly delayed. I am now expecting it in early February.

Andrew: I have a ‘personal’ copy that I use have used daily for almost 5 years, that currenlt contains about 24k ‘thoughts’. I have even discussed some of the issues around its use with Harlan (its developer) and considered developing a separate implementation of the core concepts within different GUI paradigms. Having demonstarted this to about 100 people of the years (including Lion), I can assure you that …

  • (1) It has the ability to quickly appeal to a broad spectrum of users
  • (2) It is a joy to use for someone who has an intense dedication to mastering its use in a very broad range of appliations, BUT this level of dedicated persistence only seems to occure in less that 5% of the population.
  • (3) Since Harlan started the Natrifical, he has acquired other active investors and the development emphasis has shifted to the “corporate” knowledgeware market from the “personal” versions. Just over a year ago (the last time I checked), this meant that an “enterprise” version costs on the order of $50k.

I do consider the (less than) $50 I paid for the original Personal version to be one of the best investments I myself ever made. However, that is based on the state of the art 5 years ago, as opposed to the current situation. Today, I suspect a ‘normal’ group of Authors would become much more effective, much more quickly using a wiki, than they would using Wiki:TheBrain. I would also suspect I would have a hard time justifying the $50k, if I listed the “benefits” of this particular software and compared them to the functionally equivalent capabilities of other software.

In summary, it’s (just) my opinion that the value of this tool is very much more dependant on the capabilities of its Users than is the case in most software packages. Hence, I would recommend starting with an assessment of the common Needs that the proposed Authors might exhibit as a group and then look at the features of the software offering that most closely meets these (as opposed by starting with the capabilities of the software).

  • (Another) alternative could be to have each Author use their own ‘preferred’ tool and then have an ‘adminsitrative’ support function standardize the individual input streams.

I’m going to cut this off because it is already becomming apparent to me that what I am trying to say, may be too complicate to communicate in this (wiki) manner. I’ll be back at my home base in the last week of January. Perhaps its time for that telephone chat I was unable to have last time?

long term goals

Right now I am going to go off in another direction – more daydreaming about what Strategic Dialog Support Software would look like if it could be whatever I wanted it to be. I am going to focus first on the map, or more properly maps, and the fact that argumentations really needs several different kinds of maps with overlapping elements. Then I am going, in separate posts, to think out loud about each of the component map types, and what you want them to do. Finally, I am going to ask about functions that would promote the effectiveness of distributed strategic discussions, whether synchronous or asynchronous, that need to make decisions – tools for consensus building, straw votes, caucusing, etc.

Although I have been focusing mainly on argument maps so far, there are really three different kinds of maps that are implicitly or explicitly in play in most strategic dialogues: mind maps, argument maps, and visual models.

In a mind map, you show various objects, concepts, or forces and links that show which are related to which. These links can reflect many different kinds of relationship, such as inclusion, causation, motivation (meaning or purpose), control, etc.

In an argument map, you have a set of statements or propositions that are linked by relationships of implication. Each proposition is seen as necessary, sufficient, or evidentiary for some subsequent proposition or its negation.

In a visual model, you have objects and functions. Objects are data structures that represent people or firms or parties or dollars or widgets or species or whatever the “things” in your model are. Functions are “machines” that take objects in and put objects out. Functions can be pure relationships, in which case they have no state, or they can have a state, in which case I will call them object functions. (If different terminology is standard in this area I’d like to know). In the settings in which I most often work, the things in models are either industries, households, and flows of goods, services, payments, and sometimes physical things like energy or carbon, or interest groups such as firms, NGOs, government agencies, and people, with flows of support, opposition, and various resources like money, volunteer time, endorsement or votes.

I think that a really useful support system would let you migrate between these various approaches with as little difficulty as possible, and at the same time encourage rigor and ease of finding and correcting loose ends.

Like, say we are having an argument about global warming policy. Person A is saying we need to demonize and ultimately nationalize oil companies. Person B is saying that we need to recruit business including oil companies. Each has a number of arguments and counter-arguments.

As part of this discussion, we want an argument map, to track arguments. But then, we might want an oil company map, that shows a bunch of things about oil companies – what positions they take in public debate, who they have given money too, how much oil they sell, profits, who is on their board, etc. This is more of a mind map, a visual analog to a database. But aspects of it would translate directly into arguments in the debate between person A and person B, and also be useful to both of them in planning strategy. For instance, you want to know things about board members if you are trying to recruit them, and also if you are trying to publicly embarrass them.

And then, maybe you want a model that shows how oil consumption and oil company profits would respond to a carbon charge, or fuel economy standards. Or perhaps you want a political model, that shows who congressional swing voters are. In that case, you might want a mind map centering on members of congress instead of oil companies. In either case, the argument map, the economic model, and the dialogue map would all have a lot of things in common. They would all include oil production and consumption, oil companies, and oil company profits, for example.

One thing I conclude from this is that it is necessary to enrich the view we have of links. Mind maps and models are often of mirror-images of one another. Mind maps focus on objects with properties as nodes, and relationships as links. They tend to be static. Models focus on relationships as node, and links denote flows of objects. Usually models are at least somewhat dynamic. Arguments can be either. So you need to be able to switch between views in ways that make things links in one view and nodes in another.

Almost all the software I have seen, whether it is doing mind mapping, argument mapping, or visual modeling, largely wastes the information potential of the links. I think that links should always give information about the nature of the link, and you should be able to click on links to learn more about their properties just like most programs let you click on nodes.

Andrew, I hate to be a party crasher… But, …

The vision your describing is enormous, but even in the enormity you’ve described, it’s very tiny compared with the visions of technologists past, who have spent even greater times elucidating possibility and image and so on.

The kind of software and datasets that you are thinking about require entire industries and social technical movements to build. The closest thing right now is the construction of the SemanticWeb.

Typed links are (not to be offensive,) a beginners concept in this space, and the idea has been recognized and circulated for decades. Only in the last handful of years has it been incorporated into the web. The web itself was a technical vision that existed decades before the world wide web. The platform you are talking about is extensive.

I believe we’ll start to see the technology and datasets you are talking about in the 5-25 year range; More specific than that, and it’s really hard to say: It all depends on when people can and decide to implement different parts of the system.

I’ve been wanting to write about AnnotatableSimulation?s for a while, and I know that RadomirDopieralski has been thinking about something similar (save in game form.) Basically, using simulations as browsers over data, and networking simulations. We are hardly alone in this; There are undoubtedly a great many people out there thinking this same thought, right now, as you read this. Feed SemanticWeb data into these things, and you have first draft rough cut version of what you are talking about. I estimate it will be 2-5 years before we really start seeing these, though it could easily be much later.

I just want to make sure you know this isn’t simply a matter of getting “3-5 really smart guys,” and putting something together. Not in 3-6 months, not in 2-5 years. Again: This is social technical movement territory. Entire worlds of training and social habituation to go alongside it. The good news is that the movement is very much existent, and forming. The bad news is: Well, it’s going to take a decade, plausibly 2.

So, this sort of system cannot be a tactical objective. (Understatement.)

I think the best tactical objective, in support of making a platform for strategic dialog, would be (surprise!) setting up an OddMuse wiki, or wiki hive.

By SocialTechnicalMovement, I mean: a social movement among programmers, technologists, futurists, educators, researchers, and so on, that is holding a bunch of technical ideas that have unifying themes.

Presently, the SemanticWeb vision is the closest to what you are talking about, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the reason you are thinking the ideas you are thinking, is because you have induced them from the existing field that eats those ideas for snack, and constantly emmanates them in journals, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and daily discussions.

You may be interested in following Planet RDF, or attending Semantic Web or wiki conferences; You’ll see no end to these thoughts and imaginings.

Lion writes “there’s little doubt in my mind that the reason you are thinking the ideas you are thinking, is because you have induced them from the existing field that eats those ideas for snack.”

Well. . . maybe.

What I think I am doing is imagining myself as a technologically unsophisticated person using an argument map, and asking myself what I would like to be able to do. When I pictured the map of an argument over how to change the political economy, I started thinking about it as a map of a causal flow, where the boxes are social forces and the arrows denote causation or influence. That started me thinking that I wished the argument map could somehow grow or evolve into a model. At this point, I had not yet found the terms “mind map” or “argument map,” and so I had not found any software at all.

I did have some experience with modeling software – non-visual econometric and economic modeling software. I remember trying to debug a model in the Borland C++ environment, which is really a more sophisticated programming environment than I know how to use effectively, and wishing I could follow the numbers like balls rolling through tubes, and watch how they change. And then remembering a very old game called “Rocky’s Boots,” in which you assembled Rube Goldberg machines out of parts that were physical analogs of electronic components like capacitors, resistors, and logical gates, and thinking “Why not make modeling software to do that?” I was hunting for such software for nearly a year, asking all sorts of people and doing probably hundreds of Google searches before I found Stella, VenSim? and the term “dynamic systems,” after which I found dozens of such models. Well, at least half a dozen.

Lion is looking for elegant, general ways to do what I want. He is looking for technology to facilitate community, but comes to it from the point of view of being an expert on technology. I come to this from the point of view of wanting to facilitate one particular conversation in one community with one setting. I am perfectly convinced that he is correct: no elegant general way to do that now exists. So I am looking for specific, cludgy ways accomplish these goals, using feature-rich applications that are designed to do as nearly as possible to what I want. I should be clear that, because I am not an IT person, I am looking far ways to accomplish this with existing software or minor modifications thereof. If I keep asking for the moon, it is only in the hope that additional pieces will fall my way.

I am aware that this falls considerably short of the idealized system I envision above, much less of the even more grandiose tools of whhich Lion informs us that my vision is a paltry subset.

Right now, I am thinking there are three applications, Compendium, VenSim?, and a forum or wiki. Compendium is the argument map and database application. VenSim? is the visual modeling environment. I don’t yet have a clue how to pick a wiki or forum software package. Keeping the three systems homeomorphic with click-through links between the equivalent nodes is would at this point have to be done by hand, though over on Compendium list there are people associated with some particular wiki flavor who want to create the sort of AutoWiki? function that I describe above with their wiki, i.e. automatically creating a hyper-linked, same-named wiki page for each node and link.

The Compendium people, at my request, have put a gadget on their nodes that gives you a URL for each node that you can link to from outside (unfortunately with highly unintuitive names). They already had it set up so that you could attach a URL to link from a node to elsewhere.

Right now, only the forum/wiki part is really set up to be maintained by a community. It looks to me like there is a beta model of Compendium which comes pretty close to allowing the community to maintain the argument map. See the GlaxoSmithKline? approach. (I would be grateful if someone else would look at this animated PowerPoint presentation and see if you can explain to me more clearly how it works. You have to click it repeatedly to see the whole thing.) The modeling software is not going to let the community build the model any time soon, except maybe a small core accessing it through a remote desktop tool like Gotomypc or BeAnywhere?. However, the community can see the model structure, and maybe even run it remotely, and download the output, all through the web.

I have a volunteer who has agreed to let me host the system on their machines. Compendium is free, and so is VenSim? in it’s basic version, as are most wiki and community software implementations.

If I had my druthers, I would learn VenSim? and be the in-house VenSim? expert. I would find somebody local who is interested in the project to take notes and translate them into Compendium, and generally be the Compendium expert. And I would find a third person, who could be somebody distant, to maintain the parallel wiki or forum. All three of us would learn how to make hypertext links between our respective nodes or pages.

(I think I am still missing one big piece: Some kind of system to help people have distributed but synchronous conversations and make decisions in a synchronous or asynchronous setting – something to let people make straw votes, say, or use a whiteboard to draw on that you can see over the web, etc. I think this software is generally called groupware – things like FacilitatePro and GroupSystems’ Think Tank. I have done very little research in this area, and would welcome pointers to good cheap products, reviews, etc.)

Does this make sense?

And my question to Lion & all is, as best you can tell, is this as good as I can do with currently available software.

One more thing that make me feel like I am not just living in a dreamworld: I recently came across the closes thing to my project that I have yet encountered, the Progressive Strategies Studies Project of the Commonwealth Institute. Well, it turns out that they are trying to turn their overview of the strategies into a map, and are using TheBrain software, discussed above, to put their map up on the web (or rather, they say they will). I am pleased (though also a bit annoyed) to find other folks who are independently thinking along such similar lines.


Hmmm…it’s really hard to say, because I see your vision, though some areas are opaque.

I want you to know up front that I totally understand that you’ve already thoroughly described and explained what you envision, what you need and what you are trying to accomplish.

Yet, it’s my opinion that this vision needs to come into the realm of PlainTalk in order for people to quickly engage it, and thus help turn it into reality.

A possible good way to do this is to create a DesignProcess? for you vision, that follows an order, that I’ve learned from others I’ve collaborated with in the realm of VirtualCommunity founding. The design process is:

“Purpose → Process → Platform”

What that means is that first we define in PlainTalk the purpose of this thing. We help you create diagrams here that help visualize what this all means.

Then we try to think about the process, which you have a lot of good information and great brainstorming about here already. but, also erfining this into PlainTalk with VisualLanguage. Looking at the elements needed without worrying yet about technological limitations so much, but just thinking about who is solving what problems, and which processes would be optimal for them.

Then, we look at the “platform”, or technology that exists, or that would be needed, or how to hack existing technologies into what is needed.

I think that turning this grand vision into PlainTalk and VisualLanguage is something that CommunityWiki and possibly it’s extended network can help you out with over time. it’s something that I am interested in helping you with, because I think you need something that is quickly engageable and understandable, so that you can attract people to your vision.

Sam, thank you so much for this suggestion. That would be truly wonderful.

I will admit that I am largely in the dark about moving this to PlainTalk, much less to VisualLanguage. This is because I have spent so much time obsessing over it that things that are far from plain seem plain to me. At the same time, I am sure that important pieces are missing the existence of which i can barely guess at. I know from long experience that developing strategies for communicating complex ideas is best done in teams of people who have spent a ton of time thinking about them and those that haven’t; and also of course that I am not the best person to see holes in my own thinking. Here, of course, nearly everyone has spent a lot of time thinking about these things, but each a different piece, so we all have the chance to be the naive innocent with respect to different aspect of the project.

If I am to participate effectively in an effort to develop a VisualLanguage, though, i need to know how to put images up here – both images that I have found, and images that I create – and i need better tools for creating images than i now have. Can you point me to instructions for posting? Can you tell me how to extract a postable image from a PDF? (Given the nature of this discussion, i think these would fall into the “brief quotation” exemption from copyright if properly acknowledged). And what drawing program would you recommend for an unsophisticated tyro?

Andrew: Most of the software that I know is used to create PDFs also has a “Save as - html” capability. Using this separates the issues related to the personal tool choices of Authors (by allowing them the save as html), and Audiences since the output HTML files are effectively the ‘franca lingua’ of the net.

A different facet of you needs that has been on my mind is that you state that your interests are “long-term” and I appreciate this since you seem to be focused on Strategic… considerations. In my experience, this means that you will change the underlying technologies several times during the course of your dialog(s). Tool choice may, therefore, be less important since it will be inevitably necessary to accomodate the changing needs of diverse contributors (of email, powerpoint, pds’s, etc) and upgrade the core software modules as new capabilities and Operating Systems emerge.


Andrew, my drawing recommendations are InkScape and OpenOffice? Draw. Inkscape is more general, OpenOffice? Draw is more for schematics.

I applaud your effort to jury-rig a system together, but I am reluctant to put a lot of personal effort into the endeavor. My skepticism is mainly that, jury rigged together, it’s going to be awefully hard to train people in installation, use, and the development of social patterns on top of that. I mean, look, even here on CommunityWiki, we have working image upload, and InkScape is basically stable; And yet, it’s hard to figure out how to put it together, to put images on CW. But don’t let my skepticism get in your way; Go on ahead.

It’s good to hear Rocky’s Boots mentioned; I taught myself digital logic on Rocky’s Boots, and on Robot Odyssey, a more advanced (and more fun!) version of the same.

I do believe that simulation technologies have a brilliant future, both as a means for exploring a space, and as a means for attaching information to (similar to the way that web pages attach information to URLs.) I’ve been wanting to write about simulation technologies for a while now.

But I’m afraid I can’t put much more time into this, personally. Please feel free to talk with me on the phone though, and to consult with me that way, if you have any technology questions.

I agree with what Hans has said above, as well.

Do you have any idea how many wiki have "sustainability" as a main topic ? I was very surprised.

I found my name on a list of members. Does that mean I am a member under the new rules? I ask because I have a new idea that I think others will agree is worth a page.

I am going to the Web2Open Conference tomorrow to pitch some of these ideas. I will report here on anything I learn. If anyone else from this forum is going, you can call my cell at 510 507-4820 if you want to hook up.

You are not a member according to the CommunityWikiAssemblyMemberList; however, it doesn’t matter, you can still make a new page and do everything else, you don’t have to ask or anything. Members do not have any special privileges with regards to starting new pages or anything like that. The member list is mostly just in case anything ever needs some formal decidin’; and usually, nothing does.

Web2open looks neat, looking forward to the report.

Thanks! I am in a work crunch right now, so the report will have to be next week.

But I will try to put something on OpenSourceEconomicDevelopment, my most recent project.

I finally got around to introducing myself over at MeatballWiki today, and as I was trying to describe how i wanted the dialog map and the supporting wiki to be linked automatically in both directions (so that creating Compendium nodes would automatically create wiki pages and conversely), i realized that I really want wiki pages for both the nodes and the arrows in the map. The node pages would talk about a phenomena (votes, wages, union organizing, public opinion, etc.) and how to measure it, while the arrow pages talk about the existence, nature, strength and direction of the causation between the linked nodes and how to measure that. So this is not quite a SemanticWeb in the usual sense, in which the dialog map arrows would correspond to the page links. There are actually two distinct kinds of links here: mapped links, which always go from object/node pages to arrow pages or from arrow pages to object/node pages, and unmapped or conceptual links, which can go anywhere.

Andrew, you should look at Squeak E-toys.

It’s made with the express purpose of supporing simulation-like systems, and does a pretty good job of it.

Andrew… One of the ‘barriers-to-progress’ that I am encountering more often than not, is “jargon”.

In this instance, I felt it might help you to know that Canada’s Electoral Authorities refer to “elections” as “Events”. Interestingly, as a result of the fact that I spend a fair portion of my time talking with these folks, I’ve become comfortable using their jargon both as an efficient verbal short-hand and to increase my perceived TrustMetric with these audiences (although that can be a ‘mixed blessing) since iots relatively easy to mis-lead folk, accidentally or deliberately, which can have subsequent (and larger, off-setting) consequences.

Furthermore, as I’ve started introducing this particular use of jargon to other Audiences, such as public Corporatations and Not-For-Profts that have a need also conduct Votes, they are each catching on to this use more quickly every time. I suspect its because its a more convenient and natual ‘terminology’, once you’ve been exposed to it.

Linking back to what I think your objective is; I think you’ll find creating a shared Volcabulary that maps to a set of shared Values for Collaborative undertakings, to be one of the NecessaryButNotSufficient? conditions that is still constraining progress in CyberSpace.


Working with the compendium developers

Good news! I now have a Compendium developer who has said that she would be willing to work with a wiki developer to link Compendium with a wiki in the way I have described. Now all we need is a wiki developer.

Why should someone who is basically interested in wiki visualization tools want to do this?

There are a number of tools for creating maps that help to visualize wikis or that can be used in wikis. These include Morcego to visualize the local vicinity of a page, VisualTour to map an entire wiki, the ability of some wikis such as TikiWiki to import FreeMind maps via a wiki plugin, etc. The maps that these tools create can all show linkages between pages, but they usually don’t do much more. Here are some things that one might want such tools to do. Most of these things are done by no existing wiki-enabled mapping tool. A few tools may do one or two of these things.

  • show the direction of the link.
  • give a visual indication of the nature of the link (implication, refutation, evidence, example, etc.)
  • provide a means of linking back to a page by clicking on the map.
  • provides a way of changing the scale at which you view the map.
  • provides a simple way collapsing or expanding sections of the map into nodes.
  • provide ways of saving or storing views of the map.
  • provide tagging for nodes.
  • allow you to attach documents, files, or databases to nodes.
  • allow you to view nodes as lists sorted by tag, feature or attachment.
  • allow you to attach external links to nodes.
  • automatically add a related map node when you add a wiki page.
  • automatically add a related wiki page when you add a map node or arrow

Compendium is a feature-rich dialog mapping program. It does all the things listed above already (except the last two). It is intended to support and preserve every key part of large, complex, long-term dialogs, including supportive documentation and the like. Compendium has an active community of developers that are adding features in an ongoing way, including one paid staffer and numerous corporate users who are also developers. Creating a link between Compendium and a wiki would therefore add a much larger array of mapping abilities to a wiki than any other existing visualization tool, and those abilities will expand with time, with no additional work by the linking individual. Compendium is a quasi-open source program, and the Compendium Institute, which owns it, is committed to migrating to a fully open-source license over time.

If links were to be established between a wiki and Compendium, several members of the Compendium community have stated that they would use it. One could reasonably anticipate that this use would spread, and that maintenance and further integration of Compendium and the wiki would be largely taken up by the Compendium community. A desire for new Compendium-wiki linkage capabilities would naturally arise in a community of users and would go into the hopper of their feature request system.

One can develop additional capabilities in Compendium by exploiting its XML scheme, the Derby or MySQL? relational database, or the public Java classes to connect Compendium to other databases and computational services. (I don’t understand this last sentence, but it is taken more-or-less directly from their website, and I assume it makes sense to many of you here).

I have described a way of connecting a map to a wiki. What if you are mainly interested in the reverse connection, from wiki to map?

The Compendium development community consists of people who start with a lot of big maps that they use for a variety of purposes. In at least one case that I know of it is the primary planning tool for a division of a major corporation with more than 100 employees. In order to fully engage the Compendium community, we need to start with tools that automate the linkage from map to wiki. Once that linkage has been establishes and people start to use it, interest in the reverse linkage, from wiki to Compendium, will grow rapidly. There is little doubt that the Compendium developers community will rapidly come to see its value and support it directly.

Please feel free to forward this information to anyone who you think would be interested.

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