When you’re researching stuff on the web, it makes sense to keep notes.

…in short, there are all these places you can keep notes, as you learn about something.

This page is about using wiki as places to keep notes, as you learn.

Another Pitch

Whenever you want to learn something, (1) find the best explanation on the web, (2) understand it, (3) improve it. You, as a beginner, are perhaps the best person to rework it: BeginnersReworking is sometimes the most useful for thing for other beginners.

Obviously, you can’t do step 3 if it’s not a wiki. So, in that case, find a wiki to keep your notes on the topic. Unfortunately, there are still TooFewWiki. But we’re working on that. :)

If there is no such wiki, you can make a deeper commitment: create one, and network it in via WikiNodes.



Original Story

“He was always searching for patterns, for connections, for a new way of looking at something, but I suspect his motivation was not so much to understand the world as it was to find new ideas to explain. The act of discovery was not complete for him until he had taught it to someone else.” – Richard Feynman and the Connection Machine, W. Daniel Hillis

As a society, we are used to learning and research being a mostly individual thing. You get a few good web pages, a few good books, get some notebook paper, and start teaching yourself.

With wiki, we can learn together.

First, you find a wiki about the the subject you’re interested in. If there isn’t one already, you might have to make it yourself.

Then, you start making page names about the parts of the thing that you are learning about. As you research, you collect your notes on the page. Save the contents of the page about once every two hours, so that you don’t lose them if your computer crashes, or whatever. After you have a bunch of notes, see if you can write a coherent DocumentMode text at the top of the page.

Then, integrate your notes into the main body of work. If text is about the things you’ve researched, link the text to the page you’ve made.

If the wiki is well traveled, then you’ll notice people correcting you where you are wrong. You’ll learn a lot. And others will learn a lot.

The basic ideas here- collecting notes, rephrasing in your own words, integrating ideas- are good ideas whether you do it alone, or socially. So why not do it socially? Others can correct you, and others can learn from you.

This is true on any collaborative writing medium. Including fiction and art and poetry, as well as fact.

See Also

SecondaryTranslation, BeginnersReworking



You are both right to me … People don’t care about knowing the meaning of meta-communication … Yet, to be doing something new or different from their CommonSense they need to understand what the use of their doing is… Maybe they need to be shown what meta-communication is ??
I wonder if making a distintiction between journal and wiki use would help … say, meta-communication = journal - wiki
See what it might mean ?

I’m very confused; What do you mean by meta-communication?

(I would think: “Talking about talking.” But that doesn’t seem to substitute well into what you just said, so I’m wondering.)

One of the simple definitions Google finds says: communication about the situation in which interaction takes place, is called metacommunication, same as “Talking about talking” … but …
system interoperability is achieved via metacommunication … and how systems do that is transparent to their users
… i have developed an interest in this from working in system and user support roles … and what made me aware of my interest was something i read in my son thesis on interpersonal communication … where it said that metacommunication is forbidden in (hierarchical) social organizations …
so i’m still finding clues that metacommunication among human beings might be worth considering … (and implementing in some transparent way ?) … however … i have no directions with regard to how that should be done … and i’m prepared to drop the subject … if it is perceived as unimportant … or confusing.

WoW?! What a neat insight!

Yes- quite right. Metacommunication is forbidden in many hierarchical organizations. [see MentioningPatternsJohannesGijsbers]

And then you get into the weirdness of, “Gee, I wish people would do more than just what their job calls for; Why aren’t they talking to us? Why don’t people just extend themselves, and see beyond their particular problems?” being communicated at the same time as “Did we ask you to do that? No? We didn’t? Did you get authorization before you tried that?” “Does anyone else have any ideas?” “No? Good! Then you all consent. The group has spoken, it’s the will of the group.”

Yeah, yeah, I dig it. Totally. I think it’s an interesting point.

Maybe write up SubversiveMetaCommunication?, or TalkingAboutTalkingIsForbidden?, or TalkingAboutTalkingAsAnIndicator?, or something. MetaCommunication suggests itself, but I feel- we talk a lot about software here, and I don’t think we mean to walk on that space.

No, that’s a really interesting idea. I hadn’t noticed it explicitly.

And now, I think I’m tying it in to what you were saying before. You’re saying that perhaps most people aren’t used to meta-communications.

I remember going to an activist meeting for the first time, and then it very quickly came to me that 50% of the group was speaking a very different language. I mean, it was all English, but- the assumptions that surfaced, and the kinds of arguments that formed- were very different than I’d seen before in a group setting. These people were smart about the way groups organized, and the things that were needed to get into some sort of motion. I had wished I had a nice graphical handbook.

(So, I went to work online, since we’re building great explanations online for everything.)

What’s interesting here is that many of us didn’t know. Many of us, maybe 50%, weren’t accustomed to the type of group interactions that were at work, and consensus process, and stuff like that. Surely we’ve all talked about talking before, but not on such a large scale, and with particular goals in mind.

So it is reasonable to believe that people don’t know how to wiki, don’t know how to organize, don’t know how to interact in these different ways.

Maybe I’m just going off into my own pocket universe, but I think I am understanding what you mean.

Transparency in our communications would be LinkLanguage and HyperText, words that explain themselves to readers. (Even the ability and knowing to google, to a degree.) VisualLanguage is really helpful as well, though that’s difficult right now.


The meaning of making metacommunication transparent could be easier to understand - i wonder - if we can describe it as an attempt to induce change in CommonSense without making it perceived as disruptive …
to make this clearer - and see if it may open a way forward (or .. start a HubAndSpokeWikis “bud”) - some clues might emerge from the (progress pending) TranslationGateway page … in the MultilingualExperiment cluster …
.. hopefully ..

I’ve been hanging out in #rdfig asking questions and asking people to help me understand ideas. They’ve also checked what I’ve written on the wiki, and offered suggestions.

Net result:

  • Lots of cool pages on the ESW wiki.
  • Lots more discussion on the IRC channel.
    • People see people talking about something that interests them, and then they jump in, introducing still more topics.

I am convinced that the way to learn is to learn socially. And that the thing to do is to construct documents (construct as in “constructivist” and even “constructionist”- not just recreating models in your head, but creating actual things in the world) as you learn. This helps both yourself, others, and people who just wanted some clarification and a reference.

The big difference here is actually talking with people, and documenting as you talk. It can be a little frustrating, but even if you only get a few main ideas down, that’s much better than nothing.

So the combination of IRC + realtime wiki-ing is magical. When we have a “real time edit plane” made out of individually addressible real-time documents, this’ll be so much more powerful.

I believe this is related to TeachingByPairProgramming.

I keep coming back to this in my mind, again and again.

“This is the way.”

And I keep wondering: “Why aren’t people doing this?”

I saw something that I thought was hilareous:

For some reason, it has not occured to this person to just perform his notes and thought, on the ESW wiki.

Let’s consider the advantages this person would obtain from doing so:

  • The person can spread his concepts with greater freedom. ESW is dedicated to Sem Web stuff, and nobody cares if you make 5 pages, as long as it’s all Sem-Web stuff.
  • The person can ask questions of an audience that cares entirely about what he’s writing about.
  • The person can receive corrections from an audience that cares entirely about what he’s writing about.
  • The person can see how his thoughts and ideas integrate with the other thoughts and ideas on the wiki, as people connect it in with the rest of the wiki.
  • The person has ready access to the learning that has already taken place on the wiki.

I wonder, “Why aren’t people doing this?”

I’m really starting to think: People just haven’t thought to do it.

So, I’m wondering: “How do I get people to do this? How do I raise awareness about this?”

To a degree, I think that I don’t have to. As our communications technology gets better, I think people will have an easier time finding and approaching one another and all that stuff. It’ll be a super-social world. The Internet’ll be overflowing with people. It’s going to rock. One big continuous party. We’ll stop calling it the Internet- we’ll just call it the Festival.

But- you know, that day is somewhat distant. And things need to happen to get there.

I’m thinking of engaging someone, like, and walking them through learning about something with wiki.

That’ll give me some 1st-hand insight into the obstacles people have with learning by wiki. I’ll see- first hand- their objections to posting (“are you sure this is okay?” …I am anticipating), their confusion about how to hook in pages (“Now we do a search…”), and I’ll be able to watch their thought processes as they go.

Then I think I’ll have a much better idea on how to proliferate this concept of WikiAsYouLearn.

Because- I mean, I really see this as the way to go. It’s beneficial to everyone. I can’t see anything wrong with it, at all.

Yes, I agree it’s a good idea. I also agree with your diagnosis of why this doesn’t happen more, but would add two more factors:

  • People haven’t thought of it (your diagnosis (?))
  • It takes time to write stuff up (additional factor)
  • Some people are naturally into teaching other people; some people are not (additional factor)

I try to do this, and I like to do it, and I do do it fairly often, but the time factor is still a bottleneck for me. I have more to write down than I have time to write.

I don’t think second factor will change, and I don’t think the third factor needs to change (if only the people interested in teaching did this, a ton of stuff would be written).

I also agree that it will naturally happen more as people use technologies for online collaboration (such as wiki) more.

Note: if everyone does this alot, we’ll run into the MetaContentRecursionProblem. But, as I noted there, I think wikis are good at dealing with that.

MartinHarper and I were talking in IRC, and found an important distinction in the conversation:

  • People approaching a community of car mechanics online with a question like: “Can someone help me with my broken car?”
  • People approaching a community of car mechanics online who are interested in learning how to work with cars and machinery.

The first request (a “support” request) is best answered by friends who know cars.

The second (learning together) is ideal for WikiAsYouLearn.

Raymond Lee responded to my question, “Why did you write on your notebook, and not on ESW?”

He said 3 things:

  • He wrote his notes in his wiki because it was first and foremost for his own learning.
  • He didn’t know about ESW.
  • He felt it would take too much work to integrate his thoughts into ESW, as he was writing them.

Obviously, I disagree that any of these items is an obstacle, except the 2nd. In the future, there will be wiki for everything, so that isn’t an issue. As for the first, he just doesn’t know better: There’s no conflict between learning for yourself, and accidentally teaching others. As for the third, it doesn’t take any labor at all- in fact, you can just leave that little labor to other people. In fact, when you’re writing in the wiki, you get a LinkLanguage for free. You didn’t have to build it, other people built it for you. It makes your own notes clearer for yourself.

I learned a lot by working over the ESW wiki, and I didn’t feel that the integration effort was any trouble. You read a page, and you attach your thoughts at the bottom. It’s not difficult. Or, you make a new page, and use the LinkLanguage that you learned from looking at the other pages. If you screw it up, who cares? Someone else who cares can correct it.

It seems to me that there is a direct parallel between wiki learning and open software development, something I have tried to articulate with the concept of the WeldingProcess. In both education (for yourself, for others, regardless-) and open software development, we are welding things together. Errors are caught early on, under the scrutiny of many eyes.

Our destination, which we will reach (there’s not any doubt in my mind about it,) is that learning will be social. The concept of learning “for yourself” may well be done away with. “What does that even mean?” people will ask, in the future. “You mean, you don’t ask people questions?” “You don’t want other people to see you as you learn? How else are people going to point things out to you?” We’ve already reached a point where it’s considered near insane to not want your site to be indexed by Google. I believe this feeling will penetrate deeper: As the OneBigSoup of SocialSoftware develops, and it starts to be very clear when we are under the eyes of many people, or when we are off in the dark somewhere, and we see the benefits that come to the people who work in the sunlight- When these things happen, people will move more and more towards SocialLearning?, and it’ll be a great big party of learning.

I think that many people have experienced:

  • years of schooling have trained students that sharing information and fixing someone else’s spelling and grammar mistakes is somehow “cheating”.
  • years of hearing about software piracy and seeing lots of fine-print licenses have trained businessmen that sharing software is somehow “wrong”.
  • years of playing sports and watching sports on TV have trained people that helping “the other side” is “the same as” hurting “our side”.

On the other hand, a few people have experienced

  • years of using wiki have shown people that sharing information and fixing someone else’s spelling and grammar mistakes results in documents with no known flaws.
  • years of using open-source software have trained programmers that software can be, is, and perhaps should be free.
  • years of Usenet have trained people that lots of time can be wasted flaming each other, and endless repetitions of certain common questions. Spend some time helping someone on “the other side” to avoid fallacious arguments and Goodwin’s law, and summarizing those arguments in a FAQ, and later you’ll save time that would have been spent wading through yet another redundant flame war. (Instead, we’ll be wading through a fresh new flame war on completely new topics :-).

My point is … what was my point ?

2004-12-11: Anyone mind if I try to cut out the “metacommunication” stuff from this page and move it to MetaCommunication ?

Not at all. :)

Shoot; I need to go. Well, I’ll just check-point my changes in the middle.

I want to remove the old story, and add a “how to” section, explaining how to do this, how it works, for newcommers to the concept.

Damn, I wish we had some notation for intelligently presenting outlines, from the EmacsWiki:OutlineMode. ;)

  • WikiAsYouLearn is different than I thought.
    • COSTS
      • At least 5x It costs AT LEAST 5x as long to explain a good insight, than the time it took to aquire it.
      • Analysis
        • ContentRouting, Upload
        • Synchronization, Alignment
        • see PROCEDURE, Stages of work, for greater clarity
      • note that: SOME costs go down to near zero For instance, targetting and synchronization take much less time, as you gain familiarity with a wiki.
      • Learning
        • Corrections You await corrections. If people see errors you make, and correct them, then this is very valuable to you: You learn the correct way.
        • Contextualization People can add links to additional resources. You follow these links, and learn more by them. You see how your understanding fits into a bigger picture.
      • Re-learning You inevitably come back to what you wrote before. (FutureSelf?.)
      • Promoting Field (Hive Accumulation) You believe in the field. You believe it would be good for more people to know about it. You believe that the more others know about it, the better people in general will be. You believe that if many contribute a little, the sum value will be worth more than the contributions, and shared broadly.
        • Teaching Newcomers
        • Collaborating with the Established
      • Reputation Your name is attached to what you do. You believe that people will recognize your name, and give you positive reputation based on what you’re doing.
        • Contacts Your name is valuable in itself. If people see your name a lot, they may try to contact you, to establish a business relationship.
      • Relationships If you collaborate with other people regularly, you establish trusting relationships with these other people. This is a stronger form of relationship than just “Contacts.”
        • Individual Tutoring Some of these people will take extra time out, to tutor you. If you are promoting the field, and they are interested in that, there’s additional incentive. And the tutoring itself is likely useful material, itself.
        • Collaboration People will take time out to work on problems with you; Problems that may be of mutual interest.
      • TerseWriting Give main points, to inspire the person’s intuition, their path.
      • Budget Budget your expression, time your expression
        • “Diminishing Returns?”
      • Prioritize, Breadth-First Give the most general ideas first, then go in deeper, TO DIMINISHING RETURNS.
      • Stages of work This is just a loose description of the stages of work ahead of you.
        • Budget & Plan
          • What did it cost me to learn this?
          • How long will it take me to follow the following steps?
          • Is it worth it? The answer may well be, “No.” This is obviously something you will have to think about, in terms of your interests, state, costs, what you have to gain, and so on.
        • Targetting
          • Where on the web should this go?
          • Where in the wiki should this go?
        • Expression This is where you write everything.
          • Prioritize.
          • Explain breadth-first.
          • Reference. If there’s readily available existing content on basically the same subject, you should reference it before you express.
        • Synchronization
          • What’s already there?
          • What’s needed?
          • What names shall I connect up with?
        • Upload, Content-Routing
        • Verification (is it what I wanted to be there?)
        • External Synchronization
          • What in the external system should point to this?
          • ex: on Wiki, you point other pages back to this page
    • To Encourage WikiAsYouLearn, Wild but conceivable ideas.
      • Increase Benefits
        • Have a positive reputation
        • Promise to review. “I, contribution, will permit you to publish this, on the condition that you review it within N days.”
        • Promise relationship.
          • Personal Assignment “If you join this group, you will have somebody assigned to you, …”
            • Promise Tutoring “This person will spend N hours per week, helping you to understand…”
        • Endorse participants
          • Registry Establish a registry of trusted contributors, and duration of contribution, and nature of contribution.
        • Credit contributors Can be done with both soft technology (convention) & hard technology (automated systems for crediting.)
        • Pay People to Contribute? Works for magazines, but is it really what you want? “Why not?” We toss the word “community” around, as if it were “a bunch of people,” but we’re really talking about a particur thing. That particular thing may or may not be a publishing house, with a bunch of paid authors.
      • Reduce Costs
        • Solve ContentRouting problems
        • Accept Partial or Rough Contribution
          • Partial Contribution “I don’t have time to finish this.”
          • Rough Contribution “I don’t have time to make this any nicer than it is.”
          • Social & Technical Problems
            • Social / SoftTechnology Requires tolerance for and valuing of: partial contribution.
            • Technical / HardTechnology
              • Identification Identify that the contribution is partial. Perhaps links to it should show up a different color, or a different shade, or have icons next to it or something.
              • Pointer If someone goes to see a page, you might want some way to say, “There’s some other, rough work on this…”
              • Different Search Priority Perhaps partial or rough information shouldn’t be given as high a search ranking.
        • Make synchronization technically easier
          • Assisted Linking Make it so you can turn on “assisted linking,” or something. Some technology to make it easier to identify links between things, and select appropriate links.
          • Make a vastly better editing / documents management environment
        • Destroy the Upload phase
          • One Document When people open up a document to work on it, the document is automatically retrieved from the wiki. People edit the document. Then when they save, automatically save the document to the “wiki.”
          • Automated Pickup Completely automate the process of uploading content, so that the person doesn’t even realize that they’re uploading. There’s a major problem with this; it’s dificult to immediately perform synchronization.

The true problem is that the cost of WikiAsYouLearn is very high. Not so high that it’s insurmountable. Low enough that some people do it. But it’s still: very high.

Further, the benefits are not clear, to most people, since you don’t get dollars issued back to you. If you do receive dollars, it’s only indirectly. AlternativeCurrency or obscene wealth may allow for wiki communities to issue dollars, and MicroCurrency? may allow for the issue and receipt of currency more generally (charge per page-view, say.) This may cause more public contribution. That said, those relationships that form would be very different, and the character of the thing would be very different.

Is there something that could happen, more immediately?

The cheapest, easiest, most basic way to reduce costs, is to simply make a social convention of accepting all contributions, most any contributions, in the roughest, most readily uploadable form.

The next thing after that, to facilitate it, and to contain it, is to make special technology that eases the receipt of the rough content. Accept emailed content. Make it easy to tack content to a page.

And then specially mark that content as “rough.” You don’t want to harm the benefit of the positive reputation, after all; You want to make the good readily distinguished from the rough, after all. And you want to point people (search-engine priority!) to the good stuff.

See also the experiment of:

  • LionKimbroEmail0001 – an experiment in rough, immediate contribution; it still took some time to prepare for posting, but far less than my usual posts. (Including this one!)

Note, however, that there was significant personal benefit from posting this: Word got around. I got to see, and be part of, a larger conversation. I received some substantial emails in my personal in-box, in response to posting it.

Another note: Synchronization costs are very comparable to reworking costs (see ReworkingEconomy.)

I also believe I see a tension point around Outlining. But it’s not really “outlining.” (Don’t tell Dave.) Because we’d really like to be able to make graphs, webs, not just hierarchies, …

Look at the form of TechnicalSupportForReworking: it’s an outline.

I didn’t understand before about how outlines were connected with our problem, but it’s clearer to me now: When content is little “nodes” that are relatively easy to reposition and rearrange, then you don’t have the “smooth-flow” problem that essays have. (That is, essays, as a form, require smooth and linear conceptual flow from paragraph to paragraph. It’s rare that you can pull a paragraph, and step it a paragraph up. In outlines, you can frequently reposition points, within a level.) Then again, we must consider context, no? And context is mostly (but definitely not completely..!) hierarchical.

It’s more costly to read, but it seems by far easier to rework, as long as reworks respect the same structure.

Another note of interest, in the outline, is the ability to open and close the point. You can conceal it, and then reveal it. We don’t have this here on this wiki, unfortunately. The closest to it is the ability to go to, or away from a page.

See also: BillSeitz:WikiAndOutlining, networked learning

But diagrams do not only have an advantage that they don’t need a logical textual stream, it is also a disadvantage at the same time. Graphical layouts always look more compelling than they really are. They often quite successfully hide a lack of completeness, consistency and thoughtfulness. But thats not the the topic of this page. I find it interesting to use wiki as a verb. What means “to wiki” (ToWiki) really?

Is “wiki as you learn” a kind of “learning by teaching” (Wikipedia:Learning_by_teaching)? Perhaps related to “writing to learn” (Edutechwiki: writing-to-learn)?

  • I agree that “wiki as you learn” is a kind of “learning by teaching” (although I tend to think of it as “learning by wiki”. After all, writing content requires that it be tailored (to an intended audience), material that is relatively well known, written, structured, etc.. All of this makes you think about the content much more extensively, which undoubtedly improves the author’s understanding and contributes to the author’s learning. – HansWobbe

Thank you for pointing out “Kings Road” – nice parable.


Define external redirect: SubversiveMetaCommunication SocialLearning TalkingAboutTalkingIsForbidden MicroCurrency WoW FutureSelf TalkingAboutTalkingAsAnIndicator

EditNearLinks: MentioningPatterns DocumentMode MartinHarper HyperText WikiNodes UseNet