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Community network technology ruminations

by Colman Thu May 11th, 2006 at 04:06:07 AM EST

This is a response to a comment of technopoliticals that got out of control since I've been thinking about it for a while. TP says:

What the world desperately needs, I am convinced, is a medium a lot like this one in some respects, but differing in having scalable and flexible dynamics for group entry, exit, and overlap, -- this being combined with an improved set of community-building, discourse-debugging, and integrated Wiki-like collaborative tools. In aggregate, changes at this software-framework level hold promise of substantially improving the quality of community discussion and output -- including rapid responses of the sort under discussion at the moment.

I tend to agree with you, though I'm not sure how it would work. I've been thinking over the last few days about community sizes, clique formation and overlap and ways of organising them.

Communities have a maximum effective size. After that they need to self-organise into overlapping networks of cliques to keep things manageable. I think focus probably increases the maximum effective size, but only so much: a partisan site like dKos can be so big precisely because it is so partisan but dKos is organised into lots of overlapping cliques. It has also spawned numerous off-shoots that are effectively, but not formally or easily findable in it's network. ET is a dKos clique that has grown a lot of extra people that are not in the dKos group.

I suspect that a technological aid would allow/require/strongly encourage people to identify themselves as members of the various groups in order to build a sensible network architecture on top of the blogs that would have some useful semantics. So I'd be on the map as strongly ET, medium dKos, BT and IrishElection.com, somewhat The News Blog, and a little in a dozen other places. Jérôme would be strongly ET and dKos, medium Oil Drum and BT and no doubt weakly on other places. I suppose you could then browse that network to find overlapping/nearby places along various planes after stripping the personal info.  

It also occurs to me that this would be a solution for the ET language problem, though in that case it would be more tightly linked as a community. It would also work for the policy problem - the ET pro-nuke clique and the ET anti-nuke clique have two different sites for those discussions. Damned if I know how I'd present the info. Maybe a side bar for "nearby" places.

Of course, it's a social rather than a technical problem so technology only goes so far. If you could tag all the collaborative sites this way you might have something though.


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Just getting stuff out of head and onto bits.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 04:06:56 AM EST
Thanks for taking this topic further; I'm sorry that I was buried in work yesterday and didn't see it then.

A point regarding social software and this very diary:

I see that it is already being swept toward the drain of diary-history, pushed not by other diaries that share the topic of improving the medium we work with, but by diaries whose value is incommensurate with this one. A highly non-original suggestion I've made on dKos is that diaries have topics -- not just tags -- and that they compete for recommended, front-page-visible status only with others in their topic(s) that might possibly share the same general world of issues. Otherwise, hot news items, philosophy, strategic proposals, and personal stories all compete head-to-head. All of these efficiently wash away diaries on social software, of course -- this one had 4 recommendations, despite addressing a potentially transformative idea. The problem of inappropriate diary competition gets worse with scale, as dKos illustrates.

By reducing inter-topic interference, his one little feature would contribute substantially to enabling overlapping communities of interest to share a single space. Getting people to understand the value of this, at least where I've tried raising the issue before, has been absurdly difficult.

Little things like the marking and the sorting order of your own comments can also make a substantial difference. Today, if someone replies to something you wrote a week ago, this is brought to your attention...how? By incrementing a number that may be far down on the chronological list. Good luck remembering what that number was before, and noticing the change. The interface doesn't even place a red marker, "1 new comment", by the entry. It should, and should also provide a window that displays comments sorted by the recentness of replies. If something like this is available, then interface has hidden it well enough to destroy most of its community-building value.

Why would this feature this matter, and matter a great deal? Because it would enable conversations to continue and restart, even in a diary that is months or years old.

...And so on. These are trivial changes, in the sense of being merely local database-and-interface work. There are others of similar importance. Deeper, broader, structural changes (of the sort that we've both suggested) would be more difficult to implement, but could do even more.
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BTW, how does one get an account on the Wiki? That, too, is less than obvious. It rejects my EuroTrib login (!), and doesn't then offer to "Make a new account".

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 06:17:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't need an account on the wiki. You simply sign your edits with any name you damn well please. As a former wikipedian I found that unnerving, but learned to live with it ;-)

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 06:19:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, I edit (and occasionally start) Wikipedia articles with some regularity. On the EuroTrib Wiki, I happened to test the editing function on pages that seem to have some level of special protection, and got blocked in an unfamiliar way. All fine now.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.
by technopolitical on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 03:13:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
you and I are in agreement on the importance of being able to revive old threads as new pertinent material comes in.  not all topics are ephemeral.  I would sure like to have some way of seeing at a glance old threads that have accrued fresh comment...  even if I have to select that feature manually, with a checkbox for "notify me via email if any new post is made on this thread."

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 07:13:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what your personal "hotlist" is for... If you click on the "+" sign to the left of the diary title, the article will be added to your hotlist, where you'll be able to see "n comments, m new". under the diary link. And the hotlist appears above the recommended diary list, so there's no need to scroll to see it.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 03:45:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The UI needs a load of tool tips to tell you just that ! Faster than reading the whole scoop admin guide, which I gave up anyway ...

Pierre
by Pierre on Sat May 13th, 2006 at 06:16:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This definitely twins with the faireurope.eu discussion.

Where the technical might well come to the aid of the social, would be in technopolitical's "improved set of community-building, discourse-debugging, and integrated Wiki-like collaborative tools". Any of these around?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 05:07:25 AM EST
The opportunities here are in networking tools together I suspect. I haven't had a chance to go hunting for candidates.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 05:41:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you think of Plone or Nuxeo's CPS?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 06:12:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure that a full service solution is the right way to go. I'd rather see something that could be plugged into or onto existing solutions.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 07:40:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They are both built on top of Zope, which is entirely modular.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 07:42:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't mean it in that sense: I don't think a CMS is a solution to the problem.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 08:21:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the base solution you want to plug stuff into?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 08:24:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Everything. Blogs and wikis and whatevers.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 08:25:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How about interoperability?

For instance, the ability to share user accounts across tools.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 08:27:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That'd be nice, though you start running into privacy concerns quite quickly among the paranoid cyber-freedom crowd. Which I suspect includes almost everyone here, including me.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 09:37:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
have you played with Zope before?

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 09:40:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not really.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 09:44:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Worth a look. Provides a common base on which to plug whatever. For instance, a blog, a wiki, collaborative writing tools... It has a flexible user/group permission management system, and you can run it on top of Apache, or it has its own webserver.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 09:46:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Techie warning on this: I did remotely supervise a Zope-base project back in 2003. May be the thing has improved since, but back then it was horrible, full of bugs, unstable, no real debugging, no clear programming model, in short: yuck !

Of course, we had to design (and worse: maintain) a new custom intranet application, not just deploy a pre-packaged, field-tested application that would just happen to be build on top of Zope. So may be that would do for a web log engine thing.

Pierre
by Pierre on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 04:04:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One issue is software choice. This has been discussed elsewhere. There seems to be nothing which is wholly satisfactory as yet. Blogs have a FIFO problem, forums have a categorization problem, etc.

Then there is the issue of participation. For every person who is willing/able to post new material there are probably ten or so who are willing to comment. Then there maybe 100 or so who are just passive readers. On most systems their presence isn't even visible. (A few forums show the number of times a thread has been viewed). This leads to an elitist or star-based community.

Lastly there is the issue of volume. If a posting starts to get 100's of comments it becomes impossible for readers to absorb it all. So comments stop building on each other and become repetitive or irrelevant. Many are just basic statements of agreement or disagreement. Various rating schemes have only been marginally useful as way to indicate degree of agreement.

Wikipedia seems to have been the most successful example of a community mediated information repository. It has its problems with reliability and editing wars. But I'm guessing that most entries are only worked on by a handful of contributors, so it is a wide, but not deep site. Slashdot is another example of a large community, but it has moderated contributions and a great deal of useless followup chatter.

Finally there is the visibility issue. There are many think tanks and organizations putting out white papers and being found in such a vast sea of information is difficult. What's the point to having found the answer to "life, the universe, and everything" if nobody can find the article?

I'm not trying to discourage the effort, just to point out that a realistic consideration of all the factors will help improve the odds of success.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 02:42:23 PM EST
Effort? There was no effort here, just ruminations.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu May 11th, 2006 at 02:52:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suspect that a technological aid would allow/require/strongly encourage people to identify themselves as members of the various groups in order to build a sensible network architecture on top of the blogs that would have some useful semantics. So I'd be on the map as strongly ET, medium dKos, BT and IrishElection.com, somewhat The News Blog, and a little in a dozen other places. Jérôme would be strongly ET and dKos, medium Oil Drum and BT and no doubt weakly on other places. I suppose you could then browse that network to find overlapping/nearby places along various planes after stripping the personal info.  

I find this both a) a great idea and b) somewhat spooky...  it already happens by default, as posters tend to cite material from favourite news sources and/or to crosspost between frequented blogs.  so if you follow other people's URLs, as wonkillators inevitably do, you get a vague feeling for what sources they are reading regularly.

there are "web ring" aspects to this -- attaching a blog-friend list to every poster rather than (inadequately) to the official frontpage... which hold a certain appeal.  it is tempting to imagine a kind of intellectual biobib of posters:  from a list of influential books, mags, thinkers who have shaped their development, down to favourite music and movies... suddenly I envision surreal demographic mining algorithms... "Customers who enjoyed 'Snark: the Wonks Strike Back' by Nomad might also enjoy this recording of the Miles Davis Quintet, or this recipe for bread machine croissants by X, who also rated Nomad's article highly and likes the Miles Davis Quintet and listed Tufte as a major influence, which means that you might enjoy keeping bees..."  <grin>

the utter impossibility of keeping up with the endless flow of chatter puts into perspective the futility (mho) of the NSA's megalomaniacal surveillance dreams.  there ain't enough processing power on the planet...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri May 12th, 2006 at 07:26:02 PM EST


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