Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Working Together (Part Two)

by afew Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:19:11 PM EST

In Part One I talked about our recent experience of working together on a submission to an EU Consultation on biofuels, (now up on the relevant Energy page, under European Tribune in the category NGOs, scroll down), and sketched out some ideas about how to organize this kind of work in future.

The collaborative tools we used were the Scoop software of this community site - diaries and discussion threads - and the ET Wiki (see pages here). Quantitively, far more work was done with Scoop than with the Wiki. For one thing, diaries that appear on the community site attract immediate attention, whereas new postings to the Wiki don't. For another, Scoop is more discussion-friendly than Wiki. On the other hand, Wiki pages are like a permanent notice-board, while Scoop diaries go by like shooting stars (not at DKos speed, but still...). And when a comments thread gets long, it is no longer suited to the kind of ding-dong question/answer here's-my-number-for-this what's-your-number-for-that back-and-forth that working together involves in its most intense stage - for each comment, however brief, the entire page has to be reloaded with all its comments, and, above all, all its server calls with possible waits for this or that server to handle the call.

Immediate disclaimer: this is not a grumble. There's nothing to moan about. On the contrary, thanks are due to those who make this software available and keep it running - Jérôme and Colman mainly. These are just some reflections and queries - asking for input - after the biofuels work, into which I want to bring a discussion that came up in Toulouse last month, between Alexandra in WMass, Alex in Toulouse, and me.


Perhaps we can look at this under two headings, two phases of our activity:

A: Data-gathering and analysis

1)    What?

  • We need to find resources and interpret them quickly. (Are we dealing with advocacy, on one side or the other? Or are we dealing with a resource that is less concerned with an agenda?)

  • We need data (raw statistics, for example) and we need to reach a decision on whether they are dependable. It's also useful if they are comparable (measure similar things in the same units of measure, so as to reduce time and risk of error recalculating). It could be interesting to have a picture of what data points crop up again and again, because they are pushed by advocacy groups, or have been picked up by the pundits and the media, and are generally (rightly or wrongly) accepted.

  • We want to see the ideas and arguments that are being put forward on a topic, and identify those that (in all likelihood) serve an agenda with some weighty lobby behind them.

2)    Where?

  • We may have knowledge of sources in books or other printed publications, and/or have access to a major library. It's very much an individual matter.

  • Mostly, we're looking out towards the internet. The tools we have are Google and other search engines - not things that have evolved much over the last few years (except commercially?). We can also use "knowledge" resources like Wikipedia that link to further resources, and more focussed sites that will indicate major links on the topic we are working on. (Examples, by no means exclusive, are Euractiv.com for anything to do with the EU and EU policy, or the technology site Sven recommended, VTT). What else might help us?

  • We should also be pointing inwards. ET is in itself a resource:

Individual users who have specialist knowledge should be co-opted whenever possible as co-ordinators for a work project in hand. When it's not possible, they should at least be asked to review the work done by others.

Then there's a considerable amount of good work and discussion in past diaries and stories (useless Scoop distinction). This was the subject of our discussion in Toulouse the other week. How to make all this work available?

We have the Scoop search function, and we have the site Google. It's been pointed out often enough that these are not perfect tools.

An example: Jérôme just posted a Countdown to $100 Oil in which he mentions Dr Bakhtiari, oil expert. I wanted to check a past comment on Bakhtiari. Google gave me three references for "Bakhtiari". The site search gave me one, different from the three. The site archive search gave me none.

We also have the ET Wiki which acts as an archive. Upper right of the ET page, Colman, may he dwell in peace, has given us a set of clickable subject headings. But the wiki doesn't have a search function. It might become pretty hard to move around and find stuff in, if we spent time filling it up. It's also vulnerable to spam.

With patience and a lot of work, we could dredge up past ET information on a subject and produce a synthesis document that summed up data and arguments, complete with links. Should we try to do this, and, if we did, should it go into the wiki? What other content management options might we try?


We might also put in the work by tagging things so searching would be easier.

Or look for a different kind of search capacity altogether. Any ideas?

B: Drafting and editing

Here I'm wondering what Web-based solutions might be found for collective document writing and editing, the diary and comments thread system being usable for this, but less and less comfortable as comments are quickly exchanged and the thread lengthens. A wiki page can be used for more leisurely exchanges, and there are also sister sites LocustWatch and faireurope.eu with discussion capacities. But, whether we're working on a synthesis document as above, or producing a position paper or consultation contribution, what content management software might help throw stuff together and edit it more easily?

I'm not putting this up in hopes of having some glitzy cool stuff to play with, but because I think that, if we do get down to work - more of us and on longer documents - we will soon feel the limits of a blog structure that is best used for discussion and debate, and what is more we'll get in the way with multiple text diaries at the editing stage. Diaries should be posted to show what work has been done, and to get reactions and discussion, but it might be handy to have a place off to the side to work in.

And my apologies if it's a jumble, there were a number of ideas I wanted to pull together, and probably made a heap.

Display:
for each comment, however brief, the entire page has to be reloaded with all its comments
People keep complaining that the DKos dynamic threads are so much better... So just go to your user preferences, and select "dynamic minimal" as your default display format. Or you can change the display format of any diary by using the pull-down menu at the break between the diary and the comments.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:25:05 PM EST
Hm.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:34:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Double hm. Wasn't aware of this. Had never looked.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:35:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Had never looked between the diary and the comments?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:36:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Had never played with the dynamic settings.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:36:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd give you a 4 for that if your tone wasn't as snotty.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:35:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Addressed to Migeru, obviously.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:37:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Snotty?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:38:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I just tried this with a long-thread diary, and it loads the page in the same way, with calls to all the servers as usual. I changed the setting between diary and comments, not in user settings.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:50:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The one think it doesn't do, I think, and which DKos currently does, is add new comments dynamically. for that you have to reload the page. But in the dynamic page i think it doesn't load the text of the comments, just the subject line.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:55:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me copy in these comments from Part One:

From Sven Triloqvist:

What seems to be missing (and I've come up against this problem in my own work) is a way of tagging information snippets in a way that helps you (or anyone) to find patterns or connections between them later on.

The old Hollerith begot Filemaker which begot datamining. But the common factor was that information was/is tagged consistently. It is hard to search great gobs of text, however efficient the search engine, because you still have to read great gobs of text to find out if they are relevant to your search.

I recall the post-Katrina problems of how desperate people were to find their family and friends, and that no system existed to correlate the emails, the written messages, the SMSs, the appeals for information. The solution was based on thousands of people on the internet volunteering to take small handfuls of raw data and enter it into a single standardised database. Thousands of people giving just 30 minutes of their time amounted to thousands of man-hours of work.

I am sure your frustration with the biofuels research had a similar desperation. Acquiring the raw data was not the problem - but making sense of it was (finding patterns of corroboration).

I can't see the solution. but a useful tool would be an ET database with any information tagged by a number of parameters: origin or source, key words, key numbers and statistics, submitter, associated graphics, etc etc.

We have the manpower to do the tagging work, I think. The problem lies in defining the tags for any particular project (like biofuels), and also making the tags accessible to other projects (like energy) because we are trying to build up worldviews also.

Having a tagged info database available to us all would also enable anyone to contribute to the raw research as well as the analysis.

From Migeru:

Sven, I am a personal friend of the lead programmer here. Do you think that kind of software provides the functionality you're thinking about?

From Sven:

Just had a quick scan while eating lunch on the verandah, and I am very impressed by (and grateful for) this link.

I am on a deadline, so I'll have to check it out later. Other people here should give their opinion - like Colman - people far more expert than I.

It appears to be a set of standalone modules - but that is not a problem as there could be a separate ET project space, just like the wiki. And the project space would surely crawl/link back to the ET diaries and comments? But what about the other direction?

It looks to be high maintenance - but I may be wrong. Even Scoop needs quite a bit of maintenance - and the fine tuning of functionality - and Scoop is basically sold as 'plug and play'.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:29:17 PM EST
And let's link to this exchange, from Colman's diary Community network technology ruminations.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:14:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thinking fast: two types of drafting: small group where collaboration tools are possible and larger open drafting where anyone can pitch in. Small group happens away from ET using whatever toys you needs, large group happens in a diary and is for comment rather than detailed editing.

The problem with off-ET work is that only a small group will go and look at them. A diary will get much wider exposure.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:47:29 PM EST
Agreed.

What I suggested was in the context of my first diary where I (well...) suggested that a group should form to work on a project. That doesn't -- at all -- exclude other contributions, comments, etc. So, above, I said: "Diaries should be posted to show what work has been done, and to get reactions and discussion."

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 01:58:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Other than that, plain text e-mail with a convention for change mark-up is probably the best mechanism for editing. There are others, but experience suggests that they're mostly more trouble than they're worth.

The convention I was using for my edits seems useful:

  • [blah] indicates delete "blah".
  • [blah][waarrrgh] indicates replaces "blah" with "warrrgh".
  • [][b] indicates insert [b].
  • [][][comment] indicates a comment.

It addresses a problem with edits were it's not clear what has changed or why.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:04:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I find wikimedia best, to be honest.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:07:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean mediaWiki (the engine behind the wikimedia sites).

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:08:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Why?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:09:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You edit the source in a plain text box, and the text gets formatted for you. There is an edit history with the facility to see the differences between any two versions. It supports full HTML markup, TeX markup and who knows what else. It produces printable versions. Every content page has an associated discussion page where controversial edits can be discussed, wordings compared, etc. It supports user accounts and permissions, page protection... I don't see any advantage to communicating edits by email, really. I have never encountered a more effective real-time collaborative tool.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:30:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
test PMwiki - I am just waiting for the sun to go in ;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:43:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
PMwiki is designed to be simple so it lacks a lot of the funcitonality. And the namespaces are just weird.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:56:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
How can I drop you a pdf for review re the self-organizing project?

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:05:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
E-mail me and I can forward to Migeru. He can reply and you'll have his address.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:13:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are on the list anyway.

It won't be final-drafted till next week - when are you back from vacation?

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:15:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm away from Saturday to Saturday. Just send me a random e-mail and I can forward for address-exchange.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:17:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As usual, reading the f*ing manual does help. Here is the explanation of WikiGroups (what I called 'namespaces'). Unlike mediaWiki (which supports subpages but doesn't let users create namespaces) PMWiki does not support subpages but allows users to create namespaces! I suppose it should be possible to add a link to Discussion.PageName to the  PMWiki page PageName in order to have a discussion thread for a given article. The difference between PMWiki and mediaWiki here is that mediaWiki automatically has the Main and Talk namespaces, and links between them don't need to be created by hand.

One irksome feature of the PMWiki namespaces is that the links on the left-hand-side margin point to pages within whatever the current namespace is, not to the Main namespage as intended. For instance, the link to "ET Community Members" only points to its intended target Main.ETCommunityMembers if you happen to find yourself on a page in the Main namespace. Trouble is, the left-hand-side margin is (admin) password-protected.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:09:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This should be lots of fun. Consider the possibilities:
To create a trail, an author creates a "trail index page" that gives the sequence of page names as either a bullet or numbered list. The page names must be the first item following each bullet.

...

Creating the trail doesn't do anything actually. In fact any page with numbered or bulleted lists will implicitly create a trail, intentionally or not. What makes the trail "work" is adding the appropriate markup on the trail pages (i.e. those pages that are listed in the bullet/numbered list).

...

When a page with such a markup is displayed, PmWiki does the following things:

  1. Extract a list of pages (the "trail") from bulleted/numbered list items in TrailIndexPage.
  2. Displays something like << PreviousPage | TrailIndexPage | NextPage >>, where PreviousPage and NextPage are links to the previous and next pages as listed in the trail.
  3. If the current page doesn't exist in the trail, displays simply <<|TrailIndexPage|>>.
I'm going to try and experiment with trails. Part of the problem is that most of the bullet lists in the wiki are currently lists of ET diaries, not lists of ETWiki pages.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:14:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the data collection stage you want something like a collaborative outliner where people can add infomation. And argue about it. Hm. The wiki with a few conventions might do that job alright.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:09:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Didn't someone mention a wiki or something with statistics and spreadsheet functionality, once?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:50:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I found it! WikiCalc.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 07:30:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Google spreadsheets also useful.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 02:46:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If it's by email, I greatly prefer Word's revision function. Suggestions are in colour and plain to see, you delete or change what you don't like, and incorporate what you like with one click when you've finished reading.

But perhaps everyone doesn't want to use .doc..?

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:58:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
with the comment function, which we use a lot.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:08:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What editor do you need for that? Can you do it with Open Office?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:15:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We use Acrobat 6.0.2 pro.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:19:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But the Word <track changes> function is OK. We use it mainly for minor edits - cleaning up the text. It is too messy for major rejigging.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:22:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's more for final editing.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:24:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for all final documents. It's more elegant.

But Word has one functionality I use almost every day - Outline!!

Nothing is better for putting together an argument. You can endlessly nest detail, but collapse the text down to just headlines, subheads or bullets or whatever at any time and easily shift them around. Or move bits of them under different headings.

I found Shangri-la when I discovered how to use it, but - and I have a lot of writer friends - few people I know seem to use it, preferring to 'just start writing'.

Outline is a very good way to do individual research - eg I often use wikipedia to cut and paste detail and reference into an outline (which I then collapse so I don''t have to plough thru it all the time) - but it is useless for collaboration.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:40:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. I use Word a lot, but I've never tried Outline. Must try.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:43:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can read the manual, but just play with it and with the arrows.

You'll be hooked in no time ;-)

Remember that you have to style each sublevel (I use my own style template), otherwise when you switch back from outline to page layout, the document can look less visually logical.

You'll find ready templates in the MS library, with the program.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:48:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Acrobat Pro is proprietary, too...

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:37:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean, don't get me wrong, I've used it to create editable PDFs and it's great, but as an authoring tool it does suck. You need some other software to create the initial document, or at least you did last time I tried (2 years ago).

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:55:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely.

We use pdfs for stupid clients so they can see what we are doing but can''t do much about it but comment. They have no routine.

It's also easier to use our wide range of fonts which the client doesn't have, and to embed graphics. We have taught them though how to 'scale' pdfs - we often work with A3s in presentations, they can easily print them out on A4 with PDFs

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:11:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'd rather rub sand in my eyes.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:26:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because it's not Mac?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:27:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, because it's a horrible piece of bloatware I never really learned to accomodate. Even on the Mac. It does its very best to distract you from what you're doing and using it requires people to invest in fairly heavy duty tools to participate.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:29:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are we talking about Word? Or Open office? (Or, I should think, other WPs I haven't used?) What WP do you use?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:32:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't have many tasks for which a WP is the appropriate tool. I use Pages for business letters and that sort of thing and LaTeX for serious writing.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 02:45:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A good LaTeX-based WP is LyX. Though I just use Emacs.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 03:46:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If it's by email, I greatly prefer Word's revision function.

Can we not use proprietary software and formats? If you're have to use Word, use .rtf

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did ask if everybody wanted (or not) to use .doc.

Anyway you make a good case above for mediawiki.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:39:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is very little that can't be done with plain text or HTML (like subscripts and superscripts), and nothing that we might want to do that cannot be done with open-source tools.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:48:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That doesn't get us far. Mediawiki, that you mentioned above, can be used how? Plain text, that you say we can do everything with, should be used where and how?

Please don't assume that, because I mention a well-known proprietary format, I am plugging its use or that I am not in favour of open-source software. Word has an edition/change feature I find handy. Other software can surely do similar things. Plain text with Colman's mark-ups I don't find anything like as handy.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:23:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell me what you want to do to get "far" that you can't with plain text.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:53:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You are being deliberately obtuse? I'm asking where and how do we use plain text to work together. (You don't favour email exchanges, it seems).

I'm beginning to wonder why I stepped into the techie geeks' garden.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 01:41:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you're going to use .doc there is very little that you can do with that that can't be done with plain text. And the .doc files would be exchanged via e-mail, presumably? So if plain text "won't get us far" what do you mean by "far"? That you can't do math? That you can't do pictures? That you can't do tables? XML (and HTML, and MathML, and SVG) is plain text, TeX is plain text, PostScript is plain text. Wiki is based on the principle that users use their browser to edit a plain text (marked-up) source and the server takes care of the display. The engine can potentially produce not only HTML output but PDF or whatever else.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 03:41:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
For the last time, and because this is going to get unpleasant, I did not say I wanted to use .doc, or email. I gave an example of a type of collaborative text editing I found batter than Colman's [[]] suggestions. Is that so hard to understand?

You yourself, to Colman's suggestion, replied that you preferred MediaWiki. You described things that can be done with it. So how could we use it?

(Just to reply on "get us far", it wasn't the plain text I was talking about, but your way of not answering simple questions and making obtuse, almost non-sequitur responses. If the problem is that you don't agree with (some or all of) my diary, or even that I should bring up the issues I bring up, perhaps it would be better if you said so and argued your point. No?)

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 05:26:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right now I think ETWiki is the best platform for collaborative editing. People can look at the edit history and we can have "discussion" subpages were disagreements are hashed out. The only drawback is that beyond its limited wiki markup it doesn't support HTML or anything else. From a community point of view, the biggest problem is that we don't tend to spend out time on ETwiki "recent changes" but on ET "recent comments". The community lives here, not on the wiki. But a small group of people can quite effectively work with ETWiki.

MS word "revisions" may have better features than exchanging [[]]-laden e-mail, but it involves a proprietary software that some of us may not be interested in buying or be able to use.

This whole discussion is purely theoretical. Even though everyone involved in the biofuels discussion has everyone's email we still found it most convenient to use a diary thread and not even the wiki. We haven't yet hit the limits of our platforms, and extending them would require running yet another piece of software  (we have scoop, PMwiki and whatever is undeneath faireurope.eu already) on someone's computer or hired hosting. MediaWiki woud be a huge amount of work for (presumably?) Colman.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:06:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From a community point of view, the biggest problem is that we don't tend to spend out time on ETwiki "recent changes" but on ET "recent comments". The community lives here, not on the wiki.
Proof of this is the fact that there is vandalism on the wiki that nobody has corrected for 2 months, or since I flagged it 2 days ago. Not to attack anyone or give myself medals, but spam gets deleted from ET comment threads within minutes and holocaust deniers get troll-rated into oblivion within seconds.

My project for today is to work on the wiki.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 07:24:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We spend our time on ET Recent Comments -- you may, I don't. Not, I admit, that I spend time on the wiki. If we have to go the wiki Recent Changes all the time to see what spam needs clearing, that just proves my point about vulnerability. As for using it for discussion/edition, I simply note that no one did so for the biofuels work.

Not to give myself medals either, but I have cleared spam from the wiki, and the holocaust denier -- in one case I can think of, anyway, though you may be aware of others -- disappeared when I gave him the second 0 rating, after you gave the first... Spam in the ET comment threads? I have never once seen any. Do you clean it out before anyone sees it?

My project for today is to work on the wiki.

You're not exactly working on collective motivation by putting things in that way, you know.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 08:16:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, spam in the ET common threads. Every so often someone will come in and start posting text in Chinese characters. I can't clean it out. I presume Colman deletes it.

I suppose I should just get out of this thread because I'm just annoying you and it's not my intention.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 08:50:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This whole discussion is purely theoretical

I suppose that's your main objection, and the reason we have wasted time. You could have made this comment from the start.

If you read my diary, I don't see much theoretical about it. I am attempting to gather people together around certain kinds of collective work -- researching, producing documents, bringing up and making available work that has already been done on ET and, imho, is not easily accessible at the moment. The accent is on collective work. If, to handle certain aspects of this work, the ET wiki is the only way to go right now, fine, it's the wiki. If there are other ways, let's discuss them and what means and work are necessitated by them.

I hope that at no time I gave the impression I was saying, let's have some cool new Web-based stuff and let Colman do all the maintenance. I'm afraid you give me the impression of having skimmed through my diary and thought, Oh Lord, here are the guys who don't understand the techie stuff complaining again.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 08:34:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We do have a small problem with the level of tech know-how here at ET. Some are knowledgeable, some ain't.

The whole point about network collaboration is that it should be accessible/possible for all, the technology should be invisible - except in that it should remind you if you have not entered data correctly, and most importantly the software should be very forgiving.

I spent this morning talking about Plone (plone.org) with a geek-friend. Plone is an Open Source content management system, based on an application server called Zope, and both parts programmed in Python. There are hundreds of 'products' which are basically plug-ins - for dealing with every type of interface - to wikis. video, audio, whatever. Plone is basically datamining - it indexes everything, so it can find anything. And it is fast.

Plone 2.1 is stable, and most of the common 'products' are stable also. Some of the more weird and wonderful products are experimental, but the Plone community is constantly refining them.

It is beyond my skills to set it up, but according to my friend it is not that hard - anyone with a basic programming knowledge can do it.

To my unskilled eye, Plone looks like 2nd Generation blogging and collaboration.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:19:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also nuxeo's CPS [nuxeo is a French compani, but CPS is open-source on Zope like Plone]. Plone v. CPS is one of those religious wars that geeks like to get into. This

The whole point about network collaboration is that it should be accessible/possible for all, the technology should be invisible - except in that it should remind you if you have not entered data correctly, and most importantly the software should be very forgiving.
is spot-on. But any solution requires access to our own web server and lots of time wasted managing it, or money to buy web hosting so someone else does the administration for you. There are web hosting companies especializing in Zope, Plone or CPS hosting.

We have talked about Zope before, by the way, in Colman's Community network technology ruminations diary.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:27:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course the pragmatic view is predominant. We forget (invisible technology and admin) that underneath ET the gnomes are at work.

But I still believe that a theoretical discussion of what kind of software would enable us to do different things together is valid. Just as the ET meet-ups are valid extensions of technical community.

 'The Medium is the Message' is still true.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:39:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
One advantage of Zope and friends: other than ensuring that the server runs, all administrative tasks ca be done through a web interface. Several different categories of users and permission can be defined by the administrators. Users can edit the text component of any object (subject to permissions) and the engine formats it appropriately to its type.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 07:00:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But I still believe that a theoretical discussion of what kind of software would enable us to do different things together is valid. Just as the ET meet-ups are valid extensions of technical community.
In my experience with volunteer associations, ideas only get implemented by those who have them. Ultimately the way this works is that someone puts up a resource and starts working on it. That's what Colman did with ETWiki: he hosts it so he chose some software he felt like playing with. I can rant all I want about Zope, but unless and until I set it up on my own server and show the community what can be done with it, it won't happen, and even then it might be a flop. Which is what I meant by "this discussion is purely theoretical".

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 07:13:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But discussing the way technology limits or enables what we can do is no different from discussing politics without becoming an activist.

My interest is not in the technology per se - though I have to know something about it generally - it is in the general area of communications and media, and how they mould social behaviour.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 07:57:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree, but then I reiterate: It is not obvious to me that we have hit the limits of our platforms.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 08:53:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I linked yesterday to the exchange about Plone and Zope in a comment above.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 08:39:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
faireurope runs on something similiar, as does ea2020.org
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:30:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't see any collaborative facilities at faireurope.eu, are they turned off?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 06:52:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
(Just to reply on "get us far", it wasn't the plain text I was talking about, but your way of not answering simple questions and making obtuse, almost non-sequitur responses. If the problem is that you don't agree with (some or all of) my diary, or even that I should bring up the issues I bring up, perhaps it would be better if you said so and argued your point. No?)

I think your diary is fine, but I wonder who is going to run the necessary software, and where, and given the level of activity of the wiki, whether it would be worth their time/money/effort/server/bandwidth.

Given that, I can talk about mediaWiki, or iVia, or Zope, all I want, but it will lead nowhere. So, from a practical point of view, let's just continue using the tools we already have until someone comes up and says "look, I set this up, you're free to use it, too". For a number of reasons I don't have the time, the money, the hardware, or the expertise to help run these things. The best I can do is suggest a few technologies, discourage the ones I've used and found lacking, and point out why we should be able to make do with the tools we have.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 09:24:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I picked pmwiki because it's trivial to babysit...

... and now I really am gone.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 09:58:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Exactly.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:16:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
MediaWiki, iVia and Zope are names you were the first to mention. Asking you to talk some more about them seems legitimate to me. If it's a waste of time, why bring them up in the first place?

It may not be your intention to annoy me, (or to sound like a condescending techie), but you might make an effort to get your communication in line with your intention.

This said, I have no wish to fall out with you.

Peace.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:25:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
mediaWiki: Wikipedia minus the edit wars is the most satisfactory experience of collaborative online work I've had. But as Colman implicitly says downthread where he says he picked PMWiki because it doesn't need any babysitting, it can be daunting to manage.
iVia: Sven reflects aloud on the inexistence of software to do what he thinks needs done. I say "does iVia fit?". Answer: "bloody right it does". End of story. I have no experience with setting up and running iVia, and Sven got the impression he would need his own Linux box to test it, which he doesn't hace. But I do suspect it gets the job done.
Zope: people talk about what is essentially collaborative authoring and content management all bundled in one. AFAIK Zope and friends is among the best options out there. People have pointed out in the various comment threads where it's been mentioned that it can be a pain to manage.

It is a waste of time for me to say much more than this about them because I am not sure anyone else will pick them up and run with them, and I know I don't have the wherewithal to provide any of these as running software for the use of the ET community, and that is the limiting factor.

I don't necessarily have an intention. I have some opinions more or less well founded in experience, and some information, and I put it out there for people to chew. If i had a point I'd write a diary.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:40:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's agree that we can work with what we've got.

As you know I am investigating other possibilities for another project, so I'll keep everyone here informed on what I find out.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 03:44:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking of your intention, I was quoting from your comment upthread:

I suppose I should just get out of this thread because I'm just annoying you and it's not my intention.

and not any other supposed "intention".

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 04:21:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Scoop is good at what it does: open debate and peer review. It was not designed for collaborative research work, and I don't see how it could be made to function in this manner. What is needed NOW is a dedicated stand-alone.

A stand-alone would disconnect the research work from the rough and tumble of ET - but it's not exactly difficult to cross reference the two, for those who are interested.

I'm working on this problem in connection with another project that I hope ET members will, in the future, want to contribute to. In our case we are reviewing software that will have flexible research as its main focus, with the blogging and group emailing as an add-on - along with videoconferencing and other whizzbangs. This, of course, costs.

We have indentified a possible candidate that has all the bells and whistles, and, because the software company wants a test case for their wider commercial launch, we may get it free. Unfortunately we can't meet with them till August 7th, so I have nothing to report until then.

One of the functionalities we need in our project is videoconferencing, and also the ability to easily post and view movies, animation, ppt, flash graphics etc.

Another important functionality is the tagging of information, as I described in my earlier post in Part One. We need this for two main reasons: firstly because we have no idea how to organize all the information we will receive until we have a lot of it, and then it needs to be datamined to find connections and patterns. Secondly, with many contributors to the development of an idea, we need to tag 'ownership' so that any fully developed ideas that have commercial applications can be equitably rewarded. So it will not only be the person/s who come up with the original insight, but also the people who refine the concepts.

The iVia software the Migu pointed us to is interesting indeed. It runs only on a Linux platform, but that would be invisible to users, I guess. But it prevents me from having a closer look at it. However in the next few days I will talk to people who do this kind of thing all day and get their opinion.

And I'll report back in August when I've examined the Finnish software in detail.

None of this helps our ET problem, but I think it indicates that the 1st generation blog software is reaching its limits. Blogs have empowered us to speak out and debate, but the activism they encourage cannot find its real outlet in action, because the tools are not there. LTEs are fine, EU consultation is fine, MSM links are fine, but what we really need to do IMHO is to pierce the fog of obfuscation that our leaders shovel at us (not you Dear Leader!) with incisive and insightful arguments that penetrate the mind of Charlie Chools (or Joe Schmoe or Mr Everyman or whatever the phrase is in your neck of the woods)

All the raw data is out there, it is just hard to mine it and present it.

Anyone who has any information about 2nd generation blogging - speak now!

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:30:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Blogging software works because it has restricted features.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:33:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And you're saying there are no bright sparks out there improving on it?

Triloqvist's Law says that all software will double in functionality every 18 months >;-)

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:37:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And Colman's law says 80% of the new functions will be useless.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:41:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Unless they are object-oriented.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:46:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
to Triloqvist's Law states that married people are uninterested in new functions.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:49:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
like Dear Albert, they are permanently randy.

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 02:50:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh? What does a programming paradigm have to do with software features?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:39:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The best software is modular (dump what you never use) or uses 'favourites'

I don't have a problem with bloat - I have enough space and speed. I just hate clutter. Word has customizable menus which I use.

But I like programs such as Final Cut Pro which uses 'favourites' - little routines that you use a lot grouped together in one window.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:21:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A world-class programmer once said that a piece of software is finished when you cannot remove any features, not whan you cannot add any.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:38:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:22:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What's wrong with Power Point

For Dummies like me, of course.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:41:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is quite simply the worst piece of software ever created.

If I ever have to sit through another presentation by a talentless someone who has 'discovered' features of ppt, my views on violence will have to be amended.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:49:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's on a par with distributing Uzis in the kindergarten

You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:50:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I read it in The Cathedral and the Bazaar, but I don't remember whether it was Eric S. Raymond or Linus Torvalds as quoted by ESR.

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:51:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
then, as a Finn, he's forgiven ;-)

Must have been the other chap....

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:56:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I agree, (and I think it's what I'm saying) that we need to start looking for new structures that go beyond blogging/debating. Even

LTEs are fine, EU consultation is fine

might run aground if a consultation involved more participants and a much longer text.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 03:20:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]


You can't be me, I'm taken
by Sven Triloqvist on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:58:01 PM EST
Gnomes please delete parent?

Nothing is 'mere'. — Richard P. Feynman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 04:59:02 PM EST
I'll add a drunken suggestion, because sometimes geniuses (not me) have great ideas when they're drunk, or when they've just got out of bed and have trouble with computer programming...

How about a category field that only wakes up when someone rates a comment, or recommends a diary?

If you rate it, give it a category.

The same comment or diary could end up with many different category attachments.

Searches could then be by word(s) and category(ies) and rating(s) and variations thereof.

I agree with Migeru on all points relating to software.  

Please give me a picture of a troll and a chicken if I've wandered into the wrong room by accident.

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Fri Jul 14th, 2006 at 08:36:49 PM EST
A big thanks to you afew...and migeru, sven and colman (et al) for all your work on these projects. At this point, I'm so full of trying to write stuff for my work that I don't have much capacity for helping out with what you are developing. But super appreciate  your efforts...and hopefully I'll be able to contribute in some way down the road...

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 07:56:09 AM EST
Migeru,

Thanks for the Raymond citation.

It will be very interesting reading over the weekend.

And congrats to Afew and everyone, who worked on the project.

I still think the wikis are anarchistic satanists, however.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 10:19:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's what I call a rather organised heap! You hit the main points and certainly generated a lot of response which I will have to take more time to review tomorrow to post more coherent comments.
by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 12:13:14 PM EST
Well, the discussion finally covered some ground on the technical side, or part of the technical side, I think. What I think we could still talk about is how to bring up and organize past work on ET. I'm just about ready to shout this in bold caps ;) : this is not a call on Tech Services Inc for some miracle solution that will cost someone else's time and money. But how should we organize this work, how can we best search, how best organize the results? Are there interest groups who might form to look after a subject or group of subjects, and organize their own group of pages around that subject in the wiki?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 04:32:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Jul 16th, 2006 at 03:07:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks!
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jul 16th, 2006 at 04:27:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok I finally got through reading this whole thread. Of course, as is not unusual for me, the thread is now long dead. The tech discussions were interesting to read since I had not heard of any of the options mentioned and I look forward to hearing more about Sven's project. However, it seems the consensus was for using what we have already set up (diaries & the wiki). As for how best to use them, unfortunately for now, the discussion never really made it there. Instead the energy collaboration got jump started, which is great! It already has its collaboration page in wiki ready to archive the progress and discussions and start a new collaboration experiment.

I do like your idea that interest groups might form to look after a subject or group of subjects, and organize their own group of pages around that subject in the wiki and perhaps that's what will happen with the energy piece as it seems to have regarding biofuels. I also agree with Jerome on the importance of benevolent dictatorships when it comes to moving collaborative projects forward.

One of my topics of interest is the issue of employment/unemployment and when I know I have a little more ET time ahead of me I'll try to review what we've done so far and put up for discussion some suggestions of what one could do with it.

by Alexandra in WMass (alexandra_wmass[a|t]yahoo[d|o|t]fr) on Mon Jul 17th, 2006 at 04:00:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
but I'm not really seeing that a problem exists in the first place.

Did the Consultation thread work so badly that something more complicated is needed?

Could we not just add a 'Consulations' box under or above 'Debates' for live consulations that need a more focussed approach, with dead consultations archived to the Wiki?

If access control is needed, I'd imagine it's reasonably simple to tweak Scoop to hide or reveal Consultation threads according to a user access list.

If threads become unwieldy they can always be restarted.

Personally I like transparency, both in debate and in the tools that are used. Which is why I'm suspicious of proprietary tools, and hard-to-use Open Source tools, and tools with bells and whistles like videoconf.

Unless an alternative tool appears with a minimal learning curve and a huge and obvious productivity benefit, what we have now seems to work fine for focussed effort.

If more formal research results are needed it's surely not that hard to summarise threads as policy or fact papers, and then add them to a simple online archive for future reference. If links to these papers are readily available, searching the entire site, or some auto-summarised version thereof, becomes unnecessary.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Jul 15th, 2006 at 04:51:15 PM EST
No, the Biofuels Consultation didn't work badly. And I had no intention of conveying that there was a "problem". I felt that there could be one if several users were working at once on a project. At least I thought it was worth discussing possible software aids, from the smallest (Google spreadsheets? We'll see...) to potential future content management platforms -- including the reasons why we can't use them right away.

I also had no wish to imply that anything should be secretive -- as I said, and repeated in a comment, diaries should be posted to show what stage the work's at, and invite input, criticism, discussion (see also my first diary Working Together (Part One)). I also have no objection to the whole community seeing work done in discussion between members of the group. Even "group" is a loose concept -- people should be free to join in with whatever input they may have, or to commit to smaller or larger portions of work, over shorter or longer periods, depending on their wishes and availability.

As to the search question, I'm not sure I understand quite what you're suggesting. Classify new threads from now on under headings through which they can be accessed in an archive? What do we do about the large amount of material we already have? (That was the question I tried to relay from Alexandra in WMass and our discussion with Mr In Toulouse in Toulouse).

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Jul 16th, 2006 at 05:16:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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