Three flavors of wiki exchange

There’s been an ongoing conversation about wiki standardization. The conversation includes proposals for three different types of wiki exchange. Standards trace the shape of a community, like iron filings on a piece of paper over a magnet. This insight helps to explain how these proposals fit together in the world.
a) standard markup syntax. The Tiki crew have an RFC for an international wiki markup standard. This would mandate things like ** for bold and ” for italic.
The wiki world isn’t one big web — it’s composed of numerous creative communities, where people collaborate intensely together within the community, and have weaker ties with other communities. Therefore, attempts to impose a standard wiki markup esperanto are ambitious. They may be worth some attention, but will take a long time if ever to implement.
The fact that wiki markup is arbitrary will not make a standard easier to achieve. Setting a standard implies that some people will be able to continue with current behavior, and others will need to change behavior. There’s simply not enough internal incentive to cause people to change behavior, and there isn’t the external incentive of domininant market share.
b) interchange standard. These proposals don’t mandate wiki markup, but provide a means to exchange formatted pages. Since wikis all export HTML, there are proposals on the table to use a subset of XHTML as a lingua franca. This method would be somewhat “lossy” — specialized features like Purple Numbers and Twiki variables woudn’t get through. But text with the basic HTML formatting and structure would come through fine.
A wiki exchange standard fits nicely with the current pattern of wiki collaboration. People collaborate in their small and mid-sized communities, and want to exchange their results with others. A wiki exchange standard will take some negotiation, but seems feasible and worth attention, and valuable when achieved.
c) metalanguage. These proposals don’t mandate input or output formats —
instead, they abstract the general principles of formatting; parsing blocks and phrases, so as to be able to implement or emulate any arbitrary markup standard. WAFL is one such meta-language, recently implemented as part of Kwiki. There’s another, similar proposal at Meatball
In the mean time, before all of the standards efforts take hold, we’re living in a world with multiple markup flavors, and no defined output standard. In this motley world, there’s a pragmatic benefit in being able to emulate multiple sorts of markup. A metalanguage enables a wiki community to build readers or translators for other dialects, while still developing specialized vocabulary for technical documents, paragraph footnotes, or other nuances important to the subcommunity.

Response to Halley on Alpha Male

Halley Suitt recently responded to an old comment on Pete Kaminski’s blog, explaining that the Alpha Male series was intended ironically.
Trouble was, I’ve seen and heard enough un-ironic alpha male culture that I honestly couldn’t tell. Early in my career, I worked in places that ran on old-fashioned, quid pro promotion sexual harassment. Popular culture has plenty of serious retro “post-feminist” dreck about “real women” and “real men”.
I read some of the blog-link fan letters to the original Alpha Male posts, including posts from guys I otherwise like and respect. It was clear that a good number of readers took the series straight.
I hate the idea of admirable, delightful geeky guys missing the irony and acting macho in an attempt to live the alpha male fantasy. I remember one really depressing conversation during the boom, when a male colleague explained that he always wanted to be a teacher, but got an MBA because women would like him better as a high-paid corporate guy. Personally, I thought he’d be more attractive if he had less money and more commitment to his nature and values.
One way to read the series is 50s gender roles as a thrilling way to play with now-forbidden power dynamics. I have no cause to argue with anything that floats the boats of other consenting adults. But playing CEO-seduces-the secretary just doesn’t do it for me. Power relations among real humans are complicated enough without 50s gender-role drag.

The Political Filter

A handy 1-10 scale measuring the level of diplomacy in a statement or exchange.
-1 – rude, hostile
0 – emotionally honest
1 – blunt
2-3 – frank and direct
4-6 – normal politeness
7-8 – diplomatic flattery. marketing-speak.
10 – obfuscated so as to prevent understanding. consultants and lawyers.
12 – deliberately communicates different things to different listeners

Political, good and bad

Political-good: working co-operatively among people with differing interests to discover and achieve common goals. Having the ability to empathize with people of varying perspectives, and communicate common objectives in the listener’s language. Acting on principle, and approaching one’s ideals through pragmatic tactics and achievable steps.
Political-bad: striving to achieve personal ambition and factional gain by fostering divisions. The ability to look good to ones superiors at the expense of good results. Loyalty measured by fine-grained calculation of personal/factional benefit. Willing to sell out any principle in the interest of popularity.

Decorating a social space

It’s interesting to observe the choices one makes de facto. After a very, very busy couple of months, I took the day to a bit of cleaning and social space decoration.
Here was the sequence of choices.
* de-clutter house (done weekly when not daily)
* add full text RSS feeds to blog
* add link blog to blog
* assemble reading chair ikea chair
* small hack adding social feature to Socialtext intranet
Here are the items that haven’t gotten done yet (awaiting next clear weekend)
* clear yard
* weed gravel driveway
* change apparently permanent track lighting bulbs in closed porch
* fix leaky faucet
Observations about priorities:
* Uncluttered personal space is important, but less important than deadlines and obligations.
* The blog is a social space that gets shared by more people than the living room.
* The living room, blog, and intranet all occupy similar mental space regarding social decoration
* The living room, blog, and intranet are more actively social than the front yard

Decorating a Social Space

The design of online spaces reflects personal identity, danah boyd said in her excellent talk on the SXSW panel on the Esthetic of Social Networks. The “Fakesters” on Friendster didn’t mean that users were trying to fake out the system — they were expressing their identity by affiliating with icons, in the same way that kids put up dormroom posters, restaurants put up signed celebrity photos, and people put family photos on their desk at work.
There are analogs in the world of games, but much less in the realm of other social software. This insight points to an opportunity in social software design, and an opportunity to push the limits of some bad laws, too.
In the 3d world, people have many ways to decorate shared spaces — interior design in homes shared with family and guests; and exterior design of houses and gardens.
Today, flickr lets people share photos with IM buddies and others in social networking groups. This is cool as a feature, and would be even more powerful integrated with other online social spaces.
Music is a universal means of expressing shared identity. Today, there are widgets to publish a personal playlist on a weblog. There ought to be similar group tools to play music for online groups. Individuals could vote about choices, to maximize collective preferences. “Off” would be an important standard option.
This can be done legally with Creative Commons-licensed music from Magnatune and other sources of open-licensed music. And it should be legal — there shouldn’t be any difference, legally, between Joi Ito playing music for friends in his living room, and the #joiito IRC channel sharing tunes.
These features will be subject to intense negotiation, just as they are in 3D, where home decoration and neighborhood zoning are fraught with negotiation and conflict. The benefit of online spaces is that they’re not constrained to four walls, one set of color choices, and one playlist. Individuals should be able subscribe to some of the group’s choices, but not all. The consequence of semi-personalization could be greater tolerance and diversity, lower levels of affiliation, or some combination of both.
It will be interesting to see how danah’s insight plays out in the evolution of social software to reflect more of the cultural affiliation patterns of humans in groups.

Changing the Net to combat spam

Reflecting on two changes in web architecture to combat spam.
* LOAF is a new proposal for social spam filtering.
* AOL has been quietly blocking the websites of spammers
I ought to like the first (which uses a social network) and dislike the second (which relies on a centralized power). But my reaction is the other way around.
The blocking of spammers sites makes me want to cheer. This uses an age-old technique of punishing the anti-social with ostracism. The problem with blacklisting in general is lack of accountability. In order for the system to be fair, AOL should provide a test site for users to determine if the sites are being blocked, and there should be a public appeals process where people could get their cases reviewed and decided.
On the other hand, the blocking or slowing of all emails from strangers makes me sad. One of the beauties of the internet is the ability to meet new people with common interests. The restriction of social networks to people already in one’s social circle contradicts a core value of the net. This solution would take us back to the bad old world where you needed to know someone to get an introduction. The LinkedIn model becomes mandatory, not optional.
Blocking email from new people would seem to punish the innocent much more than blocking the websites of spammers. Mail from innocent new people will languish and die in the company of viagra ads. The senders will never know.
By contrast, if the spammer blacklist had diagnostic and appeals, the innocent could free themselves from the blacklist. The guilty would be ostracized, and the innocent could speak freely.
I’d love comments from sensible readers.

Support freenode at sxsw

People who are using IRC at sxsw might want to contribute, here
Freenode is a non-profit that provides free internet relay chat to free/open source projects. Freenode godfather lilo is letting us use freenode at sxsw even though sxsw is a commercial project.
It would be cool to repay his generosity by contributing.
(I have no affiliation with freenode other than as a user)

Bureaucracy 2, SXSW 1

South by Southwest has a blogger-friendly program and a blogger-hostile venue. There’s a great local and out of town blog crew are here, but they won’t let us plug in or take pictures.
Cory Doctorow says:
* Contact the Austin Convention and Visitor’s bureau and tell them that the no-power rule makes Austin hostile to visitors. Email: Phone (800)926-2282.
* If you’re on a panel, give the audience permission to take photos and video.
It was announced this morning — we can now plug in. woo-hoo!

Wireless routers and sleepless nights

So, after years of trepidation and procrastination, I bought a wireless router for the house. The ethernet cable was annoying for houseguests and meetings, but it had a very useful feature. It didn’t reach the bedroom.
The last time I worked with a distributed team, it was back during dial-up days. The phone cord reached the bedroom. I gave myself sleep problems til I reconfigured the house to have a sleeping area out of sight of the office area, and resolved not to bring the computer into the sleeping area.
So, when you start seeing blogposts and emails and wiki changes at 3-4am, worry for me. An intervention may be in order.