Podcast episode 4 – Andy Mabbett

Here’s the fourth episode of the podcast, where I chat with Andy Mabbett, twitcher birder extraordinaire and Wikipedian par excellence. He’s also done a bit of web work in local government.

Here’s a link to download the original mp3 file if you would like to do that.

If you would like to subscribe to the podcast in your favourite podcasting app, the feed is http://davebriggs.libsyn.com/rss or you can find the podcast on iTunes.

Show notes and related links (in a slightly jumbled order):

Tools I use for learning

Recently, as part of a survey of members of the Social Learning Centre, I put together a list of ten sites or apps I use a lot in my own learning activity. Actually, I thought ten was rather a lot, so to share it here, I thought I’d whittle it down to half that number.

I think it’s useful to always remind yourself of the tools you use regularly in your own activity, particularly if you spend time designing sites, systems and platforms for others to use.

What’s also interesting for me is that everything in this list is pretty old! It turns out I am not exactly on the cutting edge. Who knew?

Google Reader

The source of all knowledge! OK, maybe not, but I’m subscribed to over 500 blogs and sites in Reader and it’s the second place I go to every day, after my email inbox. Maybe 80% of everything I scan through on there is of no use, but that’s ok –  the 20% is what matters.

I do worry about the future of Reader – RSS is not the hippest of technologies and I’m concerned Google might switch it off some day… which would make me very sad.

Everything I find really useful gets starred in Reader, and thanks to IFTTT, gets pinged to Twitter as a link, and dumped into Evernote as an archive.

Evernote

My portable archive of everything. Web pages get copied into Evernote, everything I star in Reader ends up in here, notes in meetings and during phone calls… pretty much everything that passes my eyes online ends up here in case I need it later.

What’s interesting about Evernote is that it has reached that stage of ubiquity in my way of working where I don’t even recognise that it’s there most of the time, I just perform various actions, look stuff up in it, type in notes, clip a web page, without even thinking. Evernote fits right into my workflow, which is a key thing for any technology.

Wikipedia

I was thinking about putting Google search in here, but actually most of the time what Google produces is a link to a Wikipedia page, so I thought I’d disintermediate for you. No matter what I’m doing, I find myself looking stuff up on Wikipedia to find out more – reading a book, watching TV, whatever. It’s one of the things I use my Nexus 7 tablet for – just so handy a form factor for quickly looking stuff up.

Twitter

Not just where I share stuff I found illuminating, but where I get to find things out too. Whether ‘overhearing’ interesting conversations or picking up on links and stories shared by others, Twitter is a hugely important part of my learning network.

Interestingly (perhaps) is that now I have been on Twitter for a little while, and built up a fairly substantial follower/following count, I find it less useful for asking questions myself and getting responses. Perhaps this is because the network is just that much more busy these days – who knows? – but the apparently logical idea that if you have more followers you get more responses doesn’t seem to be true.

Maybe I’m just asking the wrong questions.

WordPress

Blogging is where all the stuff I’ve learned elsewhere gets written up and formulated into something that’s usually even less coherent than it was before. This has gotten increasingly difficult as the various stresses and strains of life, running a business, etc get in the way; but I do try to blog thoughts and ideas as often as I can.

Hopefully this helps others – but the primary benefit is my own. The process of writing for a public audience forces you to critically analyse your ideas and thinking and there is as much value in the countless posts that never get published because of their idiocy as there is in those that are seen and commented by others.

WordPress is a publishing platform that I feel I have grown up with since I started using it back in 2004 and it just gets out of the way for me.

Bookmarks for January 10th through January 24th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for August 18th through September 8th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

  • Civic Commons code-sharing initiative bids to reduce government IT costs – "Around the United States, city governments have created a multitude of software. Unfortunately, most of the time the code from those projects is not shared between municipalities, which results in duplication of effort and redundant, static software."
  • Anonymity, trust and openness on the social intranet – "In some organisations, the cloak of anonymity could help to establish the first part of that trust relationship, and reassure colleagues that leaders are, in fact, really listening; once it exists, it’s easier to step out of the shadows with a greater degree of trust and openness."
  • The end of history – "History will, of course, look after itself. It always has. But the future history of our time will be different from our histories of past times, and that will not be because we have an eye to the future, but because we are always relentless focused on the present."
  • Why aren’t we all working for Learning Organisations? – "…the authors suggest a way for managers to switch from a ‘command and control’ to a ‘systems thinking’ mindset in order to achieve genuine organisational learning."
  • Quixly – Cool way to host and deliver paid-for content, such as e-books.
  • Understanding Marin County’s $30 million ERP failure – It's not just UK government that cocks up IT projects.
  • Google Wave open source next steps: "Wave in a Box" – "We will expand upon the 200K lines of code we've already open sourced (detailed at waveprotocol.org) to flesh out the existing example Wave server and web client into a more complete application or "Wave in a Box.""
  • Should Governments Legislate a Preference for Open Source? – "It's easy to legislate a preference for Open Source, and difficult to implement a level playing field upon which Open Source and proprietary software could compete fairly. Thus, a number of governments have enacted the preference as an easy-to-legislate way of solving the problem, but I submit not optimally. Having a preference gives proprietary software an opening to portray themselves as the "injured party", when the reality is that historically there has been a preference for proprietary software in both legislation and internal process of government purchasers, and this still exists today."
  • Wiki life – "The point, in the end, is that Wikimedia by its DNA operates in public and benefits accrue — not just as product and engagement and promotion and distribution but also as strategy. That’s the next step in creating the truly public company or organization."
  • First Impressions: VaultPress (WordPress Backup) – Nice summary of the premium backup service for WordPress (sadly just in beta at the moment).
  • Sink or Swim – Donald Clark on the birth of Learning Pool and why the public sector needs it more than ever.
  • Damien Katz: Getting Your Open Source Project to 1.0 – Great notes on successful open source development.
  • Harold Jarche » The Evolving Social Organization – "For decades, organizational growth has been viewed as a positive development, but it has come at a cost."
  • O’Reilly, Open Government and the Ingenuity of Enthusiasm – "It is quite clear that performance management and procurement, as well as many other government processes, need to be revised, reformed or radically changed. But this won’t happen unless we recognize that government and its employees need to remain in charge, need to stay as the custodians of neutrality and transparency, and we, the people, developers or users, can just help them do a better job but not replace them in any way."
  • Research findings and recommendations for Councils – Some fantastic shared learning here from Michele.
  • sigil – "Sigil is a multi-platform WYSIWYG ebook editor. It is designed to edit books in ePub format."
  • Enterprise 2.0 Perceived Risks: Myth or Reality? – "…security is a personal thing, a personal trait that everyone needs to nurture and treasure accordingly."
  • Using Free, Open-Source Software in Local Governments – "…how is it that local governments have failed to capitalize on the cost-saving and productivity-enhancing benefits of using open source software, especially given the budget crises they face?"
  • Open Government Data – "This event will bring together movers and shakers from the world of open government data — including government representatives, policymakers, lawyers, technologists, academics, advocates, citizens, journalists and reusers."
  • WordPress › Email Users « WordPress Plugins – "A plugin for wordpress which allows you to send an email to the registered blog users."

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Bookmarks for March 18th through March 20th

[Something is going wrong with this again. For some reason this hadn’t been posted before now.]

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

Editing Wikipedia

I’ve been asked this question a few times recently, so thought it worth sharing my answer with everyone that reads this blog:

What’s the best way to approach editing Wikipedia articles about us?

There are a number of reasons why you might want to do this – the most obvious being that there are some factual inaccuracies that you want to correct – though sometimes there are other reasons too.

There have been several high profile incidents where Wikipedia has been edited – by either the individual who is the subject of the article or by an employee of an organisation with a page on the site – with various degrees of success or humiliation. Here’s my guide to getting more of the former and less of the latter.

My instinctive reaction is: don’t do it. Editing Wikipedia is a minefield and getting it right will take up an awful lot of time. Think about another way around it – could you publish a list of corrections on your own website, or on a blog? Perhaps encourage someone else who reads it to make the corrections, but leave Wikipedia itself well alone.

If you are determined to get involved, here’s what to do. Firstly, do not edit anonymously but create an account on the site. This is for the very good reason that your edits will not be anonymous anyway – your IP address will be recorded and if you are using a work computer, people will easily be able to find out where you are.

Instead, give yourself a username that’s understandable, not some random pseudonym. Then, open your personal user page and edit it to explain exactly who you are and who you work for. What you are aiming for is complete transparency – the last thing you want is people thinking that you are being sneaky.

Once that’s all done, it’s time to edit the entry itself. Or, rather, not – because my advice would be not to edit the text of the article itself first of all. Instead, I’d limit my edits to the article’s talk page initially. Explain in the page the inaccuracies, and perhaps link to the web page I mentioned earlier with a list of corrections. Then let the community do its work – some corrections will be made to the page – maybe all of them. What you are doing is giving the Wikipedians the facts, and allowing them to put their own house in order.

If that doesn’t happen, or if there is an urgent correction that needs making, then edit the text itself. Firstly, make the change, ensuring that you clearly link back to sources to back up your edits – and make sure you use the edit summary box to explain what you have done and why. Then, drop by the article’s talk page and again explain who you are, what change you made and why you did it.

Once all that is done, sign up to get email alerts when the page is changed so you can keep on top of what further edits people are making.

If you find that someone just goes in right away and reverts – that is, removes your edits and restores the page to how it looked before you started – do not get tempted into reverting their reversion! These tit-for-tat “edit wars” do nobody any good! Instead, try and engage with the person making the reversion, again through the article’s talk page, or on that user’s own page maybe. Most Wikipedipedians are friendly, conciliatory folk and you should be able to talk them into being more reasonable.

Of course, if that fails, there is always the Wikipedia arbitration process. Good luck with that.

For more on Wikipedia culture, I found Andrew Lih‘s book The Wikipedia Revolution pretty good. Lih is clearly a fan of Wikipedia, so it is hardly an unbiased account, but there is some really useful background in there.

Wikipedia a bad example for enterprise wikis?

Helen Nicol writes an interesting post about how to get wikis taken up within organisations. Using Wikipedia as an example, she writes, is a bad idea, because it sets unrealistic expectations of the amount of content likely to be generated, and will also likely scare people away.

Unfortunately, many companies begin their wiki experiments by trying to create the definitive knowledge asset on, say, knowledge management. This is a big ask for people who’ve never had their own contributions edited by someone they don’t know. It turns people off, and prevents them from recognising the potential in wikis. They need to start with a simple and non-threatening activity like a progress report or lessons learned review. Even a shared agenda would help as I said in this post some time ago. Starting small will really help people gain confidence enough to start working on bigger projects like knowledge assets.

This taps into a real problem for those wishing to encourage the adoption of these tools within their organisations. Saying wikis are like Wikipedia (which they can be, but…) is a bit like describing blogs as online diaries (which they can be, but…).

As I often say, the best thing is just to start using something, with a freely available tool, whether a blog or a wiki or whatever and then use that to demonstrate what you mean to the unbelievers. Much easier than making people think they have to start recording the sum of all human knowledge, or start publishing their innermost thoughts on the web!

I’ve Gotta Knol

Knol is a reasonably new service from Google, which has been described as their attempt to kill, or at elast steal some traffic from, Wikipedia. It’s basically a way for people to publish information about what they know in the form of ‘knols’ – Google’s term for a single unit of knowledge. These are tied to your Google account, so you are pretty much responsible for your own content on there and which kind of answers the problem of Wikipedia, where you might have no idea who has produced the content. I’m thinking that it is kind of a mixture of Wikipedia and Squidoo.

I’ve been having a bit of a go myself, adding knols on collaborating with wikis and getting started blogging – effectively just copy and paste jobs from some of the bigger posts on this blog. A few thoughts on my experiences doing this:

  • The URLs for the knols themselves aren’t very friendly, which is a shame
  • The editor is reasonably friendly to use but the Knol site seems to have a problem remembering whether or not I am signed in, which can be a pain
  • I don’t think you can embed flash stuff like video or presentations, which is a pain
  • Some kind soul has given the wiki knol a five star rating! But who? It would be nice to know
  • There has been quite a bit of discussion about where knol entries will appear in Google searches – so far neither of my entries are appearing anywhere near the first page of results, but I am going to monitor this
  • It would be nice for groups of authors to be able to form, and to group entries together as well, making it easy to find entries by authors that know each other, and for knol-writing projects to be kept together

I have set both my knols – and any future ones I write – to be editable by anyone with a Google account, so if you fancy having a go at improving them, or just having a play with Knol, go ahead. I think I am going to continue to cross-post relevant things to there. Whether I will ever go searching on Knol to find something out for myself, I’m not so sure.

Healthy scepticism

One of the problems of being a new media fanboy like me is that we sometimes get a bit too excited about this stuff, and fail to see some of the downsides of web 2.0. That’s why I have a copy of Andrew Keen‘s Cult of the Amateur on my bookshelf – I like to pick it up now and again to remind myself of the other way of thinking about using the web to increase participation and engagement. I might not agree with Keen, but it’s important to take a regular dose of what he has to say, I think.

In all of the pro-web 2.0 literature (Here Comes Everybody, We-Think etc etc) Wikipedia is often cited as an example of mass-collaboration in action, which of course it is. But I often wonder about how relevant Wikipedia is as the poster-child of genuine distributed organisation. This comment from Andy Roberts puts it pretty succinctly:

It was set up and continues to be run by a multi-millionaire advocate of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism philosophy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think Wikipedia is a great thing, and it’s usually one of the first resources I turn to when I need to get the skinny on something. But I do have concerns about it being held up as being a model to follow for other online communities.

Part of this is because of the complicated relationship between Wikipedia and Wikia, the for-profit site which provides wiki spaces for groups to produce content together. Wikia is developing a search engine, using Wiki technology with various ties into Wikipedia. There has been much comment on the fact that Wikia seems to be using the freely provided work of volunteers to power a project intended to make money for Wikia.

A great source of information, opinion and gossip about Wikipedia, Wikia and the search project is Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog. You don’t have to agree with everything he says, but his dissident viewpoint is often refreshing. I recommend you subscribe.

The University of Wikipedia

Mike Butcher at Techcrunch UK reports on a University tutor banning her students from researching essays on the web:

The education world has pursued new technology with an almost evangelical zeal and it is time to take a step back and give proper consideration of how we use it.

Too many students don’t use their own brains enough. We need to bring back the important values of research and analysis.

Too right. Now, I’m a fan of Wikipedia and believe that, as a tool for getting a quick overview on the subject, it’s invaluable. I look stuff up on, and link to, Wikipedia time and time again. That doesn’t mean, however, that I would use it as a part of academic study. That’s no different from using Britannica as a basis for an essay or thesis, and surely nobody would do that?

The issue here isn’t Wikipedia, or Google, but the fact that the students in question are idiots.

Universities make incredible resources available to students through web catalogues in libraries, etc. However, maybe there is a lesson to be learned in terms of the ease of use of these systems – is that why students are turning to less academic sources? Or are they just being lazy?