☠ Project

(I'm still gradually brain dumping onto this page, so bear with me, it'll take some time to make sense - SethNickell)

  • "☠" is pronounced "yarrr", with a fearsome but lazy growl. Its best said with a sail to your back and a parrot on your shoulder.

What is ☠?

The Buzzword Description

☠ is a live interactive collaboration space.

Early on we called the ☠ concept "Message Wiki". We dropped the name because it misses some important aspects... but maybe it'll help in understanding others. Despite similarities in the abstract, there's a fair bit of functional difference between documents and messages. Of course, this blurs. Is a 2 page email a document or a message? It's both. Wikis are based on shared consensual documents. You see people using it as a message space too, but it's better at being a document. Message Wiki tries the other direction, what if you have a shared consensual view of a set of messages? These can be summarized, edited, moved, sorted, and annotated until they're more readable, but you add most new information through dialogue with other people.

(LionKimbro notes CommunityWiki:DocumentsVsMessages)

☠ in terms of the problems we're exploring

Right now, ☠ is best described in terms of the problems we are looking at. Honestly, we don't know exactly how we'll end up addressing all of them them. We have lots of ideas, but when you're dealing with social software some things work out and some things don't.

Here are some of the short-term problems we'd like to nail, or at least graze with murderous intent:

  • The same mailing list discussions come up over and over ad nauseum
  • People are socially liable for too many messages.
  • Long discussions that only a small percentage of people on the "list" care about
  • And its counterpart: important discussions dying young because the rest of the list tires of them
  • There are few social cues as to how other people are receiving a message/discussion
  • Are people who matter even reading the discussion? A lot of discussions on some lists are between people whose opinions, quite bluntly, don't matter much.
  • A large body of people are generating content (aka messages), but every individual sorts/files/processes it on their own
  • Discussions, even very detailed ones, typically do not converge on producing digestable output... as a result, only the people who participated were effected by the conversation. Contrast this with a Wiki, which tends to converge on a digestable artifact. (As FedericoMenaQuintero points out, this is related to the first point)

  • The Majority lose track of discussions, even ones they should follow, which grow too detailed for their tastes (c.f. module inclusion discussion)
  • Lists don't make it easy to bridge message based discussions into a quick "conversational" exchange like IM
  • Esp in computer circles, people tend to reply with annoying rebuttals of incidental points (its like they skim a message to find things to disagree with while ignoring the gist) while failing to respond to (or even think about?) the overall concept

<pause for breath> Insert the other problems here later, but this is enough for a start

Here are some random thoughts that have been pretty influential as we've been thinking about this design:

  • Email As Habitat: http://www.parc.com/research/csl/projects/email/. Put simply, when it comes to computers people are "living in" their email. They store files there, work with others, track todo items, etc.

  • People keep trying to build radical collaboration systems. Email is (by far) the most-used electronic collaboration system, but its model has been largely ignored.
  • Communicating with other people is a primary task for most knowledge workers. For many, it is the crux of their job time-wise (if not their formal job description).

People are Socially Liable for Too Many Messages

Perhaps owing to its evolution as a personal direct communication medium, when people send email they expect you to have read it. The problem is, they expect you to have read it even if it's sent to one of who-knows-how-many lists/aliases/groups whatever the message has been sent to. When somebody sends a message about "don't bring dogs into the office" to some random list, you are on hook, they expect you will have read it. It's great that email lets you reach so many people so easily, but it sucks that all those people end up feeling responsible for reading everything. And realistically, many (most?) people don't really read all their email as a result.

Scratch area

FedericoMenaQuintero: Discussions come up over and over again because it is not easy to know whether something has been discussed before. It's hard to search for the goddamn thing --- go to the list archives (they take a while to find) and the search functionality is dismal, browsing is painful, etc. Something like a wiki is better, I think, for long-term storage. Witness the ThreePointZero page; it has a good S/N ratio. Eventually someone will take it and polish it, summarizing redundant comments, clarifying muddy ideas, etc. It would still be good to have a way to let people know that something interesting is going on in some part of a wiki; this can be accomplished with something like a mailing list.

FedericoMenaQuintero: Also, when coming back in the middle of a long thread in a mailing list, don't you get the feeling that you missed a bunch of messages since you left off? Wikis, being sort of linear text that grows, let you re-read things easily and get your understanding up to the status quo.

FedericoMenaQuintero: The process of reading this page gave me a little epiphany. I'm subscribed to it in the wiki, so I get email notifications when someone changes something. Seth's latest flurry of changes resulted in a little bunch of mails for me. Since they contain only diffs, not the whole discussion/document, they were very informative even if I only got little bits of text in each mail. If I wanted to refresh my memory about the big picture, I could easily go back to the wiki and re-read it. As Seth mentions above, wikis are nice because they converge on something useful. Those concise notifications about changes are pretty useful to keep informed about stuff they care(d) about --- if they ever edited the page and subscribed to it, they'll get notification each time something happens. This is in contrast to mailing lists, which just pile up new mails under threads you may have already forgotten about, and thus, never get to read.

This is especially problematic when there is more than one long discussion going on at the same time. With a threaded view of messages, new items get closely spaced apart and you can't see them in the same window. If you un-thread and sort by date, you get a mixed mess of mail and you lose all context.

As an immediate stopgap measure for current email clients, I'd love to be able to easily mark threads as "conversations to watch". The mail program would give me a list of threads that have gotten new messages added to them recently, and an easy way to jump back to each complete thread. Note that this is practically equivalent to subscription in wikis, just clunkier.

NigelTao: Note that Gmail provides "easily mark threads as conversations to watch" - it automatically threads mail and you can one-click "star" threads (conversations) and then "show all starred threads" as a one-click search.

MikeHearn: Internet Mail 2000 may be of interest: http://cr.yp.to/im2000.html - clearly once mail storage is the senders responsibility, you can modify the message after sending it, new people can be CCd on threads and have the whole thing appear in their inbox and so on.

LionKimbro: Hey! We talk (and develop!) a lot about this kind of stuff on CommunityWiki. Check out DocumentsVsMessages, and tell me it doesn't look familiar. You may also be interested in WikiIsDocumentBased, and LinkLanguage.

I see you talking about the organization of conversations. Check out the ProjectSpaceNetwork. It's about a different thing, but the idea can be generalized to organization of things (like conversations, threads, wiki pages,) in general. Most forms of organization are based on categories. But categories essentially become infinitely deep buckets with no further organization within them. (Think of the bottom layer of Freshmeat categories.) Theoretically, you could just add more subcategories, but structures are frozen or hard to change (which is a problem because useful bottom-level organizations frequently change a lot,) and because you lose a lot of subtlety and intelligence that is made possible by spatial arrangement (changing position, size, color, font, and with guide lines, circles, and other simple geometric shapes, ...) A good spatial arrangement can give us a lot of intuition and understanding, whereas a list is: well, just a list. (Again, see the ProjectSpaceNetwork diagram if this doesn't make sense. Imagine the project space network as just a list of projects, and then see it as the network diagram again.) If we could collaboratively arrange threads and wiki pages spatially,... There's a lot of room for both organizing ourselves, and our conversations, with visual language. Some good works to come out of this would be a Javascript app allowing us to arrange threads, (perhaps in real-time with others), stuff like that.

Anyways: Seth, Fredrico, I'd like to invite you to talk with us, in a forum of your choosing. (We prefer wiki, because it makes for nice referring back to.) At the very least, I'd like to introduce myself to you two, I'd like to keep tabs on your work, and I'd like to make myself available to you both for consultation and coding.

FedericoMenaQuintero: Joel's article on building communities with software has some good points about things like usenet, chat forums, message forums, etc.

AndersFeder: I never really understood this page/project, but I wonder if it was really about Google Wave?

Attic/☠ (last edited 2013-11-23 01:40:29 by WilliamJonMcCann)