ThoughtStorms Wiki

In the last couple of days I've been writing some stuff over at MeatBall wiki.

MeatBall is a place, and SunirShah is a guy, I have a lot of admiration for. I think he and I have a lot of interests in common. (Recently he seems to be putting together a great paper on AcademiaVsNewMedia at Meatball:OpenAcademics) I think ThoughtStorms and MeatBall have plenty of overlap. They even run on (roughly) the same codebase : UseMod. But there are also some fascinating differences. It's these ways that we differ and the ways we don't quite fall into neat stereotypes that intrigue me here.

So here's a quick compare and contrast exercise. Remember, I know a lot more about me than about Sunir so some of what I say about him and about MeatBall may be completely wrong. If it is, please tell me. (Particularly if you are Sunir, and you aren't totally outraged / embarressed by this exercise.)

SunirShah says he "loves" capitalism. The revolution must be profitable.

PhilJones describes his politics as EmpiricalSocialism.

Nevertheless ...

MeatBall is explicitly designed on communitarian grounds (Meatball:TheCollective) where :

  • mutual support is the main virtue.
  • Meatball:BarnRaising is what they do.
  • The community is seen as the most important asset, not the text. (Meatball:CommunityOverContent)

Furthermore SunirShah wants to diminish his own role in Meatball. He wants no special status. And doesn't want to pull rank. He seeks collective solutions to problems.

In contrast, ThoughtStorms is a PersonalWiki mainly by / for / organized around PhilJones (who's philosophically, pretty individualistic)

  • interesting / surprising connections and parallels are the main virtue.
  • "Argument" and "criticism" is what we're meant to do.
  • The text (or specifically, the connections) are (claimed to be) the most important asset, not the community. (CommunityOrGenre)

ThoughtStorms differentiates the role of PhilJones in various ways. Even the welcome / invocation of the freedom of ThoughtStorms : "ArgueAgainstMe" is a direct reference to me. It sort of gives me a priviliged position in the cosmology of the place.

Phil also claims the right to be identified with anonymous postings on ThoughtStorms and therefore generally encourages other contributors to sign their writings. Sometimes he signs things for others. (In fact Sunir does this too, but is more ambivilant about it.)

Some of the most prominent OtherPeopleHere like ZbigniewLukasiak, GrahamLally and BillSeitz also keep separate personal wikis / wiki-like things. These are good neighbours, with their own private spaces (and GoodFences) who occasionally pop round for a chat. (See WikiNode for others.) They are the community.

But paradoxically, despite this individual oriented approach Phil realizes IAmNeverGoingToGetFamousWithMyWiki, whereas SebPaquet points out that "SunirShah arguably got famous from wikiing" :-)

Meatball awards Meatball:BarnStars which reward and encourage community centered actions.

ThoughtStorms only has BonusFreakyConnectionPoints to reward and encourage exciting links.

It's not that we don't do BarnRaising. Many people have voluntarily helped rollback major spam attacks and contributed links. We are now defended by RichardP's fantastic WikiMinion. And it's not that I (and I hope others) don't value it highly. It's just that there isn't an explicit ethos or discussion of it here. RichardP presented WikiMinion spontaneously, without being asked or tying this gift to any wider theory. (Although he may have one?)

But Maybe it's something that comes with wiki territory. BarnRaising is implicit in wiki software? (Compare LawrenceLessig's Code) Or maybe social-goodwill and gifting emerges out of the value of the neighbourhood.

Another interesting issue. Although MeatBall prioritises the community over content, the Meatball community seems to have been seriously divided by arguments over the licensing of the content. Sunir frowns upon attempts to take the text away from Meatball to anywhere else, or of forking the community. He has a GPL-like CopyLeft philosophy of content.

OTOH ThoughtStorms which emphasises content over community explicitly states that contributions should be gifted to the public domain. It is a more liberal licensing philosophy that says "you can link to it, quote it, copy the whole damned thing verbatim into your wiki, copy it into a PDF document and sell it. Whatever." (IntellectualPropertyPolicyOfThisWiki)

However, despite this, PhilJones is actually a passionate and vociferous supporter of the GPL and CopyLeft philosophy. And a fan of RichardStallman. The choice of culture for ThoughtStorms is simply about what seems pragmatically best for the wiki and myself in TheAttentionEconomy.

Both ThoughtStorms and MeatBall encourage MeatBall:RealNames. (DisputationArena)

Meatball wants to be non-sensational. Meatball:DefendAgainstPassion because Meatball:FightingIsBoring.

ThoughtStorms says SarcasmDoesntScale. And I like impassioned argument Though maybe we're living in a bubble of naive SecurityThroughObscurity. It's only because there are about 10 people here :-)

The point of this exercise is obviously not to try to argue one approach is right. It's to explore the richness of TypesOfWiki, and the richness and complexity of the worldview of people who start / join wikis. Remember AllMediaTalkAboutThemselves. And ThoughtStorms often likes to go-meta and see what it's doing.

Other suggestions / comparasons / contrasts / corrections encouraged.

Some interesting discussion on Meatball:TopicCompetition about the difference between PersonalWiki (Meatball:WikiAsAPim) and the Meatball notion of Meatball:WikiCommunity. (And compare CompetitiveWiki)