ThoughtStorms Wiki

Thoughts on the new ThoughtStorms

Both ThoughtStorms wiki itself. And the engine behind it, were basically old, tired, out-dated and full of cruft. So much junk. So many weeds.

Replacing a wiki-engine is relatively easy.

I love Clojure. I resisted trying to write a wiki in Clojure because I assumed that Python was so simple and known that it would be a waste of time moving away from it.

Boy, was I wrong about that. Once I bit the bullet, the new Clojure-based engine came together quickly. The code is nice. I'm doing stuff that I only dreamed I'd get around to doing.

Finally, it exports flat pages. And, indeed, the new ThoughtStorms you can see online is currently just a static rendering of the wiki.

But it also does a tonne of other cool stuff. And it's going to do even more, very soon.

Meanwhile, looking at ThoughtStorms itself ... it's appalling. I believe that there is still value in some of the writing there. But it is so swamped by dead links and weeds and outdated ideas and references to people who seemed so radical and important at the time, but have now been replaced by other people, who I confess often leave me cold.

In fact this is one of the things that has most disturbed me looking through ThoughtStorms in the last couple of weeks.

Not the pages that say "X made a great point about Social Frubbits on his blog ... see link. But Y's criticism rings true to me ... see link" Where both links are dead, X and Y are minor internet tech. bloggers who no-one thinks about any more, and I can't even remember what the hell a Social Frubbit was, let alone what the point of disagreement was.

Those are understandable cruft. I just needed to work up the courage to type

git rm

and it's gone.

No, the thing that disturbs me is that I remember that it felt so urgent and important to document this stuff. This was the future being forged. But now I can't feel the same way about equivalent technologies and people that are happening today. And I can't tell whether I was right then when I did care, or if I'm right now, when I don't.

Obviously the ideas and debates were ephemeral. Some of the things that we said then have been shown to be obviously wrong. Predictions failed. Beautiful technologies and protocols fizzled and disappeared. But life has its attrition rate. Maybe that was inevitable and not worth worrying about.

It's also obvious how often what survived and triumphed was itself, a version of what we wanted and predicted. Just not the exact version we wanted. And just not as good as we hoped it would be. (See Enshittification for how this happened.)

And because of these ambivalences, I don't know whether I should be trying to get back into doing it. One of my first pages was the wildly optimistic and prematurely triumphant TrackingSystemForLocustSwarms. Wiki wasn't anything like equal to tracking the swarm. Most of us are drowned by a fire-hose of new ideas and information and controversy. And at most we are glued to Twitter or equivalent feed manically forwarding memes and spitting hot-takes.

Social media optimises for flow and bamboozlement. And wiki wasn't the tool to help us capture, track and make sense of it.

But that's an insight which is both painful and inspiring.

CardiganBay is not just a wiki-engine. Or even a note-taking app. It's an engine I'm creating to help me reclaim ThoughtStorms wiki. To clean it up, remove the cruft, and make it worth-while.

And to do that, wiki needs to be a new kind of tool. Which is good at "SenseMaking" of all the data that is thrown into it.

It's the lack of sense-making, the mere capturing of ideas and bookmarking of links, which has led to ThoughtStorms (like other wikis) being so out-of-date and dead.

In theory, a community keeps wiki alive. And keeps it relevant and up-to-date. Personal wikis, or wikis without sufficient community fail. And so the dying, rotting factoids stack up like Tetris. Overwhelming the useful information.

Part of the goal of CardiganBay is to avoid that. To make refactoring, cleaning and sense-making much easier within wiki.


Well, to begin with, like the SmallestFederatedWiki, CardiganBay divides pages into blocks or "cards". Which can be self-contained subsections. Or have different media types etc.

Unlike Smallest Federated Wiki and other block-oriented tools, we keep the idea of editing a whole page in a simple textarea. And use a really simple markup for card separators. That means it's fast and straightforward to go into a long, existing ThoughtStorms page and cut it into a series of cards. You just edit the whole page and add the separator as and where it should be.

Once the card structure is established, as in the SFW, we can re-order cards within a page, or move them from one to another.

We already have transclusion of cards from one page into another. Which means where it makes sense, you might write a card or two on one page but reuse them on another.

And the medium term goal is to have a more or less single click operation to push a card onto a different page and transclude it back. This kind of refactoring helps us to eliminate redundancy.

Cardigan Bay already analyses and can report broken internal links (links to pages that don't exist), and orphan pages (pages that have no links to them). I have scripts that can test and report all the broken external links, although dealing with those broken links (ie. fixing or removing them) is still a lot of manual work.

Another goal is to quickly group sets of pages together into "zones" around specific themes. (CBZones)

We'll be able to think / talk about zones as a whole. Although the free-form everything-is-interconnected aspect of wiki is great, sometimes you might want to separate a group of pages out and rework them into say, an essay or chapter of a book. Cardigan Bay is going to help me (and you) do that .... rename pages / group pages together, and change the links into those pages.

Just as Project ThoughtStorms did, Cardigan Bay has a bookmarklet you can drag to the toolbar. And which will let you bookmark other pages directly into the wiki. Because new links appear as individual cards, it's easy to them manoeuvre them into the right place.

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