Wiki Wonderland

I was sitting at work, muttering to myself as I am want to do, nibbling on a pistachio nut and avoiding the interminable data entry part of my job (the problem with only having a part time minion is that part of the time she’s not in the office to do the boring bits of my job for me) and I came to the realisation that I need a wiki.

Yes, yes. Gasp, shock horror and all that mlarky. Actually, I’m not sure what is stranger: the idea that I’m thinking of setting one up; or the idea that I don’t have a wiki already!

You see, the odd idea frequently strikes me when I’m sitting at work at the computer and don’t have easy access to somewhere I can jot things down. A nice online wiki… Well, I invariably have an IE window open so it’s no hassle to jump into the edit window of a wiki.

The more I think of it, the more I am convinced that a wiki, probably living as a subdomain of Bright Meadow, is the way to go. I quite enjoyed the experience of planning the Demon Thesis on a wiki. I’m more often than not at a computer and a centralised place to store ideas seems perfect to me (I have a moleskine for the offline moments). Yes, I could write up draft posts here on the blog but I’m more likely to hit “publish” than “save as draft”, and I end up with fifty different posts sitting in draft which just look messy and as there’s no ability to link between ideas, things get lost.

The only draw back I can think of is what happens when I’m not online but at the computer and want to work on an idea? I have vivid memories of the other week when we were without internet for five days at Meadow Towers. Not something I want to repeat, but unfortunately a circumstance that is bound to happen again. Therefore the ‘dream wiki’ would have to have an offline counterpart and, more importantly, some easy way of synching between my local (offline) server and the online server.

An easy “one click” install would be nice too. I have horendous memories of trying to install MoinMoin. Whilst that was partly down to firewall restrictions and my local server being randomly turned off by the Mysogynistic Belgian, any installation that requires me to refamiliarise myself with the the command line is NOT easy.

The wish list:

  • Not MediaWiki – I can’t fully rationalise my decision, but MediaWiki just leaves me cold. Like you knew Hitler was evil by just looking at his creepy mustache.
  • Easy install – see my definition above for an explanation of ‘easy’
  • Able to run on a Linux server
  • An offline counterpart that will run on a Mac local server
  • Straightforward synching between the offline and the online versions – I am aware I might be living in cloud cuckoo land here, but it is called a ‘wish list’ for a reason!
  • In built spell checker – this post was composed entirely in IE (no handy spell checking like Safari gives me). It’s quite obvious, isn’t it?
  • Work (look presentable) in IE
  • Security – I don’t want every Thomas, Richard or Harold to be able to view my thoughts by just going to

It’s been a while since I paid close attention to wikis and the various engines out on the market now. Does anyone have any suggestions for me?

As am aside, the idea I had today was involving around wikis, logins and spam. Or a combination thereof. I just can’t remember the points of my argument because I didn’t have somewhere to write them down – I nearly started on my ‘discussion’ page on Antiquist, but then I got all shy because I’m not sure my ideas are ready for anyone/everyone to read right now.

People, stop it!

OK, if you love me people, you’ll stop inviting me to your universities to do PHds.

I can’t afford it.
I don’t have the idea I need – sadly “ooh, I’d love to play around reading about online stuff for three years” doesn’t quite cut it as a PHd topic.
And most importantly I was in therapy by the end of the MSc. Literally. I’m not sure I’d be alive at the end of the PHd!

This doesn’t mean I don’t want to DO a PHd. As I’ve told Neko a lot lately, I’m very, very jealous of you people who can just do research as your 9-t0-5. I’d love to do a PHd. I just don’t think a PHd would love me.

So yes. Stop taunting me with your shiny new departments and old professors who’d like to work with me again. Stop it I tell you!

Or, if you insist on keeping on doing it, at least tell me that there’s oodles of funding and propose a topic for me 😛

Web 2.0, Archaeology, and Me

From time to time I do still have ideas that relate to my old research. If the idea of an Archaeology/Web 2.0 post isn’t for you, please feel free to skip this post, but I think you will be missing out on stuff. And yes, it is long – I’m going to post the whole thing here on the blog, but I can supply other (more portable) formats on request.


If you were to ask people to pick three things to describe me, I expect most of them would say the following:

  1. An incorrigible flirt
  2. You’ll be lucky to get an email from her inside of three weeks
  3. NEVER on instant messenger

Well, I’m working on 2 and 3 and once or twice lately I have even been logged into MSN *gasp* During one of these momentous occasions I had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend/colleague and we got to chatting about how we were spending our days. He seems to be spending the majority of it watching 3D models render. I also seem to be spending inhuman amounts of time at the computer so I thought we would have lots to talk about. Um, no. It turns out he “doesn’t have time for all this web stuff”.

It was a comment which, understandably, got me thinking some. Is he missing something, or am I?

My life, for better or worse, is highly integrated with the Internet. Even the fact I am using a word such as ‘integrate’ to describe my relationship with a technology is a sure sign it’s having an impact on my productive vocabulary if nothing else. I don’t see my life as being poorer for it. I enjoy the communities I am part of, the people I have met, the friendships I have made. I love writing and cherish the feedback I get from my readers (I love that I have readers!) It makes my life ‘easier’ that my photos are online so I can show them and share them anywhere with an Internet connection. I’ve had opportunities I probably would never have had if I didn’t participate in the ‘Web’ as much as I do.

On a daily basis, I get my news from the Internet (I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched the Six O’Clock News); I catch up on my friends lives; I watch movie trailers; I participate in interesting discussions; I manage my bank account; I pay my bills; I occasionally use the Internet to make money; I buy things; I do research, and I get new ideas over the ‘net. Very little of my life is not touched, in some way, by the Internet.

My friend doesn’t do this stuff. Or if he does, he doesn’t do it to the degree I do. Yes he checks email, uses IM, probably does some online banking and buys things from Amazon, but he doesn’t spend time in the community/participation side of the web as I do.

If Web 2.0 is all about the community and participation, he is still firmly Web 1.0.

So who is better off?

At times it seems like my entire life is tied up with computers. I spend my work life at a computer in the traditional Microsoft Office model whilst my relaxation and personal time is almost entirely spent online. The keyboard and mouse govern a good 80% of my time and this frequently causes me literal pain – I have permanent nerve damage that is directly attributable to the time I spend at the computer. I’ve experienced a few instances of computer ‘burn-out’ where just the thought of turning my computer on has made me go all wiggy inside. Yet when I DON’T turn my computer on, check my emails, or catch up on RSS feeds for more than a day, I also get all wiggy inside.

Not healthy.

But at the same time I wouldn’t trade it. Can you say ‘addiction’ with me?

Which brings me in a roundabout way to my next point. This friend is also an archaeologist (more of an archaeologist than me in fact as he’s actually still active in the field) and he is still doing research and fun things in his speciality. Yet he has this gaping hole in his knowledge where I *know* exciting things are happening and that hole is the Web. He doesn’t pay attention to the new ideas appearing in the field so doesn’t know of how these emerging technologies could be used in Archaeology. Which is fair enough – no one can be on top of all the new developments, there just isn’t time – but I can’t help feeling he’s, well, missing something vital.

It’s pretty much accepted that the Internet is changing our lives and how we do things. Every where you look technology is driving us toward more integration and things I class in my mind as “shiny, fun stuff!” We’re approaching the sci-fi dream/nightmare scenarios of Dick, Gibson, Orwell, Stephenson, Hamilton et al where we live our lives online and are subject to an all encompassing ‘Net’.

Into that mix you have to throw the knowledge that I have, for the past eight years, been approaching life from an archaeologists stand point. Archaeologists have long had a slightly odd relationship with technology. Who better than archaeologists to be aware of how the invention of a given technology impacted on society X, Y centuries ago? At the same time, we are notoriously bad when it comes to accepting new technologies ourselves. Perhaps this is because we are all too aware of how one seemingly trivial piece of technology can completely revolutionize the way we live our lives. More likely it is because we are all stubborn grumpy so-and-so’s who have issues dealing with anything that happened after the Romans had a few problems back home and left us Brits to make it up as we went along.

Whatever the reason, there is a massive weight of inertia and legacy problems in Archaeology (as the rest of life), and archaeologists hate to do something a new way when the old way has served them well for decades. Even when the new way is proven to be demonstrably better, we’ll argue that black is white for a little longer, then grudgingly admit that OK, maybe, this new way is worth giving a go. Problem is, by the time we’ve fully embraced something to our collective bosom, the rest of the world has long since moved on and there’s something else new we have to come to terms with.

As is the way with many things in life, I never planned to be researching how Archaeology and the Internet could learn to play together a bit more nicely, but over the past two years that is what I found has happened.

In that time, I, along with many of my peers, have developed a love/hate relationship with the phrase ‘Web 2.0’. Web 2.0 is a term that sets my teeth on edge. I’m not going to even try and define it – others are doing a much better job. The problems I have with it are legion, not just because it’s faddy, has no meaning, and is just plain wrong.

The accepted progression seems to be as follows:
Web 1.0 = the browsable web
Web 2.0 = the read/write web
Web 3.0 = the active web (dare I say it, the semantic web)

It could also be argued that:
Web 1.0 = big corporations etc trying to sell us stuff through the web
Web 2.0 = everybody trying to sell things through the web, but developing ‘communities’ of people in the process (Tara’s Boutique Era?)
Web 3.0 = god alone knows. Snow Crash or something.

The problem is that those definitions seem very absolute. Web 1.0/Web 2.0 isn’t a binary state. It isn’t an absolute truth. It is something that is tentatively and pragmatically true, not a statement about objective reality.

All that being said, Web 2.0 (and please, as you read this, imagine me doing air quotes and wincing every time I use the phrase) is a very useful term. It gives a handle to ideas which are, at best, nebulous and hard to grasp for the average person. It sets things aside, makes them new and exciting, and helps to generate interest. Still, this time last year I would have put money on one group of people who would never succumb to this whole “new era of the Internet” deal. I trusted archaeologists would retain their traditional healthy level of skepticism…

Er, no.

It turns out that terms like “wiki”, “blog”, and “Web 2.0” have been popping up with monotonous regularity recently in chats down the pub. It’s gotten so that even the Brainy Snail has asked me “what’s a wiki then?” At first I thought she was asking because she had seen it noticed on the blog and was just curious. No. Web 2.0 has breeched the hallowed halls of her learning establishment (and her halls are about as Establishment as you can get).

People I respect, trust, and even have little crushes on are actually DOING things in established archaeological units that I talked about in my thesis. One of them even has Moo cards and a Flickr account for pete’s sake – how more Web 2.0 do you want to get?! At the same time, I have to ask myself how integrated (that word again) the idea of community driven work, shared ideas, and the whole online ethos is to these units? On the face of it these are ideas we as ‘heritage specialists’ tend to be shouting from the rooftops already, but the kicker is moving it all online… My gut reaction is that, at the moment, the relationship is a forced and strained one, driven by a few mavericks. Given time I am sure it will filter down to become the norm, but for now? Let’s just say they are experiments I’m watching with great interest.

I had a moment at ArchCamp last week where the top of my head felt like it had been ripped off and a few thousand volts of electricity had been zapped through my gray matter. My ideas for how a wiki should be used met with someone else’s dream for how his website might be used. He had a dream but didn’t know if it was possible or feasible. I was able to tell him it was both.

I’ve had a year off from Archaeology now and in that time I’ve learnt lots of new things. My ideas have developed – if I could write my thesis again I would! I thought I was done with the whole Archaeology thing. It’s been eight years of my life, time for something new. Then Neko drags me back and… Gar. It’s like I was never away. Why do I keep coming back to Archaeology as a discipline? Why do the conversations I have with archaeologists make the most sense to me? I’m not sure. To be honest my involvement with Archaeology/Computing has always been more on the theoretical side. I much prefer taking new technologies and thinking how they might be twisted to fit Archaeological praxis than I do actually getting my fingernails dirty with the digging. But regardless of my approach, it’s still archaeology that pushes my buttons. Not history or any other study. Archaeology. I’m completely obsessed with how we as mankind have come to be where we are today. It seems silly written down like that and doesn’t really explain what I mean, but it’s the closest I can come to it. If you understand where you’ve come from, it makes it easier to see where we might be going – does that make sense?

Either way, me and Archaeology clearly aren’t done with each other yet. And I don’t think that Archaeology and Web 2.0 are done with each other either. Clearly the term is doing what is was supposed to do, reaching the wider public consciousness, so is now really the time to turn our backs on it?

I’ve got to end with a quote from my thesis – the only time I actually used the words ‘Web 2.0’ in the entire 35,000 words (whilst talking about wikis to boot, not bad going):

The graphical Web is, at the time I write, barely a decade old, and in the process of shifting from a passive read-only state to “Web 2.0”, a dynamic, user-driven collaboration state.

It does make the head spin, but the Internet really is only a decade old. I can remember a time when there was no Internet. I can remember a time (just) when we didn’t all have personal computers. To think we can straight off work out if ‘Web 2.0’ is really something new and not an aberration, if it is something that is going to last, is something that is going to fit into our fields of study is pure stupidity. I reckon all we can do is play around with it some more. See where it takes us. Sometimes I say this and people look at me funny, but when I say “have fun with it” I’m being serious. There’s a reason kids play with things the first time they come across them. Play is how you establish boundaries. Play is how you work out what things can do.

So, come play with me in the Web 2.0/Archaeology sandbox? I’m starting to think it could be a lot of fun…

On Wikipedia and Archaeology

I was flicking through the latest edition of British Archaeology recently (number 88) (I need to at least pretend I am keeping up with my field) and an article caught my eye. It was in the new(ish) column on “On The Web”, which always feels a little crammed and tacked on, but I’m not the editor, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Also, I would rather they were talking just a little bit about the topic than not at all. Each issue they look at an issue/website and try to get a page-long article out of it.

This time it was the role of internet sites as resources. This is good. The Web rates a big Yay! in my book, but the Web is underused as a resource, one of the main reasons cited for which, is that students don’t know where to start looking – a statement I have no problem with. Time and again, I get into discussions with people who say “but I just don’t know where to begin“.

So when a respected entry level journal such as British Archaeology lists some good portal sites, you listen. B.A. has the potential to reach thousands of new students and interested amateurs, and to shape their online researching habits for ever more, so a recommendation from them is a huge thing.

Which is why I was a little concerned that Wikipedia was mentioned as a great starting point. Don’t get me wrong, it is a great starting point, but a lot/most users don’t realise the very shaky factual foundations it stands upon. A straw poll of the users in the lab back when I was doing the Thesis showed that, whilst most of my colleagues would use Wikipedia regularly to check facts, the majority of them weren’t aware there was no official refereeing or verification methods in place. They were unaware that anyone could, and frequently did, submit articles and edit extant work. I myself was not aware till I started doing research into wikis in general.

Web-savy users know to treat most Internet sources slightly dubiously till we can verify them. If we can’t pin down an author and/or source for a fact, we tend to run for the hills. Or at least do some more digging. Most readers of B.A., I would hazzard a guess, are not that Web-savy. It is hard to teach people to be critical about everything we read – we are taught from an early age to respect and revere the written word. It goes against the grain to question something we see on the screen. For so long, there have been gatekeepers to publication – editors; peer review; the Church; money; education – that we assume it still holds true in this day and age when anyone with even an iota of inclination can get their words online and give them a veneer of authority. When you are greeted by an edifice such as Wikipedia, with its hundreds upon thousands of articles, it is almost unbelievable that such a thing could be allowed to exist if it wasn’t true.

To be published in a recognised journal (both print and many online) you go through the process of peer review. You have to prove that what you have written is repeatable and true. Yes, mistakes get made, but very few. With Wikipedia, whilst you still have to run the gamut of all the millions of other users, and the semi-god-like Editors, I imagine if you act enough like an authority then your word will become accepted as true. Studies have shown that Wikipedia has similar numbers of errors to established encyclopaedias such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica, but the nature of those errors is different. Wikipedia, when it stumbles, tends to get things wrong to a much greater degree. Also, encyclopaedias are never presented to students as good places to look for information. Starting points, yes. Finishing points? Not so much.

And then there is the treatment of those who are genuine experts in their field. danah experienced this first hand when she came face to face with her own bio on Wikipedia. Not only was there debate about whether she should even have an entry (and why shouldn’t she?) it was culturally inappropriate to edit her own page to correct information she knew (who better?) to be factually inaccurate. You have to question the veracity of any entry in Wikipedia when you are made aware of such glaring problems with particular entries. If an expert in a field is not considered the appropriate authority to talk about her own life, what about experts in other fields? There is a subtle but pervasive anti-establishment tone throughout Wikipedia. Yes, you might not like that professors and such are more knowledgeable in a given sphere than you are, but in many cases they are more knowledgeable. Listen to them. Learn from them.

I digress ever so slightly from my initial point, which was this: I worry that Wikipedia is being set up in as a site that can dispense gospel truth, and that it is being sold as such to the people who are the most vulnerable.

I am at a mental impasse. I want total freedom of knowledge. I want everyone to be able to get at all information. I want everyone to be able to add to that body of information without having to jump through hoops.
At the same time, I want that information to be checked and to be correct. However much I might wish for a total democratization of information, there needs to be mechanisms in place where the genuine authorities on a given subject are able to step in and correct mistakes.

I am not for locking away knowledge for the privileged few, nor am I advocating keeping the less knowledgeable away from information. I would, however, recommend caution. For the majority of people, small inaccuracies in Wikipedia and sources like it will have no affect on their lives. They have no desire, or need, to know more. There are, however, people who want more in-depth knowledge and it might be better (for example) if they were first presented with the archaeological facts as we have them, before being introduced to theories about how the pyramids served as landing platforms for aliens.

I agree Wikipedia is a wonderful resource and a great place to act as a jump-point to more in-depth knowledge. I frequently use it as such myself. But I am hesitant to place such an onus on it as British Archaeology does, naming in the same paragraph as some respected, established, and verified portals and sties. I could argue that archaeology (and other disciplines) need to descend en masse on Wikipedia and correct/verify all the information pertaining to our fields that we can find. But such a plan is sure to backfire and mire us all in allegations of Ivory Tower-dom and academic elitism. The alternative of starting our own Wikipedia for archaeology is also doomed – you’re just never gonna get the consensus or collaboration across the discipline on the scale that is required.

My solution? Urge caution. Use Wikipedia, sure, but use other sources as well. Be skeptical. If you find a problem with Wikipedia, edit it. If you find another good site, tell people about it. But most importantly, never stop questioning what is put on the page or screen in front of you. Use the brain that whatever deity you see fit to believe in, put between your ears.

It pays to read your archives before you publish a long rant. I had a sneaking feeling I’ve touched on this topic a time or two before, and sure enough I have. Ah well, now you can enjoy that article too 🙂

wikipedia, british archaeology, democratisation of information, ivory tower, academia, archaeology, elitism

Elvis Lives Again (why I submitted to 9rules)

So I promised a full review of my decision to submit Bright Meadow to 9rules, and I will do my best.

RSS subscribers, or avid readers of the blog, might have already noticed a Mini-Meadow post saying that I have bitten the bullet and submitted Bright Meadow for the latest round of 9rules submissions.

I did say when I heard that they were accepting admissions again that I wasn’t sure if it was for me or not – my reservations are a matter of record and, whilst it will probably bork any chance I have of acceptance, I stand by them. I am still not totally convinced that Bright Meadow needs to be in a network, if it would benefit from being in one, or even if 9rules is the right network for me.

So what made me submit if I still have reservations?

Time, first of all, for a little history. Soon after I started using the blog format back in April 2005 I noticed sites with this little leaf symbol proclaiming themselves as proud members of something called “9rules”. I can’t say I really paid much more attention than that at the time, other than noting in passing that as a rule these sites were a cut above the rest. As the blogging bug bit (around the time I was starting to avoid the Thesis actually), I was spending more and more time surfing for interesting blogs. Time and again, I would find myself passing through 9rules blogs, and I started to trust the logo. If I was in doubt about a site, and I saw the leaves, I would give it the benefit of the doubt. I must admit I was rarely let down.

I found myself wanting to join this little group of people. I wanted more traffic for the blog (readers, preciousssss readersss!) and all the hype about 9rules told me it was the place to be. Anyone who wanted to be someone was (it seemed) a member of 9rules. That it was a select group appealed to me at the same time it repelled me. More on that later.

Finally, a round opened up in November 2005, and I submitted Bright Meadow. This was back in the Blogger days, so I knew my chances were real slim, but at the same time I just wasn’t in the position to move away from a free, hosted service. Domain name registration and hosting might be inexpensive these days, but it’s still a non-trivial cost for someone whose budget was end-of-four-years-of-study small. As I subscribe to the philosophy “I’m gonna make a fool of myself regardless of what I do, so I might as well go for things I want – I can hardly make things worse”, and submission was just filling in a four-field form, I could see no reason NOT to submit. Seeing as how I’ve just resubmitted the blog, you would be safe to assume I didn’t get into 9rules that time around.

It would be silly to say this alone prompted me to change how I look at Bright Meadow, but it certainly gave me reason to stop and think what I really wanted from this blog/website. It is a little mind boggling to think about it, but that November was the first time I had really sat down and tried to define what I was doing in a single paragraph. The act of submitting made me evaluate what I was doing – what was I proud of? What did I enjoy doing the most? What was a waste of mine, and my readers, time? Where did I want Bright Meadow to be in a year, two years, time?

All these were questions that, coincidentally, I was trying to answer for my own life. New Years 2006 marked a big turning point for me on a lot of fronts, both personally, professionally, and blogging-ly.

Rejection of any kind makes you rock back on your heels. Yes, I had the petty knee-jerk reaction of pulling all 9rules sites from my RSS reader. I’m not proud of it, and most were restored when I had regained my equanimity and realised I how silly it was to have a temper tantrum over a website. Once I had recovered enough to laugh at myself, I realised how stupid it was to ask for admittance to a group that prides itself on its content when I couldn’t even define my own content. It’s an age old maxim that you need to love yourself before others can love you, but in this case it holds true. I had an ambivalent attitude to my blog at that point – I liked it, but I wasn’t sure why I was doing it, and I knew it wasn’t what I wanted it to be – and clearly this showed. Seeing as how 9rules don’t tell failed sites why they failed, I going on guess work and gut instinct here, but my gastro-intestinal tract tells me I needed to get my shit together. Badly.

In the space of that month and a half after submitting the first time, I shifted domains, moved to wordpress, and paid more attention to what I was writing about. Out went (the majority) of the daily “here’s what I did today” posts. Hello to posts that used day-to-day occurrences merely as jumping off points. Hola! posts that talked about what interested me (social computing), looking at them in a way I felt was under represented on the blogs I had come into contact with: non-specialist enthusiast. I’m more tech-literate than most of the ‘average’ computer users out there, thanks to the benefit of education and inclination, but I still couldn’t code my way out of a paper bag. I just like taking what other people have written, and playing with it some, seeing how I can apply it to my ordinary life. And I like sharing what I have learnt with other people. I like connecting, I like learning new things, and blogging is becoming a brilliant way of doing these things.

Something has finally clicked with regards my blogging – I feel I have finally found a tone I am comfortable using, I am talking about things I want to talk about, and I am starting to collect a diverse range of readers and commenters. I feel, and it is possible I am just talking out of my hat here and it’s not how people perceive things at all, but I feel that I am starting to develop a voice. I would like to think my words stick around in peoples brains and make them think. If nothing else, my scatter-shot approach to punctuation must make me memorable!

When the time came round and 9rules announced that they were opening the dread-portals once more, I realised that I was no longer so sure I wanted to become a member. I was a bit more aware of the downsides to being in a network. I’d seen the upheaval that happens when you don’t fit – Liz visited a fair few ponds before she settled down at b5. On top of that, 9rules themselves were very reticent to describe the benefits and/or drawbacks to being a member of their group. Yes, you can be guaranteed all your neighbour sites are top-notch. Yes, you are gonna get a helluva bump to your traffic. Yes, there’s this great community of people that you are welcomed into when you join. But an outsider has to ask herself “where is the catch?” Am I gonna be signing over my first born?

(I don’t seriously think that Scrivs and co are into black market babies, but… Where’s the frelling catch! Everything has a downside. Something you suck up because the benefits are so great. I’m just waiting for the other penny to drop).

On top of that, I have an innate distrust of elite groups and cliques. Closed circles of people remind me far too much of the “in crowd” at school. The in crowd weren’t very nice to me. It’s taken me many years to be comfortable with the fact I am not mainstream, but echoes come back to me, and I still see them round that one bench in the courtyard at lunch, talking and giggling together, imperiously ignoring everyone else as beneath contempt. Even worse, I remember their gaze on me and the feeling “are they laughing at me?”

This, again, isn’t to say that the 9rules community is like this. I am sure they aren’t – the few 9rulers I have had the privilege to cross paths with were certainly all lovely welcoming people – but it is a genuine concern of mine all the same.

On top of this, I have spent much time researching groups and how to get people interacting, and am a firm believer in inclusivity as opposed to exclusivity. Break down the barriers, not build more. We will probably always have an A-List, as it seems to be hardwired into the human psyche that we revere and put on pedestals certain members of our society, and this A-List invariably seems to depend on who you know, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the A-List. 9rules sites, while not necessarily the ultimate A-List in the blogging community, are definitely the A-List as far as a certain sub-group are concerned. In my mind I liken it to the modern music scene – there are the celebrity pop artists you might like (and deride loudly to your friends, but you know all the lyrics) who are the ultimate A-Listers, and there are the cool indy artists who you respect as well as like. You listen to their music because it challenges you at the same time as giving enjoyment. In my mind, that’s what a 9rules site deserves – my respect. I go there not just because it’s fun, but because it will force me to think about something. Still, there’s an aloofness I can’t help but notice. They’ve got a well deserved reputation for greatness, and…

I find myself torn.

I want to be a part of this elite group I respect, because to become a member would say my peers also respected my work. Who wouldn’t want such recognition? I am deeply proud of all that I’ve accomplished here at Bright Meadow and if I could reach more people by joining 9rules, then I see no reason why I shouldn’t try to join.

At the same time, my own distrust of the “cool gang” is rearing it’s ugly head. Why do I need to join a group? Surely I can do just as well on my own? Any network runs the risk of becoming insular and inward looking, and excluding people is anathema to me. And there’s my own particular brand of contrary minded stubbornness. I never got picked for the teams at school, I was never in the cool group, so why should I want to join one now? I never pretended my reasons would make much sense, but they are my reasons.

As I said, I am torn. I still am. So why did I submit?

Once again, it was a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’d always be wondering “what if?” and few things are sadder in this life than regrets. I love that some posts have 40 and more comments on them. I am proud of my Blog Minions, and even more honoured that people want to become Blog Minions. I actually enjoy going back and reading through my archives now – they are my words, I worked hard on them, and it shows. I want to share Bright Meadow with the world, and if 9rules could help me do that, who am I to look down my nose at them?

You’ve got to admit, being picked out from the 699 other sites that also submitted would be one hell of an ego boost.

This entire post is, of course, going to stand testament to how much time I spend thinking about blogging. And is probably frelling over whatever slim chance I had in the first place, but I stand by all I’ve said.

I would just love to be proven wrong 😉

(And if you can work out the link between the title and the post, you’ll get yourself a cookie. Hint – it’s a song lyric)

coComment take two

I can already tell that discussion about coComment is going to be rumbling on for a fair bit. One of those things, it’s just seemed to have got peoples attentions.

Anyway, if your curious, I will be merrily tagging away anything I find pertaining to it at if you want to keep an eye on that.

Ben Metcalfe has already written a great piece pointing out how coComment could lead to semantically forked conversations. He’s not being a nay-sayer, just pointing out that things might not be all as rosy as the hype makes it look.
coComment, comments, conversation, Ben Metcalfe

Some further thoughts on Identity

I’ve just got back from having a tea with Neko up at the lab and, along with catching up on all the gossip I’ve missed in the last few months, she made me rethink my approach to identity. It was one of those moments – I was saying something, and it was only as I finished that I realised it was what I truly believed, even though it went slightly contrary to opinions I professed only a little while ago.

We were talking about reasons the Wiki failed to make the splash we wanted it to and pinned it down to two things: Archaeologists are remarkably anti- shiny new technology; and there was no one prodding the conversation to get it going. We both still feel that wikis are great tools to facilitate conversation, but that’s it – they facilitate it, they don’t make the conversation. Just because you have a wiki, it doesn’t mean you’re going to have a great conversation, at least not without a fair degree of input from interested parties.

What continues to excite both of us, however, is the possibility of using wikis in peer-review situations, and in situations were normal open conversation cannot take place. The degree of anonymization inherent in the wiki-engine can be an amazing boon for people who, for whatever reason, want to participate in a discussion, but who fear the consequences of publicly stating their opinions. This potential to democratize academia and discussion gets quite a lot of us jumping up and down going “Woot!”

I made a deal about ‘reputation’ in my previous post, and how this is linked (in academic contexts) primarily to your name. At the time of writing that post, I was coming down on the side of anonymous = bad (at least, = not the ideal), and whilst I still feel this, I am forced to admit that there are situations where anonymity can be a good thing.

For example, in a situation such as a wiki focusing on reviewing new articles (got to escape the closed review-board model of Antiquity at all costs – run away, run away!), you might want to make contributions/comments but you fear the retribution you would get if it was clear it was YOU saying it. Perhaps the author is (a) your supervisor, (b) a god in your field, (c) someone you have to work with, (d) you imagine something. Whilst I am a believer that you should always stand by what you say, there are times when I have only participated in a discussion because of the shield of anonymity given to me by the medium I am using – knowing you can make a fool of yourself and not have it traced back to you (easily) makes it much easier to look your supervisor in the eye!

I still feel that identity, and more importantly truth in identity, is vital, but I’ll freely admit that I missed out a chunk of reasoning for anonymity, or at least pseudonymity.

(I made the above argument for democratization much better in my thesis by the way 😉 )

identity, anonymity, pseudonymity, reputation, freedom of anonymous speech, wiki, democratization, democratization of academia