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WikiSym 2007

International Symposium on Wikis, Montréal, 21-23 Oct. 2007

Kernels for Complex Networks

The second and last day of WebSci '09 starts with a session on social networking, although the first paper in this session, by Yorgos Amanatidis, has the somewhat technical title "Kernels for Complex Networks" - we'll see what that's all about... Visual network graph models, apparently, for graphs which represent relational data in an abstract way. Such graophs can be used in the analysis, simulation, and prediction of network topologies, focussing especially on aspects like scaling, clustering, and node centrality.

What can be observed in real networks is the degree distribution: as the Web grows, the average degree is constant, but there is huge variance and no concentration around the average; indeed, we see the small world phenomenon which produces networks with small diameter and strong clustering tendencies (the friend of my friend is likely also to be my friend). Kleinberg, for example, modelled the fact that in small world networks there are not only short paths between nodes, but that these nodes can find such paths effectively using local information.

Au Revoir Montréal, Goodbye Canada
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Well, that's it - AoIR 2007 and WikiSym 2007 are over, the drizzle has caught up with me here in Montréal after a couple of very pleasant days with temperatures in the 20s; time to get back to the Australian spring. It's been a very successful if brief tour through Canada for these two conferences, and I've particularly enjoyed catching up with what by now feel like old friends from the Association of Internet Researchers, as well as meet a few new faces - you know who you are. It's a privilege to have been elected to the executive of such a vibrant community - and I look forward to seeing everyone again for AoIR 2008 in Copenhagen (which looks to be in very good hands).

Collaboratively Testing Enterprise Management Webware

It's a day of keynotes today, but for the last one we're back in the smaller WikiSym 2007 setting, for a talk by the inventor of the wiki, Ward Cunningham. He is also a pioneer in software design patterns research (the field for whose uses he invented the wiki, of course), and in what's called agile software development, however. He begins by noting that wikis are ultimately an exercise in simplicity - focussing on some very simple processes upon which large structures such as Wikipedia can be built.

Programming Second Life

There are about eight powerpoints in this auditorium, and this time I've come in early enough to plug into one - towards the end of the previous keynote here at OOPSLA I had to switch to taking notes on my PDA as my laptop ran out of steam. The second shared keynote between OOPSLA and WikiSym 2007 today is by Jim Purbrick and Mark Lentczner (or, Babbage Linden and Zero Linden), and we're going to hear about Second Life as a programming environment. Of course we also heard a lot about Second Life at AoIR last week, and I'm quite enjoying these presentations - if nothing else, they certainly have great visuals.

Political Wikis, Wiki Politics

The next session this second day of WikiSym 2007 is on political wikis, but opens with a paper by Renée-Marie Fountain on co-constructed development via communal constructivism in an educational environment. She begins with a nod towards the idea of the wisdom of the crowds, and especially perhaps of student crowds which we touched upon yesterday, and notes that in constructivist approaches students are invited to construct learning for as well as with others. This pursues what can be described as 'impossible public goods'.

Telling the Next Story, or Getting Lost Trying

We're starting the second day of the International Symposium on Wikis 2007 with a keynote in the overall OOPSLA programme (the larger conference with which WikiSym is co-located - some 1225 attendees, 90% male), by Peter Turchi. My laptop batteries are getting a little flaky, and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of powerpoints in this cavernous hall, so we'll see how we'll go.

He begins by poking gentle fun at OOPSLA itself, with its preponderance of acronyms and nerd-speak, and notes that his own background is rather different from this - but also that all of us here are engaged in the ongoing task of something new. So, in this way, software writers (most of the OOPSLA attendees) are writers just as much as poets and fiction authors are writers, greating new ways of information, and new ways of understanding. What's different here is that feedback is truly appreciated, that collaboration is a key practice here more than elsewhere.

Communities in the Wiki World

The final session at WikiSym 2007 today is on wiki communities, and starts with a paper by Joseph Reagle, whose research focusses on open content communities in general (probably close to what I would describe as the communities of produsage), and is interested in particular at the role of leaders in such communities. He notes seven features of what he calls authorial leadership: leadership is emergent, and is conferred based on merit and exercised through 'speaking softly'; there is mixed governance, combining meritocracy, autocracy, anarchy, and democracy at various times; leadership is an informal status, and a role as 'benevolent dictator' remains limited and temporary; leaders' key role is to channel momentum towards the development of a community culture; leadership operates through persuasion, arbitration, and defence against disruption, and accrues 'idiosyncrasy credits' (the more respected a leader, the more are they able to act idiosyncratically, autocratically, dictatorially, in the interests of the community as a last resort); there is a danger of overreaching if leaders exercise their power too enthusiastically or are positioned as uncontradictable authorities; but there is also a humour and good faith culture which militates against a glorification of the benevolent dictator. Ultimately, then, the title of benevolent dictator is a kind of tin crown, Joseph suggests; such leaders still need to tread very carefully and need to participate constructively in the community, and they cannot rest on their laurels.

Using Wikis in Education

We're now starting the post-lunch session on the first day here at WikiSym 2007, and the first paper is by Andrea Forte and Amy Bruckman, who examine the use of wikis as a toolkit for collaborative learning. Andrea begins by noting tha there is a significant deficit in media literacy amongst high school students - they don't necessarily have sufficient skills to evaluate the information they're confronted with. She suggests constructionism as a pedagogic framework for building such literacies.

Constructionism has been articulated by Seymour Papert - he suggests that people learn particularly well when engaged in the construction of public artefacts: when others see what you know and have done, when you can take pride in the work, and when the work is persistent into the future. This connects very well with working with wikis, of course, but also goes beyond them - it builds on students working on personally meaningful goals, and harnesses learners as capable, curious, and tenacious active practitioners. Online, especially, there are constantly new opportunities to employ constructionist learning.

What Makes Wikis Work?

The next session here at WikiSym 2007 begins with a short paper by Sarah Guth from the University of Padua, on wikis in education. She's done some work using social software in teaching environments, and discusses the question of whether such teaching should take place in public or non-public social software environments. Using (public) wikis enables collective authoring (which enables critical reading and responsible writing); raises issues of individual and collective ownership (challenging conventional Western epistemologies of individual intellectual property); and highlights content as ego-less, time-less, and never finished while enabling continuous development. Publishing online also empowers students, and history and discussion functions focus on writing as process, not product.

Welcome to WikiSym, Welcome to the Future

After the fun and excitement of AoIR 2007, I've made the quick but painful overnight trip to Montréal for the two-day International Symposium on Wikis, which takes part here in association with the much larger OOPSLA conference (in case you're wondering as I was: apparently this stands for Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages, and Applications). Happily, Montréal is enjoying a very pleasant Indian summer which is a welcome break from Vancouver's incessant drizzle... Naturally, the WikiSym conference also has its own wiki, which should be worth checking for comments on the presentations over the next few days.


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