Tag Archives: notes

What I’m reading 27 Jan 2016 through 30 Jan 2016

fedwiki as notebook and a style guide for the coterie

When I first started using a traditional wiki (c. 2002, I think), I mistakingly saw it as a form of wide-ranging publication – a hypertextual companion to the blog. I was looking for a universal notebook-cum-database; a one-stop shop for drafting, revising, and publishing; a elegant – because it was the smallest database that would work – hypertexual support system; the realization of Vannevar Bush’s memex and Ted Nelson’s literary machine. I thought of the wiki as a magic workshop: a place where I could collect and store and organize hypertexually my notes, commonplaces, links, and drafts; with a workbench space to assemble these things into more formal hypertexts; and the capability of publising those hypertexts in progress. A universal reading and writing and learning and broadcasting space.

Wikipedia not withstanding, the wiki isn’t a publishing medium so much as a medium for coterie circulation, something closer to manuscript circulation than world wide circulation of a National Literary Review. The wiki is a medium for neighborhood circulation of notebook-like works in progress, notebooks being closer to manuscripts than blog posts or PDFs or Word docs watermarked DRAFT.

I’m borrowing the idea of coterie culture from Laura Mandell’s recent monograph Breaking the Book. She sets coterie culture next to more contemporary print culture in order to highlight the meeting of scribal and print cultures in 17th and early 18th century England. Coterie publishing of small print runs circulated among a small group of readers “with the same expectation as manuscripts: educated, elite readers would write in them, correct them, modify them” (121). Sound a little like fedwiki? Breaking the Book is worth a read. (I could not find any good reviews of the book yet, so here’s a link to the publisher, Wiley Blackwell.)

I made the early mistake of identifying wikis wiith blogs. Blogs are a publication medium. They are written for and seek wide and anonymous distribution. A blog post is published and may be commented on, but it is more or less finished. But wikis are notebooks, continuously revised and adapted, and in fedwiki revised and re-distributed. As notebooks, they become sources for further work and distribution by other means, such as blogs.

Reconsider the memex. As Bush conceived it, the memex was designed for personal scholarly use and coterie distibution. The trails through memex libraries, as they were conceived, were not meant to be distributed as a set of bound texts distributed to anonymous readers. The idea was that the scholar would reproduce the microfich and hand around to other like scholars – mostly who knew each other. The small group would not need a detailed textual context because it would be a small group, a neigborhood. The NLS seems to have been concepualized in a similar scholarly group context rather than as a worldwide, anonymous mass.

So: a fedwiki as notebook.

Thoughts along this line are circulating in the fedwiki neighborhood as Fedwiki as Memex-Journal. The memex was designed to address the problems of wide dispersal of information and the index. As it’s being discussed on Fedwiki, the problem of integrating sources is being addressed with links to collections and notes on Pinboard, and the problem of indexing is address with RSS feeds and tags.

Along with Ward I imagine a Pinboard-ish community around the product. Sites would have a setting to say where they publish to — RSS feeds, Pinboard, etc. But there also might be a fedwiki specific community that provided better integration.

Wikis would also have certain tags associated with them, and by default would publish new material to feeds and community sites under those tags. Tags would help alert you to new wiki content from anywhere, consistently good wiki content would prompt you to subscribe to all updates of that wiki.

The distribution is not wide but takes place within a specific community surrounding a topic, discipline, problem, interest. Distribution of link trails is more rapid than snail mail but still takes place within a small group, a coterie. I think of these coteries not as pre-conceived audiences that are being passively addressed but as active publics that organize themselves around the content and interests of the group.

I like the name “Steno”. It conveys the notebook idea, but technically stenography is “narrow writing” (steno=narrow) which fits the idea of a collection of small thoughts connected. It doesn’t capture the networked wiki element, but I think that’s OK — it’s easy to say “Steno is your networked notebook”.

Once I have the notebook and coterie distribution in mind, the advice behind a style guide, like this one Mike Caulfield designed for Fedwiki, becomes clear. The guide lists the usually unstated practices of the coterie: the Fedwiki neighborhood.

First, abide by the general conventions of federated wiki:

  • Avoid overlinking
  • Minimize in-paragraph formatting
  • Where possible, write short paragraphs, with one idea per paragraph (to facilitate reuse and rearrangement).

Second, write primarily in a descriptive style. Wikity is less an editorial page, and more a sort of Hitchiker’s guide to the galaxy. Short articles based around a single idea, formula, concept, fact, or dataset are best.

As a notebook, fedwiki is not a reading but a writing platform. Material in a notebook is mined for use in other contexts, and smart practice (both for the notebook and the note taker) is to develop note-making habits that reduce the friction for collecting and mining. Links inside the notebook and outside the notebook take on a functional rather than an aethetic or rhetorical value. Prose chunked into short paragraphs make it easier to move around and circulate within the notebook – easier to assemble into constellations, easier mine, easier to add to. Bullet lists are less valuable than they might be in static publication; the idea of a notebook is to expand ideas, not reduce them to a set of bullets.

What I’m reading 11 Jun 2015 through 18 Jun 2015

Morgan’s pinboard for 20 Dec 2014 through 26 Dec 2014

on pinboard for July 29th, 2014 through July 30th, 2014

bookmarks for February 6th, 2011

bookmarks for October 4th, 2010 through October 6th, 2010

some notes on using the iPhone as a notes reader that ends in paper inertia

What I’d like to do

Make docs and some images available from a desktop and laptop to iPhone for reference and for use in classes. These are mainly rtf notes, but I’d also like to access to pdfs for articles.

I keep my course and research notes in DevonThink. They get into DT in a number of different ways, but I work on them mainly in DT.

Ways to go about it

  • Use an online notetaker like Evernote. Problem: Files aren’t available without network.
  • Use a wiki. Problem: Can be hard to read in a browser, doesn’t handle pdf, and see above.
  • Well, use a wiki and Instapaper. Store the notes on a wiki, then then read it on the phone with Instapaper. Problem: Need to remember to hit the page with Instapaper twice: Once to store the page, and a second time before class to store it on the phone, in case the network goes down.
  • Use a utility to transfer files from desktop to iPhone. Problem: Sometimes the file is on my desktop, sometimes on a laptop. Issue: I’d rather not run Yet Another Client on the desktop to make files available. Using a browser is only slightly less clunky.
  • Print everything out.

I’ve eliminated a few utilities that I’ve tried (DataCase, Air Sharing, NoteBooks), which seems to leave me with two options.

OneDisk. Accesses iDisk files and folders. Needs MobileMe. Clear interface, landscape view. Can email files from the app. No luck reading a Numbers page, but it’s supposed to. The pdf reader is as good as any. Can set bookmarks and create folders.

Briefcase. VPN, I think. Uploads and downloads from phone to computer via Bonjour. No desktop utility needed. Can access any folder on the computer. Interface similar to that of OneDisk. Landscape view. Reads the usual suspects.

In both cases, getting files onto the phone requires some planning – nothing major, but planning akin to – and no less hassle than – printing out the notes. Planning means forgetting.

Using OneDisk, files have to be uploaded to iDisk from the computer, and then downloaded to the phone. Upload times can be a longish for larger documents. Upload now; download later.

With Briefcase, files have to be loaded directly to the phone using the phone near the desktop. Transfer now. Read later.

From a step back, the whole idea of moving notes to the phone for reference in class seems about the same as printing stuff out.

Even worse. The problem isn’t just in transferring stuff but reading it. Unless they are formatted with screen reading in mind, notes are difficult to read on a mobile device. Pdfs are just too difficult to read on a small screen. Pdf is for paper. My best luck so far has been with some rtfs – using 14 pt Helvetica, which is what I use when I print out the notes.

What I need – when going from desktop to phone top – is an app that will reformat .doc and .rtf files for reading on the phone.

And that might lead back to Instapaper. It’s the formatting and the local storage that help.

Then there’s the consideration of going the other way: from the phone to the desktop.

Makes me want to just make a paper notebook (video) -but my handwriting is unreadable and, well … Paper, that just defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it.

Any other ideas?

Other links


wikis in the classroom: technique

On a long roundabout tour (reading up on using twitter, originally) I bumped into a teaching technique by Jason B Jones on The Salt-Box :: Wikified class notes.

Class notes themselves are epistemologically weird. Usually, we think of notes as private, but if they’re *too* idiosyncratic, they might not be very accurate, or very useful later in the semester. What would be useful is a set of canonical class notes: This is what we agree happened on this day in class.

I’ve had good results with a similar exercise in College Writing II, having groups of students develop definitions, as well as locate and create examples of rhetorical appeals. My exercises aren’t as neatly structured as Jones’s, but I’m in class while the students are working to oversee how they are doing and provide some scaffolding.

As Jones finds, the first results are pretty cutandpaste: copy from the book and paste it in. It takes some time for students to move past the found object, processed information and more towards their own developing understanding. Over a few weeks, however, they begin to see the wiki – and the web and the book – less as a repository and more as elements in their writing space.

I’m not sure what drives this change, however: what moves students past recitation and towards consideration. What’s interesting is that we can see it happen on the wiki by paging through the revisions and refactoring.