Tag Archives: personal wiki

from personal wiki to open text and how to get there

In the background, off line, on an iPad, I’ve been experimenting with a personal wiki (Trunk, excellent app, more later). What I wanted was a souped up wikified version of a Moleskine, a notebook – or legendary notebook – that I can’t use because my handwriting has become illegible, even to me. So, I ran an online personal wiki a few years ago, but abandoned it after a few months: having to be on line (which then meant ethernet and sometimes wifi) restricted its use. Next I ran one on a laptop. Better, but still not as convenient as paper (heavy laptop), and I had issues with figuring out where this project fit into my work, and figuring out how to move stuff from the wiki (webs) to other media (not webs).

Then the iPhone 3G came out, with apps, and Matthew Kennard released Trunk Notes: a tidy, elegant little wiki app that worked like a proper wiki: WikiWords, easy markup, categories, tags, links, embedded images … Perfect as a wiki, but only as large as the iPhone screen, and restricted by the iPhone’s lack of multitasking. Still, I kept sporadic non-legendary moleskine-y entries for a year and a half or so – maybe once or twice a week.

Then the iPad arrived, and a couple months later Kennard released Trunk Notes for the iPad. That release cracked it. While the iPad doesn’t have multitasking, the size of the device made a difference in how frequently I turned to the wiki (over other kinds of notes) and how I composed on the wiki. The iPad is not quite as portable as the phone, but that was the difference: A wiki, unlike microblogging or todoing, is for more mediated, considered composition: collocation, analysis, creating patterns, exposition, linking, threading … A first draft of a wiki page is as brisk as any, but revising and, more importantly, refactoring are times to consider content and options and strategies; to enrich, cross-link … You get the idea. The larger device of the iPad prompts this kind of approach. You have to sit down, open the case, maybe even dig out a keyboard – slow down and commit yourself for a while.

So  I exported the wiki file I had been keeping for a year from my iPhone, imported it to my iPad, and became a happy camper. Even bought a DODOCase, which disguises the iPad as a Moleskine. Now I could sit in a dim corner at the coffee shop and look legendary. But I romanticize ….

Which gets me to my topic: the personal wiki as commonplace book, sharing, and produsage (Bruns)

What I’m experimenting with now is a personal wiki notebook in the manner of a commonplace book: that personal collection of stuff, in the manner of Lila or commonplaces. WikiWords, I have argued elsewhere, are topics – and topics are titles for commonplaces under development. So, the idea is to put together a collection of topics that become, over time, linked. Not cards that are categorized (in this it differs from Lila) or pages that are dated (in this it differs from a journal), but something else. Developed differently than paper. Indexed differently than paper. Searches, tags, categories, images, internal and external links. Used differently, too. Rather than going back to the commonplace book to mine it for … uh … commonplaces, I would return to the wiki to develop matters further. As I did, it would become more of a personal knowledge space – project oriented on one hand, broader based on the other.

Private rather than posted – at least initially – and relatively portable.

See this for instance: Steven Johnson on open acces

Each rereading of the commonplace book becomes a new kind of revelation. You see the evolutionary paths of all your past hunches: the ones that turned out to be red herrings; the ones that turned out to be too obvious to write; even the ones that turned into entire books. But each encounter holds the promise that some long-forgotten hunch will connect in a new way with some emerging obsession.”

So far so good. Getting stuff into the traditional commonplace book means copying it by hand or literally copying and pasting from a source (Xerox, ok?). The labor of copying by hand is typically justified by suggesting that we read the passage closely when we copy, but options have multiplied. We don’t have to copy by hand, and we can include modes and media other than text in commonplace books – and we can still read closely. While Johnson above pays special attention to apps that prevent readers from copying text for their own use (Kindle and iBooks, as of this writing) that is more an annoyance than a deal breaker. (Take a screenshot and wait until the white hats hack that limitation.)

The real issue comes to the surface when we are restricted in circulating our re-combined texts by paywalls or other restrictions.

WHEN TEXT IS free to combine in new, surprising ways, new forms of value are created. Value for consumers searching for information, value for advertisers trying to share their messages with consumers searching for related topics, value for content creators who want an audience. And of course, value to the entity that serves as the middleman between all those different groups. This is in part what Jeff Jarvis has called the “link economy,” but as Jarvis has himself observed, it is not just a matter of links. What is crucial to this system is that text can be easily moved and re-contextualized and analyzed, sometimes by humans and sometimes by machines.

[As a corellary, apps and sites that encourage and enable commonplaces to circulate are valuable – sites such as delicious.com, apps that facilitate sending links via Twitter or even email.]

If I can get past the technical copying bottleneck (and I can), I can get the stuff into my personal private wiki to link and develop as I wish. But those who want to participate publicly as producers, share the links, be part of the link economy – students, scholars, writers, amateurs, kids – are restricted by legal means. I’m not talking about republishing entire chapters or texts; I’m talking selecting chunks of stuff, some in the public domain, some in copyright, and using those chunks under fair use as part of a larger web. Republishing the text in its entirety doesn’t add value: selecting and linking does. Generally, this hasn’t been too much of a problem. Content writers post to the net with the knowledge that stuff will be extracted and linked to. But it’s becoming more of a problem with the DMCA, greed, control, Disney, Murdoch, paywalls. See James Boyle, The Public Domain (Yale UP, but also free to download or read online) for that one.

But here’s a final twist. Turn to Christopher Leary on patchwriting (pdf) in his chapter of Writing Spaces, Vol 1:

Rebecca Moore Howard defines “patchwriting” as a method of com- posing in which writers take the words of other authors and patch them together with few or no changes (233).* Although associated with plagiarism, it is an extremely useful writing strategy with a very long and noble tradition, and I hope that, by the end of this essay, you will be convinced that the opportunities (great writing) far outweigh the risks (accusations of dishonesty).

Christopher’s process is that of the 19th century: hand copying from his own collection of texts.

During one notable phase of this period, I went one-by-one through each of my books, copying out short sentences until I had three or four pages worth of lines. Since the books were from different countries, times, genres, and personalities, I anticipated a sharp contrast in styles. “If I put tens of sentences from different times and eras and places all on the same page,” my thinking went, “I’ll be able to witness these eras bumping up against each other and rubbing elbows.” In much the same way I find it interesting to view, say, automobiles from different times and places all in the same room.

Here’s his initial gain for participating in the linked economy as a producer.

Much to my surprise, the lines that I had copied from the books in my bookshelf started to take a shape resembling the shape of a poem. And out of the original mess of lines, a scenario or situation—if not a story—started to emerge. (If you are getting visions of Ouija boards, I don’t blame you.)

The poem created like this – found poetry – is hardly brilliant, but that’s not the point. It’s a matter of what happens when you take your gains public, offer the patchwork to others for further consideration and possible development.  For Leary, the issue enters when he considers publishing the patches. It comes in the form of authorship rather than copyright – as the texts were in the public domain.

This odd project got stickier when I decided I wanted to submit a few of the “poems” to my school’s literary magazine, Downtown Brooklyn. I was held back by a concern and a strong feeling of guilt about authorship. I had to really wrestle with the question, “Am I the author of these texts?” When I got to the stage where I wanted to submit them as my own and put my name as the author, something felt very wrong and even dastardly. It didn’t strike me as at all appropriate to put my own name as the author because I could not have written them “from scratch,” by any means. The phrasings and language outstrip my capabilities.

It’s not too far of a leap to produsage, which is what’s going on here. Leary’s struggle is easy to get past if we set aside the romantic notion that the individual inspired author imbues the content with value. When copyrights, publishers, and app developers restrict the use of mere snippets of work, they restrict the  consumer’s capability to become a producer, to shift from reader to writer. And I’m beginning to see that the justification of that restriction comes from the same source as the romantic notion of the inspired author: a work is valuable because it comes by special, magic means, not mundane selecting and arranging. Restriction like this is inspiration commodified. We’re going to have to get past this if we’re going to shift to open texts and open education. It’s the move from a personal wiki space to a public one.

Leary articulates the restriction in his ethical concern for claimed authorship – and resolves it in his chapter for Writing Spaces. Charlie Lowe explains it at writingspaces.org. The Writing Spaces text – including Leary’s chapter – is available in print for dollars, and it’s also free to download, use, teach with, learn from, and further circulate online and off.

I like the book. I like the chapter. I’m convinced that “the opportunities … far outweigh the risks….”  And Trunk, I really like using Trunk Notes,