Collaboration, wikis, open source and more

A lot of the conversation at todays “cafe” was centred around wikis. Rachel from the Grad Centre attended for a while and we hopefully gave her some ideas as to why and how it might be a good idea to investigate using a wiki as the repository for their operational procedures. She’s looking to rewrite them all and it would appear a good project for collaborative authoring.

She particularly liked this diagram from NASA, which circulated again today in a post

… I think as a diagram it so graphically shows why email is NOT a collaboration tool (as if any of us ever did); but the post quite thoughtfully suggests that the problem in getting wikis established in the enterprise might more be to do with the perception that a wiki is a website (with all that carries with it in terms of governance). If it could be positioned as a service that augments an email system it might appeal more to corporates because that would place it nearer their comfort zone. Of course as many at the “cafe” said, the diagram to the left is a simplification of reality, and if you add cc’d and even bcc’d users, and users the document might be forwarded to, then the possibility of a cohesive and meanigful collaboration is distant indeed.

Anyway, it caused some mirth, some consideration and hopefully provided some assistance for Rachel.

Prior to that we’d been discussing software that allowed collaborative authoring in meetings, or learning sessions. Joe Nicholls had been experimenting with whilst Mike Johnson had been doing likewise with They appear to be identical and appear to be a product of Google wave activity. Worth a look and full revision history is provided through URLs.

Mike was also keen to talk about dialogue; how you engage with students, encourage them to participate and he spoke to me about a number of themes which I’d be hugely grateful if he’d expand as a comment to this post … please Mike! He also introduced discussion on motivation and reward for encouraging participation in group activity. He’d considered chocolate; he’d heard about virtual stars added to avatars; what can you do to recognise “good behaviour”?

The next issue was how you handle the disappearance of an externally hosted service (such as that you might have “recommended” to staff or students. Can you wash your hands once you’ve given an introductory task – hopefully making them aware of what they should be doing at the same time as using the service to protect their information, or do you have a responsibility to be pro-active once you’ve given some advice. We didn’t achieve consensus on that one but agreed that education and training was vital – new literacies indeed; and that we did have a responsibility to alert when we became aware of a failed service – beyond that some disagreement. Should we indeed be pro-active at all, offering to find solutions and alternatives, for instance?

Finally, there was some discussion on the emergence of open source as a more plausible alternative to commercial offerings. Yes, we do use a lot of open source, but mainly in the back office and not visible to users. Would we want to replace our VLE software, or our collaboration suite with open source offerings? What would the issues be in moving in that direction? What is the support model that would be required? We ran out of time and agreed that it would be a good topic for a chat at a later “event”.

Polling for dates in December

A few people have expressed the view that a Friday is not the best day of the week to hold “the cafe”. So I’m polling to see which day would be best for you. We may not be able to change it for December, but it will guide planning for events next year.

So if you could go to:

and respond with what days are best for you; that would be a help

Topics for discussion on Friday the 5th November

Just to give you a flavour of things zinging round my mind at the moment that I want to chat about with others coming to the Grad Centre on Friday are …

1) What do we feel about open source software; is this something we should be embracing, encouraging, supporting, developing?

2) What about services that we encourage users to adopt, ie – it’s been taken over by Facebook and the service closed down. Is this an argument for not using such services? How do we provide “support” for such “services”? What should be our reaction when such a “service” disappears?

3) Video services – I’ve come across VLC which is an open-source multimedia framework, player and server – it looks rather interesting. I think we ought to have a debate whether it should be something we would want to investigate.

Those are just three conversations I’d be interested in having with anyone joining me and having a cup of coffee – I won’t be paying for it though 🙂

Next event – November 5th; no gunpowder please

We’re meeting again this coming Friday 5th November; again in the Graduate Centre, in the Students Union on Park Place. If you want to drop-in for any length of time between 11:00 and 14:00 you’d be very welcome.

If you want to know more about “thought grazing” go to the “parent site” or drop @thoughtgrazing a tweet.

Let us know you’re coming and use the space below to give an indication of things you’d like to chat about. I’ve added a post below which gives an idea of some topics that might get discussed.

[contact-form 1 “Contact form 1”]

Aggregators, jabber and the connected researcher

Perhaps the most noticeable attendees at the first “event” were the shiny Apple kit that was present. The complete suite from Mac Book Pro, through iPad to iPhone were present and correct, and working effortlessly off the eduroam-enabled WiFi network in the Grad Centre.

Oh! How I love eduroam! What a joy it is to just walk into a WiFi-enabled room, open my laptop (yes I was the one with the MBP) and connect to the network without doing anything. That’s the way wireless networking should be!

The coffee might not have been great (but then I did have the first of the morning – barely waiting for the device to warm up), but the chat and banter was great. I tried to keep a twitter flow running so that those who had indicated that they couldn’t make it would get a feeling for what was going on.

There was quite a focus on social media and “new journalism”. This was not surprising, given Glyn Mottershead was an early arrival. We did have tweets into the event from Anne-Marie Cunningham who shared with me her excitement of 100 hits on a Facebook page from her new first year students without her having referenced it at all.

Viral adoption - first year MEDICs

Then we also had a tweet in from Sarah Nicholas bemoaning the fact that she had been on leave and hadn’t dragged herself in so that she could have chatted about her Connected Researcher Workshop session planned for the New Year.

I’ve been playing around with Yammer again. It’s an interesting tool as you can have “inside the firewall” [corporate-centric] discussions, groups [for tasks/projects and focussed discussion] and communities (which is what I’ve set thoughtgrazing up as) for [discussion that can include external “partners”]. It appears to me to be an ideal “half-way house”, or at least one that allows the social media seed to be sown. I feel much the same about posterous – I may actually use posterous too for “Thought grazing …” as you can post to it using tools that most users are happy with … ie email.

Other than Anne-Marie and Sarah a few other apologies were received – Kelly Page, Mike Johnston, Andrew Frayling, Martin Weller and Stuart Hill – but the rest of us – Joe Nicholls, Paul Hobson, Chris Graves, Simon Wood and Cathie Jackson and me had plenty to talk about.

Of the topics that I picked-up on (I was being acused of being anti-social for trying to tweet/yammer at the same time) I thought one which centred around how we might improve the IM Chat service using XMPP (Jabber) was very interesting. There was animated discussion on aggregators for the iPad with GoodReader getting the vote ahead of instapaper. Of course if you’re looking for x-platform feedly or tumblr (for RSS feeds) and (twitter as a newspaper) might be of interest.

There was also some discussion about the day of the week that we might try and use for the next event.

How’s Wednesday for everybody?