If you thought Mike Caulfield was excited for months about Smallest Federated Wiki, you should read what he thinks after bring a great group of folks to his FedWikiHappening… over the Christmas holiday.

And while my Kool-Aid consumption is at a positively high level, I am not quite there to Mike’s. But as they overly say, there is something there there about the Smallest Federated Wiki.

A lot of folks rightfully are trying to figure out what to do with the thing. Is it a tool for courses? How do we collaborate there? What about attribution? Is it better to have it or not? It’s hard to know who did what when? How will it scale? How do we onboard new people better?

Jon Udell has (as usual) been burrowing into a level of insight I appreciate, like wondering about Individual voices in the Federated Wiki chorus. Maha Bali makes a historical and compelling case for the voices for information and who gets heard. It gets to a whole different philosophical plane of what really is truth.

Most of our intuition for wiki-style collaboration, or for that matter, even Google-Doc style, is one or more or many contributors working toward a single consensus document. For a metaphor, it’s like the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in California, two river systems, and all their tributaries converge into one that ultimately reaches the sea.

Wikimedia Commons cc licensed image

Wikimedia Commons cc licensed image

The Smallest Federated Wiki ends up being more like other delta systems that are divergent

though in its non-hydraulic behavior, the smallest federated wiki branches loop back on itself, at all levels, and many of its arms never come close to reaching the sea.

And now my metaphor makes a mess allover the flow. But I see the familiar wiki mode as encourages convergence, where Smallest Federated wiki seems to encourage some sort of divergent semi-convergence.

It will confound most people. The FedWikiHappening gathered some really smart and web experienced people who mostly (I guess) have gone through some sort of mind-altering experience trying to find their way through it.

My paddling about has been some of the note card keeping of stuff I came across, and drew upon things from online articles/blog posts, to podcasts, to print magazines, even to a conversation with my cousin while we were walking. I then diverged and started some note keeping on ideas generated by a novel I am reading. A central character in the book is a 104 year old feminist radical Buddhist nun, but nearly all of her wisdom is dispensed with a lot of dualism. Things are not this or that, they are this and that, sort of stuff.

I’m considering SFW in that vein, that it might be convergent and divergent, attribution oriented and author-less.

So it’s likely not for everyone, those who look for scale and growth. It’s no magic pill, red or blue. (Both pill sare purple!). And to me that matters little to none.

I do not always seek the application of tools from the outside. Often it emerges down the line, or not at all. Maybe a year for now, I will have that need, and I can draw back (or more likely search my own blog) for my thoughts on Smallest Federated Wiki.

What it did do was right in Mike’s concept of a “happening”. Long ago, when I was just a pup of an educational technologist, I was given the responsibility of organizing a large event. I was literally a wreck, with a stomach turning worry about what 200 people would think of me if the event was a dud o dull or if the projectors did not work. A wise mentor at the time told me that all I needed to worry about was creating a good enough reason for bringing together the right group of people, and once they were in the room, things would happen. He was right.

And that’s what Mike did deftly in shepherding these two weeks together, and now letting loose a convergent/divergent plan for what’s next.

A good example is in the flow of what happened (right most pane) to create a collection of SFW related blog posts – the entire history is in a long URL. The URL becomes more of just a unique address like a set of numbers on the house, but actually a visible history of every family that ever lived at that location.

It started from an 8 word post by Maha with a link to her own SFW related blog posts, and morphed into a broader collection of other blog post links, plus an interesting suggestion in the commentary on how to deal with keeping the content “authoritative” (or converged). The possibilities is that some wiki keeper manages that, or non one does, or… dualistically, both, and see what emerges:

Don’t nominate an authoritative copy, but follow one that emerges

Are you walking upside down on the ceiling yet, blindfolded, and dizzy?

Jon Udell comes in again with a provocative idea on how to use all of the forking and splitting and twirling; showing how the various versions can be converged or diverged or spread out like a messy river system on a browser map.

I would love to help build tools that mine FedWiki’s latent ability to support the teaching and learning of prose composition. And I would equally love using those tools to facilitate that teaching and learning.

The idea I’ve had bubbling but never sat down (yet) to start thinking, because I’m usually thinking about storymaking, is a system to build out frameworks for assembling stories from parts. A typical activity (and it was started in FedWikiHappening) is the thing where someone starts a story, and others keep adding on to it. These usually peter out, its kind of fun, but it usually (IMHO) falls flat because there’s no destination or structure to shape the story. It just flops around from paragraph to paragraph unless someone gives it a good kick.

I’m thinking a FedWiki where there is a set of guidelines/suggestions for building a collection of character profiles, maybe responses to questions we used on an old Hero’s Journey site. People could create one card per character, fork as needed. Then there would one cards to create places where a story would take place. Include images, etc. And then more sets of cards to fill out the steps of a Story Spine.

So there could be this whole ecosystem of story elements, and then you drag and drop them to a Fed Wiki page to put them in some kind of outline, then the details could be written in as new text. Or people could fork each other’s outlines.

This is all hypothetical. I’m just talking out of the side of my wiki.

"The Church of Facebook blog" which google thinks is a cc licensed image but that blog author has not indicated any source. Who knows?

“The Church of Facebook blog” which google thinks is a cc licensed image but that blog author has not indicated any source. Who knows?

While walking upside down.

Om the ceiling,


If this kind of stuff has value, please support me by tossing a one time PayPal kibble or monthly on Patreon
Become a patron at Patreon!
Profile Picture for CogDog The Blog
An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Love this post, Alan, in how you chose to reflect on the happening as a whole, your choice of words and examples, and also the story/characters idea – i’d love to try that.
    I agree it has been a mind-altering or at least, mind-stretching, mind-challenging experience one. And i sense the compulsion to keep playing to get more of that (is it an addiction?) and at the same time draw more people into it to explore possibilities. It has been such a cool 2 weeks to Kickstart what can be an amazing longer term thing. We’ll see

  2. I’m trying to read the SFW event backwards from this New Year’s Day posting with links back into the Matrix. It’s pretty funny but oddly compelling–like watching Memento for the first time before you know exactly how crazy the guy really is. For a while, you think you know who murdered the wife, but the clues are coming at you in reverse chrono, and you’re left saying, “I need to see that again.”

    For my first immersive read of 2015, I feel delightfully bedazzled–an aesthetic experience similar to photographing a chaos of willow branches.

  3. You are blogging up a storm these days, Alan — I’m loving it, and this is a great post. I love the metaphors you’ve used for what was a pretty mind-blowing experience all-around. Mike warned that FedWiki would be “hard to learn but easy to use”. As I just wrote in my own FedWiki blog post, I didn’t quite get to the easy to use part 😉 but I learned so much and sparks flew in many ways. Thanks to you and Maha and Kate and Frances and Mike and Ward… and everyone whose ideas and openness made it a true Happening. Onward 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *