[okfn-discuss] Collaborative Development of Data

John Bywater john.bywater at appropriatesoftwarefoundation.org
Mon Feb 19 22:35:45 UTC 2007

I thought wikis marked a movement away from support for (and I suspect 
belief in) the opposition between structured and unstructured 
information, and to support for semi-structured text. In other words, 
thought moved on from so-called thinking down vertical lines (the figure 
of the data worker entering data into a database, the binary machine 
that structures data by pushing it down, perhaps management as such), to 
thinking around horizontal lines (the circulations of meaning between 
brains, the rhizosphere as such).

I feel the thing not to be missed is that we address a production 
process that is domainated by a continuous renaming of things (along 
with the naming of new things), subjecting beings to "a community of 
naming events" (as Negri calls it). So we move from the unamed, through 
the poorly named, to the better named. Production (and thought) isn't to 
be found where everything has already been assigned a proper name. But 
that's just a dream: as names also constitute beings, and can themselves 
be named, the possibilities for naming things multiply as we proceed.

That's why wikis were aimed at supporting semi-structured data, so 
people can work on renaming things over time (specifically for The 
Portland Pattern Repository, to rename emerging patterns of software 
design). On one hand, having no ability to record denotations prevents 
production; on the other hand having everything structured in a 
traditional way allows little room for development (and provides little 
value before being finished). So the problem is how best to support the 
passage collaborative works takes from the unrecorded, through the 
poorly recorded, to the better recorded, and in such a way that the 
emergence of the form of the recordings and of the recorded matter isn't 

The new conception was clearly to place the structuring data (meta data 
for some) inside the consideration regarding data, rather than outside 
it. This directly leads to the innovative wiki feature of citation 
before page creation.

But surely it's just the beginning of a story? A new practice is 
developing, which could perhaps be called Design For Manufacturing and 
Development (following traditional DFMA). Connected to a research group 
I'm involved with, there's a nice paper underway by Ward Cunningham 
taking his considerations forward: "Notes on a framework for the 
specification, collection, interpretation, aggregation and dissemination 
of semi-structured Information."


The thing would seem to be to support flows rather than positions, to 
follow emergence rather than existing structures. Ward didn't put 
versioning in WardsWiki.

Just some quick sketches....

Best wishes,


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