Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Negative Results Part II: Owning your misconceptions

I had a nice long chat with my partner in crime on the KnowWiki, where we looked at the answers to the Ten Questions, and dissected what's happened since then.

One thing you might have noticed right off is that we didn't answer "what problem are you trying to solve".  Part of the reason was that I was only working with ten questions at the time. I didn't add the "plus one" until later.

The other part was that to us, it was obvious. The really cool stuff we were putting online wasn't being used or even found by people looking for it.  That was a bug in the software we were using at the time.  I wrote about our Evil Plans before: I wanted online collections to live, and Joy wanted the collections to be a part of the Semantic Web.

What I found out over time was that if someone didn't care if their material was accessible online, it wouldn't matter if it was or not. If they did care, they weren't going to tell us about it.  They'd share it with their own monkey-sphere and leave it at that.  Not everybody wants to be a wiki editor - or any kind of system editor, for that matter.

What Joy found was that the Semantic Web was happening in an unanticipated way, like most things do.  With the normalization of hashtags as the world's informal folksonomy, material we had available was becoming part of a semantic web-like thing, independent of any metadata that we'd entered.

We'd both fallen for the hasty generalization or unrepresentative generalization: if we thought it was cool for these specific reasons, so would others. And, it followed that of course other people would do what we thought they'd do.

That turned out not to be the case.  But if nothing else, doing something was better than doing nothing.

So we did something, and it turned out pretty cool, if not in the ways we expected.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

I've caught the car. Now what? BRQ part II

I've been asked how to go about "teaching" the Questions.  The short answer is that I'm not sure.  The longer answer has me channeling my grandmother when I asked her how to season my first new cast-iron skillet: "Put food in it and cook it".  In other words, act normally.  Do what you've done before except with this new thing.

Of course it's not quite that simple.  I fried a lot of chorizo and eggs in my skillet before trying more complex dishes involving potatoes and onions and peppers (acidic stuff).  I did try "traditional" seasoning on the next pan and I couldn't discern any difference between the two after a while.

As for the Questions, I haven't "taught" them to enough people to say "This Is How It's Done."  How I lived it was by having them close by when I needed to tackle something.  I wrote about some of that in "Shut Up".

The original set of questions (I think there were seven) grew out of a need to assist people in setting up intranet sites on SharePoint.  After a year of missteps, I finally drew up a document of what a site needed to have in order to be useful: group sites had a list of members, a calendar of their meetings, and document libraries for agendas and minutes.  Project sites had announcement lists for milestones, lists of stakeholders, etc.

Common to all sites were the Operational Questions, which boiled down to, "who is going to feed this kitten and clean the litter box?"  Once I got answers back on who was doing what and where and when, I was able to organize a new site without a lot of difficulty or confusion.  The only problems that came up after that had to do with personnel changes that come naturally with turnover.  Eventually people learned to ask for a specific kind of site and do the organizing and training themselves.

The Directional Questions started making sense to me in the context of Digital collections and what was big at the time, electronic Institutional Repositories.  Repositories were to be static collections of digitized works: theses, dissertations, articles, visual performances, music.  Nothing would be expected of the user except to consume it somehow.  Having met the Internet, I didn't think that would fly for very long, and in fact it's had a mixed record.

Having people use them hasn't been easy, even sometimes for me.  They can be too broad if you're just trying to tackle something simple

If you want to "teach" or "live" the questions, I'd say print out the Official Doc on that other tab up there and keep it handy.  The Big Red Question might be the one you use the most often, and it's most useful when you make it a habit of your own.

If you find yourself with a pile of problems to solve, the Directional Questions can help you winnow them down or at least categorize them.

Once you have your priorities set, you can start in on the Operational Questions if you're starting a new site or service.  They're also useful if you have an orphaned site or service.  That is, if you haven't already killed it off with the BRQ or the Directional Questions.

TL;DR - Those who can, do & teach.