In a recent journal update, @chinarut brought up a subject he and I have been discussing in various places for many months now: collaborative digital gardening. There seem to be many different tools, platforms, and other kinds of “threads” converging in this direction lately, from Roam “multiplayer” to concepts of cross-Discourse discussion, to revivals of the original ideas of the “bi-directional web”. And yet… I’m not aware of any really good tools one can experiment with today to explore this space. A forum isn’t really the right structure, and most community platforms are oriented either around forum-like topic-based conversations, and/or fairly silo’d individual spaces (like individual “pages” or “blogs”, etc.). Surely we wouldn’t call Facebook a “collaborative digital garden”, so what does that look like? What exactly defines it?
I’ll start a working definition and hopefully others can elaborate.
Multi-user, free to register
Each user gets their own “space”
A “space” lets each person generate as much content as they want, and affords some amount of control of structure within that space
Content between spaces can be interconnected, with basic links and backlinks, but also quotes, or even transclusion
Users can choose to invite others to contribute to and collaborate in some parts of their garden, either individual topics/articles/posts, or perhaps whole tags/categories of posts, or the entire garden
Users own their data and are able to take their [always evolving] conversations with them as they wander from space to space. People in the space are clear how they might contribute and the “wanderer” can see opportunities to contribute to the space they are in.
At the same time, there is a sense of a “commons”, a “shared space in between” (dancers call this “negative space”) - the space of exploration (and emergence) between two people (and eventually communities). This “data store” is distinct and has different behavior. One need to step away from the notion of “property” and “ownership” to implement this correctly.
Actionable discussions, intention and needs clarification, structures for accountability (for those interested) and linking of desired outcomes (at differing levels of abstraction). Balanced with informal, spontaneous, exploratory, water cooler conversation (that feels meaningful)
OK, that’s a pretty basic conceptual outline. I’m sure we can define that more in time. And I hope as well that people can contribute any knowledge they have of existing tools, platforms, communities, or other efforts towards achieving these kinds of goals.
thank you so much for promoting this conversation and taking us out of the forest!
yes! and an important aspect of this is data ownership. That an ideal scenario is as you wander around the net, you take your conversations with you and get to a place where the conversations you have in the communities you are most active in begin to interact with spaces around the net (in different ways)
For this to really work, another aspect from data ownership related ot the idea of a Personal Data Locker (borrowed from a book called Pull by David Siegel (my review)) - in the way, even if spaces shut down, you don’t feel a part of your “second brain” got lobotomized (believe me, i know how this feels, it’s happened to me multiple times it’s horrible esp if they are growth community forums and/or forums built by the author around self-help books that go down)
there is a subtlety here in that there also needs to be “space in between” - so there are conversations that are neither in my space nor your space and the space of the emergent.
the tricky thing here is the system must track this data as both as your personal data and my personal data. in other words, just because you decide to “delete” this conversation (or archive) it doesn’t mean it should disappear on my end (unless I decide to archive it too)
As I eluded to above - the way systems work today, say if this digital garden were no longer hosted (knock on wood :), I would lose a reference to this valuable content I feel is at the forefront of the mutliplayer discussion! Just because a conversation no longer has value in one space doesn’t mean it is not valuable somewhere else.
Finding ways to prevent his from happening is key!
Thank you again for keeping this conversation alive!
Hmm, yes! That’s quite a good, unique, but challenging concept. It strikes me that there are several aspects to this and many of these considerations.
There is the private collection/maintenance of data, which could be handled in a number of ways and is, I think, currently more of the agency that each person has (e.g. you can use various web markup tools, bookmark managers, etc. to save and comment on aspects of the web privately, including your own contributions).
And then there is the public viewing of and perhaps comment on/contribution to/even editing of the “conversation”, each person’s contribution, etc. I think part of what is hard for me to get my head around here is we have yet to actually have any system (that I know of) that really enables or embodies this separation of content from “platform” and “host”. In other words the WWW as we have come to know it is essentially a series of islands connected together. Each "island’ is a host, with some specific content on it. We don’t really have a strong representation of data portability, etc. except in extremely rudimentary and very manual ways. Even today’s modern note-taking interop renaissance, driven largely by markdown, is very simplistic in its ultimate utility (though extremely valuable nonetheless).
Anyway I could easily get into the weeds here, but I mainly mean to say that these are big concepts that are touching on a need to fundamentally transform “the web”. Which “Web 3.0” projects are of course working on.
I suppose what I would say at this point is that it may make sense to try to define an overall “ideal set of features”, but then go through and define what is really possible now, or in the short-term. What can we do with existing tools, or tools that we augment a bit for our needs? What can we do with Discourse vs. Roam, vs. Rizzoma, etc? And then, building on that, what tool or platform or format seems most promising for creating the next level(s) of desired capability.
Interestingly some of these things are in the minds of the developers of Anytype. If you watch co-founder Zhanna’s IPFS talks, or some of the early Anytype presentations, you can see their lofty ambitions.
Yeah, this is a huge challenge in trying to make all this work. I know the Anytype team is thinking hard about how to make it all work. It is interesting, too, because it sort of butts up against some other very strongly held ideals for them and many others working in this space, which is privacy. Is it a privacy issue if you do not allow someone to “erase themselves from the Internet”? Whose rights prevail when one person wants to disappear, and another person who interacted with them wants those interactions to be preserved for their own use?
In a more manual world like we’re in now, the 2nd person would simply make their own offline copy to preserve, rights are not so restricted or enforced in good part because we have no systems to make that truly possible. For example let’s say someone posts to a web forum for a while, then decides to exercise their GDPR rights and have that forum erase their interactions. Their posts might completely disappear, but someone who had a good backup strategy may have decided to copy the text of all that person’s posts (along with many others, perhaps), and so, despite their desires, their data would not disappear from the world.
But then we come to the related but separate topic of platforms and company ownership, where things feel different and perhaps more clear. If something is simply “no longer hosted”, perhaps because the company no longer exists, that suggests to me that it should and could reasonably be “mirrored” by someone. I suppose that might stem from my own ideology that does not hold corporations as equal to people. So the company to my mind cannot reasonably exercise a “desire” to destroy data after it is gone.
Anyway, clearly this starts to get very philosophical and “meta” very fast, and I don’t want to get “into the weeds”. To refocus, I suggest again that we try to define the major features/capabilities we hope to have in the system that would facilitate our ideal collaborative digital gardening efforts, regardless of politics, or technical limitations. Then we can work backwards to determine what is feasible now, and how we get to that ideal, what hurdles are in the way, what is worth trying to address now vs. later, and who is already working on these problems. Some of the points you have brought up here could certainly be useful additions to the list above that I started.
By the way I’ve made my original post above into a Wiki. Feel free to edit it to add whatever you like (if it seems useful; replying is still great too).
I’ll end just by saying that I don’t think we should let our desire for better tools and defining the ideal entirely distract us from an exploration of what tools already exist. I would be interested in a brief rundown of existing efforts in this area, especially the ones that seem more successful (or to be heading in that direction, e.g. Roam), rather than in decline (e.g Rizzoma, not to fault your invite there, I just feel it’s not a platform with a future at the moment).
best birthday present ever! I love it you hear me on two major fronts of collaboration
I took up your offer on this front and added 2 bullets. I love we are executing on what we feel possible here - that the discussion below the “wiki content” can be a form of “creative direction” and loop back into the source as we refine and distill our thoughts)
I feel I’m knee deep in surgery trying to get my portfolio rebooted (I don’t think this is a tangent as I feel you have in some sense, executed on a vision we all have a “collaborative, living portfolio” that looks presentable and easily skinned [and visitors can clearly see the changes I made - yeay! ] which is super inspiring!) [OMG - my brain is firing on all fronts imagine what it might be like if this wiki/thread object was concurrently part of your collaborative digital garden and “mine” - this is exactly the use case I would love Discourse to consider as this discussion is living proof of its value being in two places at once possibly with a rudimentary sync mechanism for proof of concept? I gotta get my local instance up ASAP!] [i feel like the top post is persistent across instances and discussion is “flavored” by the context of the instance/community itself (and it would be interesting to inquire into how conversations overlap but this is an advanced use case!)]
I also want to give you props up for mentioning platforms like Solid (I will have to watch the IPFS talk later). I am so happy you’ve kept up with open source efforts on this front - makes me feel so not alone on my birthday and it that it would be okay if I did nothing today cuz I can give up trying to be Atlas
In an attempt to bring colleagues together this past week around socio-economic transformation, it came to my attention how important it is to stop and get clear on intentions and needs amongst all those involved (in fact, @Oshyan, you were great to point this out in regards to community development in the Roam community thus a common thread!)
While sorting out my own needs and intentions (and listening for the needs of others), it became very apparent to me for multiplayer to work, intentions and needs assessment must arise/emerge in the conversation to have traction (this happens to be independent of technology!)
Added a bullet above to help capture our thoughts around this component that is more centered around best practices around program/community management and borrow from the “art of gathering” (a book I’ve previewed and wish to dive into further!)
I’ve pointed a few colleagues to this thread and look forward to discovering how to best include others in this space (as in a typical Discourse, people would just register and comment. We have the added complexity of “gardening” and moderating wiki-like content & discussions in an attempt to move in what I assume is an open medium akin to Wikipedia without the strict editorial guidelines - articulating this difference and why it is important sounds like a possible new topic)
EDIT: I want to include in this crucible of a conversation your mention to Solid, an open source web standard that claims to implement the “personal data locker” idea (mentioned above). I am happy they have a focus on interoperability which is a key component to a future where we jump between different user interfaces to look at data in differing ways. We no longer experience data feeling “locked” to a platform (even if you export, there is still inherent loss of data captured in how the data was laid out in the UI itself, see how data is not the data format by Rudd Hein). I shared my personal story around lock-in in my digital garden here. I really look forward to seeing how such standards might enable a discussion like this one to live across platforms and live the test of time
Cool! I’m glad you stepped into the Wiki waters. Oh and happy birthday!
That’s certainly the dream! Sadly Discourse is first and foremost a business, and I don’t think they see the business case for the kind of interop and distributed/interlinked content we’re talking about. That said Discourse is open source, so come to think of it, if some enthusiastic volunteer developers wanted to hack on it to make some of this work, it’s certainly possible…
I definitely don’t want to fall into treating Discourse like the hammer for every pointy bit that joins two other things together. It works well for my original purposes here, and as a conversation platform it clearly has potential for what we’re envisioning too. Yet it might not be the thing. I remain open and interested to that possibility, and will continue taking small steps to push these ideas within the Discourse org on their “Meta” forums. Next up: Roam-style [[ ]] bracket linking in-line! For more on the current state of things and the perspective of the Discourse team, you can read a bit here:
Anyone is welcome to join us here! In fact, if we get enough interest, I’ll happily make a whole new category just to hold all this discussion. That said, I also don’t want to “own” the conversation (in the literal data sense), nor do I want it inextricably linked with me and the obviously very “me space” this is (at the moment, anyway ).
So what I’d say is I am glad to host more open discussion here if that is desired, or simply easiest for now, however if there is a better place where such things are already discussed in the general sense (not e.g. “how to digital garden on Roam” but “how to digital garden at all” and especially “how to digital garden with others”), then I suggest we seek out that place and move there. Alternatively, if it feels like there is enough momentum and interest, we could create a space for this, though I would want to do a good search of existing options beforehand so that we don’t fragment such efforts and interest.
That said, I don’t have time to really dig into understanding the existing digital garden landscape in more detail (and especially as it pertains to “multiplayer”) for the next couple months while I finish up a work contract. I am happy to contribute bits and pieces, but original research on my part will have to be more minor.
I am happy to host people here until/unless we figure out something better. The one thing that can be relied on is the data is “portable” in so far as it is recorded in Markdown and can be copied out that way at any time, although it would be a little bit of a manual process (I’ve also just indicated my support on Discourse Meta for a more proper “export to markdown” option, but it seems unlikely for now).
If you do as I did for Discourse and ignore how it self-describes, Mastodon might also be of interest:
It calls itself a “social network”, but if we forget the current connotations of that and think instead of the literal meaning of the words, maybe there is potential there in what they’re trying to do (I don’t know, I haven’t tried the platform yet).