Finish Each Other's Work

Ward Cunningham wrote this brief post that feels like a conversation starter...

Begin Ward's post

I want to describe the secret sauce that made Agile and Wiki work. I drifted into a paragraph that was better at starting a new page than closing the last: Fetish of Wiki. That paragraph will rest here until it finds some friends.

I worked briefly for Microsoft. While there I was asked if there was some way to have the "community" translate their manuals to the language in use where they sold their products. I suggested that there might be, but it would be far easier to just pay translators. I went on to suggest that the best use of community is to accomplish goals that can't be achieved any other way.


Kate Bowles: I'm still thinking about the creative value of unfinishability. Here is a story to go with this thought. There was an art installation in Sydney that consisted of a white room in which a long and wide table was piled high with thousand pieces of white lego. No one seemed to expect it. But people came in from the street, sat down, and started to put pieces together, without a goal or purpose except that it was there and possible. Opposite me, two adult men were sitting in silence, cracking tiny bricks together. After a while they started to talk. It turned out they were father and son. They reminisced about the son's childhood, and their shared relationship with his mother, all the while each making something. When they got up and left, their two small constructions were left on the table. I was the only person who heard the story that went with them. Someone else would have come along later that day or that week and picked up those constructions and reworked them. Now I think maybe this is the nature of the unfinishable work: being a person in a community that knows nothing of each other except that history will look back at us and see that we were all here at this time.

Frances Bell This made me think about two examples of unfinishability. The first related to the unfinishability of software documentation. With mega-dollars, Microsoft might be able to 'complete' documentation and help for products as they launch them but I often think of documentation as a work in progress. I am not sure how this relates to community - are 'users' and 'developers' one or more communities.

Linked to that is the holy grail of crowdsourcing help systems. As I recall, user groups were useful sources of information prior to Open Source, and included in software evaluations published to inform purchasers of software. I was also thinking of another form of crowdsourcing that I read about. Nathan Eagle experimented with compensating users with phone credits in return for contributions of information (health data or translations of mobile phone help). It's difficult to find Txt

Mike Caulfield: I'm thinking on Ward's last sentence -- the best use of a community is not to do things cheaply but to do things that could not otherwise be done.

Having come through xMOOCs it resonates. There was an idea a crowd could do things more cheaply. But they didn't do anything that wouldn't have been possible without the crowd. And that's the bankruptcy of that model in a nutshell.

Ward Continues

Some writers describe writing as their own personal discovery of what their characters will do. If they are good writers then there is surely more to it than that. But still, that is what it feels like to them.

Alan Kay founded the Learning Research Group and set out to tame programming much the way Seymour Papert had at MIT with Logo. Both saw the computer as a medium of expression rather than a solution to a problem. I got that. But neither explained how to work together.

Papert's Logo was simplified to a picture drawing system. Kay's was not so limited. Kay's Smalltalk was innovative in a dozen new dimensions and still had room for ah ha.

Kent Beck and I discovered Agile when we chose to explore Smalltalk together. We groped for ah ha. We found plenty. We also found we could help each other along the way.

I set out to explain this by writing Fetish of Wiki. I hoped to illustrate how wiki could be different than what we see in Fetish of Technology. I got stuck. I left my story undone. Maha and Kate carried it forward illustrating my point by example. I have only to write this epilog. My part of this story is complete.


This page is now forked from a ghost. I barely understand my own language. But the ghost I'm chasing in the maze is the one who worked briefly for Microsoft. Who was it? All I know is that it wasn't me. But was it Ward, Maha, or Frances? -- Kate Bowles

Frances Bell Kate et al - I have tried to recover lost stuff - apologies if I have failed or lost more - I feel like I am doing wiki wearing a blindfold.

Returning to this page, which has a blue halo and seems to be Frances' latest work,* I find that all versions of the page now have restored the paragraph about working briefly for Microsoft to the quote from Ward's post. My question specifically: was this repair done in one place and propagated to the rest magically; or was this manually done to each? -- Kate Bowles *until I click outside the Text Edit box and fork it back to myself.