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Notes from Forum/Wiki working group/charrette

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Todd in Peterborough, NH posting notes from the forum/wiki working group brainstorming session and the subsequent charrette.
The inquiry, in a few words: How should farm hackers structure their online community, it's forum, and its forthcoming wiki? What will be the scope of online discussion (and, by extension, what will be the scope of Farm Hack?)
The thought experiment: The working group decided to approach the inquiry by considering a specific scenario: a new user wants to post information about an existing device. We sketched a flow chart for how that process might look and what structures, processes, protocol, principles, and goals might be implied. I'll attempt to break down into 5 major steps the spaghetti flow chart that was on our easel.
1. A new user registers and logs onto the forum
2. The new user, a designer, posts information about a device s/he developed in the forum.
3. Information in the device posting is discussed in the forum, and undergoes a review and editorial phase
4. An edited, relatively stable version of information about the device is published on the wiki.
5. The wiki entry about the device can be further developed in the pertinent forum threads. Later versions of the entry can be published on wiki as v. 2, v. 3 etc.
Once we started to parse the implications of this seemingly simple process, certain points arose that might not at first be apparent.
1. A new user registers and logs onto the forum. The group generally agreed that this process, at a minimum, should involve posting to an introductions thread with basic profile information and reasons for joining the forum. A welcome by a moderator or other forum contributors would be ideal.
The group also discussed how new users should be required to read and agree to forum terms and conditions. These terms and conditions, which might be called the Farm Hack Constitution, are still open for definition. The process of reading and agreeing to the terms and conditions could be as simple as checking a box in a pop-up window. More active engagement with the Forum's basic princples and goal could be encouraged by requiring new users to post a short response to the forum's principles and goals, e.g. what the might repeal, amend, etc.
2. The new user, a designer, posts information about a device s/he developed in the forum.
The group was in consensus that post headings should be organized primarily by use or application of the device, e.g. soil management, harvest, post-harvest processing, irrigation. These major headings would have sub-headings, for example, soil management could be broken down into weed management, nutrient cycling, etc.
Should this process involve templates that present posters with various fields of information to complete? Or should it be completely free-form? Our working group seemed more inclined towards templates, which we thought would encourage a culture of thoroughness from the get-go. Potential fields for a device entry template include, but are not limited to:
Rating of device completion, i.e. is this process in the conceptual phase, prototype phase, has a model been field-tested?
Basic device description: what do you use it for? What are its applications, known or potential?
A list of device specifications
Manufacturing processes: what can be manufactured as a DIY project? What equipment is needed? What skills? How much time did it take the device designer/builder to create the device? A part list with source information would be ideal.
Budget: this would ideally be an itemized spreadsheet that included both manufacturing, maintenance, and other operational costs.
How do you use it? Adjust it for use? What other equipment do you need to use it, e.g. what HP tractor do you need to pull it?
Links to external documentation and other information pertinent to the device.
CAD and CAM files.
Pictures and video. Perhaps these files would live in a complete gallery where individual pictures that are cross-referenced with other parts in the posting, depending on what they depict (manufacture, use, etc.)
Post content would best be cross-referenced with a variety of appendices that would live in or in connection with the FH forum. Appendices should include a lexicon, so that FH users can develop a commonly understood vocabulary; an index of component sources; a list of materials capabilities; an index of service providers etc. and etc.
3. Information in the device post is discussed in the forum, and undergoes a review and editorial phase.
This phase of the posting still needs to fleshed out, but the working group expressed interest in creating a process whereby information could be vetted for comprehensiveness, and questions and comments could be contributed.
The working group also discussed whether posts should be rated for quality and/or thoroughness, e.g. 1-5 stars.
4. An edited, relatively stable version of information about the device is published on the wiki.
The working group discussed the possibility for the wiki to be a stable resource that interested parties could rely on as reference. The forum would be where ideas would be hashed out and conversation could be conducted.
During the working group’s charrette, the point was raised that if the forum was where content was posted, vetted, and edited, and the wiki was where the results were posted, then said wiki would not in fact fall under the definition of a wiki, since a “traditional’ wiki allows users to change content, and those changes are recorded.
Relegating posting and editing of content to the forum rather than the wiki would present a few issues: (1) who decides when a post is complete enough to upload to the wiki (2) what criteria is used to decide whether a post in complete enough (3) who actually posts to the wiki? A moderator?
5. The wiki entry about the device can be further developed in the pertinent forum threads. Later versions of the entry can be published on wiki as v. 2, v. 3 etc.
Tracking version changes is inherent to the wiki format. With a split forum/wiki system, versions would be recorded in the wiki, but since most creative work would happen in the forum, wiki users would be presented with a cleaner, more polished reference. Disadvantages to the split forum/wiki system include (1) it would be less familiar to users who are accustomed to normal wiki flow (2) it would be more complicated to moderate/administrate.
For Further Consideration
How do other open source communities balance structure and flexibility in their forums and wikis?
Would a split forum/wiki system, where the forum is for the bulk of creative work, and the “wiki” is a more polished reference, be too much work to administrate? If a different division of labor is pursued, how would the forum and wiki interface. What would be their respective roles?
Not a totally complete rendering of the conversation, I’m sure, but hopefully I covered most of the key points.