From Nitpicky to Philosopher’s Wiki

Nitpicking is a hot topic within the Global Circle. At its best it is a valuable exercise of critical thinking skills, and it can often serve to identify weak points in thinking and communicating ideas. Ideas forged by the gauntlet of critical inquiry come out stronger. Nitpicking certainly seems to be good sport!

But nitpicking can easily degenerate into destructive bickering. It is a communication style more contentious and often less illuminating than dialogue, and a mode of construction quite apart from appreciative inquiry. In drawing attention to details, it may distract us from the bigger picture. It is rarely the shortest path toward insight. Most importantly, it often just dissipates into a tedious back and forth and is rarely resolved into a new, better, and cohesive work.

The Wiki is a modern collaborative construct that can redirect the critical energy of nitpicking into creating an ever-improving presentation of ideas. A wiki invites all users to edit any page or to create new pages within the wiki website using only a Web browser. The encyclopedia project Wikipedia provides an example where collaboration, critical thinking, and contention are continuously channeled into creating a remarkable repository of knowledge.

A few simple but powerful features assist the collaborators. A “Talk” page accompanies each Wikipedia article to provide a forum for discussing the current page content.  Talk pages allow anyone to express their ideas for improving the article, raise critical questions, or offer points of view not yet fully addressed in the article.  The often passionate discussions and debate are preserved on the talk page as an important adjunct to the article that currently appears. Talk pages give nitpicking a path forward toward resolution and expression in the article itself.

The most powerful features of a Wiki encourage collaborative editing. Any user can edit any page at any time. This provides an opportunity for users who see a way to improve an article to take direct action and make the change. This is the Wiki response to that classic call to action: “Put up or shut up.” Changes are recorded in the “View History” page associated with each article showing the order in which changes were made, and identifying the user making each change. This provides a way to control changes, provide security, and encourage trustworthiness. Edits that are unhelpful in improving that article content can be easily undone and the page reverts to its previous content.

A Wiki encourages meaningful topic associations between different pages by simplifying page link creation. The result is a highly integrated, well structured, and easily accessible collection of ideas that continues to grow and improve.

Can a Wiki unleash the collaborate energy of today’s philosophers and channel their efforts into a cohesive collection of the wisest ideas ever created?  We can easily find out because the Global Circle has a Wiki available for members to use.  The Global Circle Wiki is linked from the right-hand panel of each blog page. Please take a look. I am ready to help any member who wants to get started. Let me know what you want to do and we will work together to make it happen. You can identify any existing blog article or email thread that you would like to recreate as a Wiki page and I will work with you to make it happen. Perhaps we can collect and organize responses to several of the questions posed on the blog to provide a structure that makes it clear the questions we are exploring and what questions are being answered. Of course you can edit any of the existing pages, or create a new page.  The Global Circle Wiki uses discussion threads, accessed through the “conversation icon,” instead of a talk page. The revision history is accessed using the “Clock” icon.

Now we have the original email list, the blog, and the Wiki. Is this too much? Won’t all this get confusing? Where do I start? Can’t this be simplified? Certainly opinions will differ, but I will suggest an orderly way to use this rich structure.  I call this “percolate and trickle” to reflect the gradient of volatility and coherence the three media provide.

  1. Email is the most fluid and transient medium. Announcements, timely questions, and some discussion take place via the email list.
  2. The blog is “discussion central” where a topic or thesis statement begins as a blog post, and deliberation takes place through comments and discussion threads.
  3. The wiki is an ongoing reference work of our “findings.” The wiki is a structured repository for the “results” of deliberation described above. Nonmembers can go here first to explore a structured presentation of our refined ideas.
  4. We cross link heavily to integrate the media.
  5. These are guidelines at best, individual users will use the various media in ways they are most comfortable.

Please jump in. I am looking forward to seeing every member get a good start with the Wiki. I believe that effective Wiki use will soon become an essential skill of the modern philosopher. Let’s get started using the Wiki to bring wisdom to life.

Some Housekeeping Suggestions

Now that we have some traction with getting valuable content and interaction on The Global Circle Blog, I want to remind us of a number of other tasks which will add and maintain value. Remember we still have a very crude template (or “theme”) which limits functionality seen, and I’m keen to add more in.

The basic posting / titling / tagging of posts / pages / statuses is clearly a little confusing – in what you can do on the public page and what you can do via the dashboard – we shouldn’t need to worry about such techy options. I can fix that with a change of theme.

Secondly the style of contributions – we have several distinct styles, worth getting into some habits how we use them. We have
(a) This link is interesting – full stop.
(b) This link is interesting – and here is how and why I think it related to some specific part of our agenda.
(c) Here is a longer essay / piece of writing I’ve created, with or without links.
(d) Emails to the JISC Mailing List, which really are candidates for blog posts. I’d like to encourage all who still post to the mail list to post to the blog – everyone on the mail list gets a notification copy anyway.
In all cases these are valuable resources.

The actual essays / longer pieces we should capture as separate documents / pages rather than just leave in a date sequenced set of posts. Much easier to add additional links and suggestions later. (If anyone needs help publishing any new writing in on-line formats, just ask.)

The linked articles of interest, comments on these and the original writings are all resources. Resources we should organise, and we should probably do this using Lee’s Wikiversity pages – since that’s exactly what they were intended for. Myself (and I’m sure Lee) are happy to do the legwork organizing, moving, linking, publishing – but we need the group to give us pointers as to the topics the resources should be organised and linked under. What I’m asking is that people start to use the tagging for all posts, be creative, invent tags as you go, if the existing ones don’t take your fancy. I / we can use these to create actual categories and structure so that the resource grows in long term value, rather than fleeting interest.

(Don’t panic if my changes of theme and configuration change what you see on the blog, all content is safe, and will re-appear somewhere.)


Having now got this simple blog up and running, I’m conscious that the mantra emerging from the mailing list so far is let’s maximise action and minimise the mail box. It’s a common frustration with on-line communities, that whether email, forum or blog based, that all we ever seem to do is talk (in or about written text). Sooner rather than later, the on-line communications should concern actions we’re taking individually and as a group. However, it will be exceptional, that many of us do actually get together to act in any physically co-located activity, so in general we are only going to get to know each other through our conversations, mainly conversations via electronic media.

One of the things I like about the way this group has come together so far, is that despite the common aims, we are nevertheless from many overlapping groups and initiatives with their own principal activities and goals, each with our own pet-projects and pet-subjects. In some sense, since “wise action” to tackle global problems is our common aim, we all must be to some extent “pragmatic” yet we’ve got this far without nailing our common colours to the mast of any particular methodology or “ism”. I think that’s healthy.

One suggestion I have, is that in order to fast-track “getting to know” each other, and respect each other’s existing projects and activities, we should probably each pen an “introduction” for a members page, with links to our existing activities and pet resources. One reason to do this (from experience) is that we will often feel the relevance to “plug” something we’re already doing, yet feel guilty about too many personal plugs hijacking other members posts. The links and resources, should all find their way into the wiki and or other web-pages as appropriate, but a personal statement of interests, publications and aspirations of each member should stand in their own right?