Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

#Fedwiki like it’s 1973 – on context, voice, and getting heard

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 22 seconds

I wanted to give a clear example of something I have been talking about on #fedwiki, following Mike Caulfield’s style in his keynote by using historical example.

Disclaimer: Mike, and everyone else from #fedwikihappening, I love you, I love what you do, and how sensitive you are, and this is not a criticism of you personally, but just something that needs to be said longform that I had not been able to express on fedwiki or twitter.

I have said that while I admire the notion of multiple versions of a document, instead of a canonical, consensus-based version like Wikipedia (or any encyclopedia, but I guess Wikipedia is the crowdsourced, more democratic encyclopedia).

Here is an example of an already-existing federation of sorts in Wikipedia, and it is a political example that is worth discussing.

Think of Yom Kippur, better known in Egypt as the 6th October victory. Now look at this screen shot from the English version of history. Note the “Israeli military victory” written beside the “result” in the English wikipedia. Ok so far?


Ha! Now look at the Arabic version of wikipedia and I’ll translate the result for you if you don’t read Arabic.


Actually, if you want you can translate it yourself, it says in Arabic
“انتصار عسكري مصري حاسم على الجيش الإسرائيلي.”
Which google translate does a good enough job of translating as: “Egyptian decisive military victory of the Israeli army” or better said, ‘Decisive Egyptian military victory over the Israeli army”.

The difference I imagine between wikipedia and a fedwiki is… Well, the Arabic wikipedia is not really a federated version of the English. I have not checked the talk pages of the English version, to see if some Arabs tried to change the “result” (the details, by the way, are largely similar, but the interpretation of the end result is clearly hugely different).

If this were a fedwiki, first of all, would it all have to be in the same language as it gets federated in order to be read and forked? That alone is a big deal and big power issue. How many people on it would have good enough English to write it out well, and would there be enough of them? A beautiful thing would be if one person read an Egyptian version and another read the Israeli/US version, and merged them together to highlight the reasons why each side thought they were the victor. The English version of this article is actually not bad; it highlights the initial success from the Egyptian side but for example, states that the Camp David accords gave Israel the victory of being recognized officially by an Arab state and that Egyptians admitted defeat.


Ok, I remember back in high school when someone alerted me that the rest of the world thought Egypt lost that war. Egypt thinks it won that war because it eventually got Sinai back (Camp David). I was disillusioned and shocked, but it was an amazing lesson in multiple versions of history. But really, THAT different?

Egypt CELEBRATES 6 October as a national holiday. Our most important bridge is called 6 October. One of our new and impressive suburbs of Cairo (off Giza) is called 6 October. No kidding.

But anyway, back to my fedwiki point. Let’s take #fedwikihappening as an example. Count the 20 or so people who were active on it. All of them living in the West, right? Almost all native speakers of English (i don’t know if all, because i don’t know every single one well enough to know)… And me. Yes, powerful as I am, and good listeners as they all are… Something like a multiple version document could come out of it. I would be the only contributor to the Egyptian version. I, who did not grow up in Egypt and never studied its history ‘properly’ would have to do a lot of research to get this done. Granted, none of the others are from Israel and likely don’t have the same importance on that event altogether, nor do they have access to people who can give them firsthand accounts of what happened (I have plenty, it was only a few years before i was born so almost everyone of my parents’ age was in their 20s at the time and remember it clearly).

I think I should stop. Have I made my point?

Writing different versions is important and empowering, having them forked is a good way to get them noticed and recorded rather than hidden from google or whatever.

But will people read them? For postcolonial people, speaking is important. But getting heard is more important in some instances.

Although Audre Lorde has said, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”.

Also, a quote I love to use:

We [the minorities] and you [the dominant] do not talk the same language. When we talk to you we use your language: the language of your experience and of your theories. We try to use it to communicate our world of experience. But since your language and your theories are inadequate in expressing our experiences, we only succeed in communicating our experience of exclusion. We cannot talk to you in our language because you do not understand it. (p. 575 in Lugones & Spelman, 1983)

Thanks for listening 🙂

29 thoughts on “#Fedwiki like it’s 1973 – on context, voice, and getting heard

  1. hi Maha

    your question – But will people read them? one way to answer this is the people who are affected/interested/involved will read, this may not be a lot but as this (long but worth it) article argues such quantitative evaluation misses a lot:

    //start quote
    In online spaces, everything is potentially public, and so lack of public attention is construed in evaluative terms: “success,” “failure.” It is a surface reading of the impenetrable—the silent reader, the talk behind the scenes. What seems to be overlooked is often being quietly looked over.
    //end quote

    catch ya at some fedwiki occasional 🙂


    1. Hi Mura, thanks for this. I don’t think I care so much about quantity as about asking questions of power. So I recognize for example that in terms of quantity I am just one person among many in fedwiki but in terms of power i may have a good amount of it… But the case of the 1973 war is a case of who has the power to write history and what are the implications for everyone involved? It is not a fedwiki problem, of course, but I was wondering aloud how fedwiki would weigh in on a problem like that, and that having multiple versions available might not be as empowering as it seems in cases like this. Or it might. I am not sure 🙂
      P.S. btw you’re the one I talk about in my blogpost above when i say i am not sure if there are other non-native speakers because i talk to you but don’t know a lot about you 🙂

      1. Competing narratives on war are not new to Egypt. In fact, one of the most celebrated instances of this concerns the Battle of Kaddesh in 1279 BC, between the Egyptians and the Hitties. For many years, historians thought that the Egyptians had won a decisive victory here, going from Egyptian records set out in triumphal style on a temple wall. Many years later, a Hittite version of the treaty between Ramses II and the Hittite Empire revealed that the battle was really more of a tie – both sides claimed victory.

        You’re right that a FedWiki version of the Battle of Kaddesh – or the October War – may well reveal a cacaphony of voices, none of which alone moves us closer to truth. However, without a center no orthodox opinion could emerge either. What would happen is that slowly, a consensus would appear. We can only speculate about how this would happen, what that process might entail, but in the end, a consensus may emerge that is unaffected by the heavy handed bullying that is endemic to all forms of centralized “opinion forming”.

        As you have seen in WikiPedia’s October War page, there is an invisible hand at work at Wiki. This is not difficult to achieve when the objective is clearly to control a narrative at the source – on Wikipedia. It is much more difficult when the objective is to control a narrative without a central point – distributed across hundreds of thousands or millions of voices, all of which are richly informed by a plethora of unique and original sources. In this instance, opinion forms without artificial amplification, manipulation, misdirection, and deliberate falsification – or rather, these things are open to scrutiny at their source.

        FedWiki will require more than technical training, people will need to learn new kinds of information literacy – this will move our focus from coding to the classroom. At this point, educators must step in.

  2. Hi Maha,

    Thanks for bringing this up. This problem really lies at the heart of the Federated Wiki – if I understand Ward’s concept correctly. It is about who controls narrative and how control of narrative is a political act. Federated Wiki denies this control to any voice because there is no single platform – no hill for any commander to conquer.

    The 6th of October narrative is a very good example. In politics, the faction that controls the narrative of past events claims victory. The most cogent explanation of this – again in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, is Edward Said’s essay, Permission to Narrate (

    Fed Wiki has the same potential as blogs and the open web to open debate about the significance of events, but by interleaving argument and warrant drawn from a broad ecosystem of inquiry and debate, and by submerging personalities, it may also force people to reflect more deeply, question more effectively, and so move us closer to truth – or at least to coherent argument if “truth” cannot be found.

    This is especially important in today’s political environment where there is so much personality, so much celebrity, and so little real evidence and evidence based argument. What Ward has done is to design better tools for discussion and resolution of conflict, tools that focus us on what is being said rather than on who is saying.

    Whether or not people will listen remains to be seen. In its present form, FedWiki is far too geeky and dark to make it into mainstream Internet culture. This isn’t a criticism. I think what we are seeing is a very fundamental system and it will probably be “beta” for a long time. It has great potential. Let’s hope it remains small and obscure until the time is right. We saw what happened with MOOCs.

    1. Hi Mark, that’s a really insightful comment, and I’ll follow up on Edward Said’s article, too, thanks! I know why fedwiki currently seems geeky but it isn’t really. Many of us learned it in less than a week and are using it semi-expertly for some of the basic most important purposes. So I think it might be getting close to becoming mainstream… Wonder what Ward and Mike think… But I believe the happening event was a sort of trying to get some early adopters into it (many of us are really non-techie people. Just educators who like exploring new tech).

  3. I think a key is to think of FedWiki not as creating 1 giant discussion forum but rather a network of social relations, framed as Neighborhoods.

    So, when you’re writing about politics, and seeking wiki-ers to co-create meaning with, you’ll probably end up interacting with a relatively small number of people, and you’ll probably end up excluding people with opposite biases.

    Unless your goal is a NeutralPointOfView, in which case you might as well edit Wikipedia.

  4. Personally, I prefer to “own” most of my SenseMaking, so I write my own WikiLog (and PrivateWiki), and read/link elsewhere without a forking style.

    And when I join a team (typically in a business) to actually get something done, I put in a single shared TeamWiki to attempt a high level of convergence/coherence of a SharedLanguage.

    SFW is spelunking in some gap between those cases.

  5. Have to come back to the Fedwiki thing but find the writing of history topic personally interesting. As I’m ground through the cancer treatment machine it’s hard to believe how impersonal and detached it seems to be a silent participant. To me this connects to the experience of repeated demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and being labeled simple “agitators.” When many of us had our futures altered no one seemed to notice. And really the worst off were the ones’ who died as statistics in a pointless war and those who returned to be shunned by people who supported the war as long as they could classify soldiers as a kind noble statuary.

    Or your recent blog misunderstood in the form of being recreated in someone else’s mind as if you were an object of optional definition or knowing by any means that suits the knower rather than describes you the effective, fully operational intelligent human.

    I wonder if we can write about the disappeared and unknown people we sometimes are if we can’t allow for versions that arise from context? That get us “wrong” and mess up all we want to be?

    1. Hi Scott, what you,re describing reminds me a bit of the Edward Said article Mark recommended, Permission to Narrate, where the Palestinian people’s voice in the discourse on their own situation was buried by others’ accounts and almost not allowed ti be heard in the early 1980s.

      I think it’s useful to know how others perceive us, i personally find the alternative narrative of Yom Kippur fascinating and not really incorrect! Just the interpretation of it is vastly different but it makes me reflect on whether we’re exaggerating the case for political reasons and national pride; but equally, how for us, the end result was generally better (eventually getting our land back) but at a price some consider huge (recognizing Israel). Funnily, I grew up in Kuwait where they blacked out the word/flag Israel in all books (also pig, pork, etc). Even as a child I was baffled. You may believe pigs are forbidden food, but they exist as animals! Why deny it? Similarly, you may be morally opposed to the existence of Israel, even continue to refer to Palestine as the name of that land, but you can’t simply pretend Israel is non-existent! I was like 8 when I had these thoughts!

    2. Hi Scott,

      This bit about disappeared and unknown people reminded me of Phillip K Dick’s book, Flow my tears, the policeman said. In this story, the protagonist, a well-known TV personality, wakes up one day with no identity. No one knows who he is. This is a big problem as he also lives in a police-state future USA and having no identity is a criminal act.

      Just a bit of idea mining. Seems a little like lateral thinking to me.


      1. Mark,
        Loss of identity is a good way into this topic. How others see us is important to our social place and outward behaviors. And of course a practical identifier for the authorities to use for control. Inside, identity to me means the total operating system of the self. The knowing that tells us we are at home when we meet it.

        One of the reasons I wouldn’t speak to the cancer clinic psychologist (even if offered) is identity is the last I want “officials” or their “agents” rummaging around in. Might be better if I think about this a bit more–deeper than I want to go right now.

        Will check out Philip Dick again, used to read a lot of Sci-Fi and should remember this story.

        Opened up a contact at the cancer clinic. My first reaction is different understandings of how the world works is separating us from speaking. No common language to describe experience can come from miss-matched imaginings of reality. OR maybe it is necessary that we carry different realities. More later.

  6. Hi Maha, I’ve downloaded the Edward Said article to read later. And yes it’s very important to understand how others perceive us. Probably the most important thing to me in my medical thing right now is why I was cut off from contact with my Oncologist. It sounds like an obsession (it is!) but the silence makes me feel erased and that’s danger of the silencing of dialog.

    Misunderstood, right, wrong is tangible and can have an understandable reason and logic. A closed connection is like denying the existence of pigs, a blankness in our spirit. We need words to stop us from wandering into the bleak emptiness of non-connection. Some evidence of activity marks our presence and denying it is worse than a lie so at least the burial of the Palestinian voice resonates and disallows erasure.

    I bet you were aware of this stuff very early in life? From you parents you think?

    As an experiment in focusing I’m going to read Carol P. Christ’s “Diving Deep and Surfacing” all the way through. I’m stealing her ideas anyway.

    1. I will look up the book, saw ur mention of it on facebook.
      Btw, i still cannot believe what happened with ur oncologist and ur right to be obsessed about it! It’s ridiculously outrageous that these things happen to you!

    2. Scott and Maha,

      These are very interesting observations about constructed realities. They aren’t socially constructed realities, which are indisputably real, but ideologically engineered ones: a world without Israel and a world without pigs.

      The cancer one has me stumped though. Have you read Illich’s book, Medical Nemisis? This may be relevant. Illich says that the the medical profession constitutes the greatest single threat to public health and accuses it of forcibly transforming the entire population to the status of “patient” as a means of ownership and control. You may not speak to your oncologist. The reason may be political – it is about power.

      Essentially, this is about voices – who is allowed to speak and who must STFU. The violence of this act cannot be underestimated. Where ever control of media is possible, someone will attempt to control it to amply their voice and to stifle others. This is why Cunningham and Groom are right, everyone must control their own presence, own their own space, tend to their own voice. Whenever we speak through channels others own, we can be shut down at a moment’s notice, with no explanation and no recourse. We become like the guy in the Phillip K Dick story, disappeared in plain view.

      1. Mark I’m thinking that the medical system here is crumbling under overload and too many patches. Like my old VW Bug that ran but the rusty floor under the drivers seat kept dropping my ass on the ground. The system is unable to monitor and adapt so it, itself turns inward in an endless and fruitless, self-congratulatory delusion of effectiveness–feet of clay or belly pan of rust. Eventually though the absurdity of claiming success from mounting failure will crash it. Think it’s called non-evidence-based operational blindness–or something like that.

        In “Thinking in Systems”, author Donella H. Meadows points to ‘leverage points’ that allow new thinking to enter a system. My thinking is to keep trying doors into the cancer treatment institution until I find one. When I worked at the college here I managed to cross departments and get things done by being mostly to dumb to respect barriers. Eventually I was given the college president’s award for being effective and going beyond my duties. Outed for not playing by the rules, even people I helped shunned me and I got fired soon after. Rule breaking isn’t to be done openly. Now it’s almost comical how often powerful management players avoid me when I visit my wife who still works there. I had no power and have none now but I won’t show it and that scares people. All I did was be a low paid admin assistant (lowest paid on campus) who helped everyone who asked, even if they weren’t “allowed” to ask. Afraid or should I say better at politics than me, people I liked and trusted ratted me out because I’d threatened the stability of the pile of shit they’d built. Their failings, their triumphant tower of poo.

        Rant over:-) From reading Feminist articles I’m believing that silencing can be imposed most effectively by silencing ourselves–imprisoning our own minds. (I bet bell hooks said that eh Maha?). So point taken on tending our own voices and I’m on to taking mine to another door and another person. My oncologist has too much to defend, or lose, and I suspect she feels under attack or too far into her decision to back up. (Again something Maha might recognize from being in a family of critical decision makers in the role of doctors?). I’ll post results here.

        Which Philip Dick story do you mean Mark? Dick scares me more than Kafka!

        1. Hi Scott,

          The collapse of the heath care system may be related to problems of institutionalization that Illich describes in his many books. Deschooling Society is probably one of his best known works, and while this is often seen as a critique of the education system, in fact, education merely provides the example of an institution. Illich’s thesis is that institutions eventually defeat the purpose for which they are created. They do this for reasons you describe – centralized authority eventually causes them to collapse under their own weight. He proposes more organic, populist or “convivial” structures. See his “Tools for Conviviality”.

          Here’s a little about that:

  7. My psychologist refers to my medical mess as a kind of sampling of miracles. She Plains Cree First Nations and our minds don’t perfectly match on spirituality but the idea of lessons being forced on me does seem miraculous. Hard lessons maybe? So be it.

    I will work out the oncologist problem eventually. Had I chosen to take my care at the main
    clinic instead a closer partner clinic this may never of happened and I’d be obsessing about something less important:-) Something that seems unfair makes our minds work harder to explain it.

    Or maybe I attract disaster? Or experiences search me out. The learning doesn’t stop though the drama can overload. At Christmas dinner I learned from daughter Lindsay I’d been put in an induced coma before heart surgery to keep me alive. Missed that except it explains a quick mental trip into a not-nice part of my brain.

    There’s a lot of out there probably too attentive and aware for our own good. Mark mentioned the mainstream and being off it. The price of searching for the “real” isn’t likely to be easy or comfortable.

    “To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.”
    ― Akira Kurosawa

    1. Hi Scott,

      Have a look at Maha’s short description of the Egyptian medical profession (Jan 1, 2015 I think). I have experience of this too, having one foot in Egypt myself. One of the interesting things about this in Egypt (and this is true of Egypt generally), is that everyone has an opinion – sometimes two – and everyone acknowledges that you have a right to speak, even if you are totally clueless.

      In medicine this means that you may well get a gaggle of doctors who disagree. You need to decide which ones you listen to and which ones you don’t. This is, in fact, a form of participation. Here, the patient is a participant, not simply an object to be acted on. If you don’t like one doctor, you go to another.

      Another point is that in Egypt, going to the doctor will not cost you your life savings or your house. Even if you are poor, you have access to reasonable health care and if you cannot afford a particular procedure, friends and relatives usually pull through for you. So, not only can you go to doctors until the cows come home, but you are also allowed to have an opinion about what they’re telling you. Rejecting them is also an option and you will not be a social pariah for choosing an alternate path.

      There is a lot of politics here, if you think about it.

      1. True, Mark but on the downside, doctors actually give you very little information, no matter how educated you are. For example when i was going thru IVF no one explained the details. I relied on lots of online stuff and occasionally a friend who’d been thru it. I spent a lot of time informally counseling other women at the clinic while we waited our turns. When i first got pregnant the dr told me i would do a c-section. No detailed explanation, just that precious babies will be delivered c-section and i have no options. Sure, i could’ve changed the doctor, but he’s actually one of the most ethical there are in Egypt, so… I still love him, but the general “no need to bother the patient with info” even tho my husband the surgeon was also sitting right there! I mean, come on!

        1. Yes. I have had similar experiences. Sometimes a doctor is too arrogant to bother explaining something, or sometimes lacks the communicative skills to do that. What they can do depends on their training and dealing with patients isn’t a major focus. In one university I worked at, medical students openly challenged the notion that ethics should be part of their training. What do doctors need ethics for? If they can’t understand this, then they won’t accept that communicating with patients has any value either.

          One difference I do see is that Egyptians tend to be more skeptical of medical authority. This is a good thing. Too much trust in doctors can get you killed as easily as not listening to them at all. As in every other domain of human activity, we need to apply a degree of criticality to what we are doing: We must not allow others to make important decisions for us an in order to do this, we need to know what information we need to gather, where to get it, and how to interpret it.

          Traditional education in the Middle East paid a lot of attention to information literacy. We do not see it so much now, that ME education have been submerged beneath imported systems that value content and testing above all else. Nevertheless, there is a cultural memory of more open traditions. Moving to something better in the Middle East will be a different process, and probably less dramatic, that it will be in the West. A lot depends on the willingness to question, to challenge, and to change.

        2. My daughter is buying a house but because she is, like a female and single (see how observant I am?) the realtors TELL her what she wants. This is a girl who right after high school went to Cairo on a whim and then to South Africa to travel alone, drive truck for a Safari company across Namibia and make pals with some “interesting” people and survive. Show your doctors a copy of “Men Explain things to Me” and point out their species entry in the index:-)

  8. Hi Mark,
    The Canadian medical system is open to everyone and mostly free. Couple of things restrict access though. A shortage of doctors makes the system the hobby of every half-assed efficiency management ever tried. Unfortunately within that “profession” there is no shortage initiators coupled with a complete absence any genuine monitoring. (Like most places burdened with conservative politics there are lots of rules’ but no enforcement).

    Next is isolation. This is the Canadian North which has little to offer someone who’s a lot of time training in a more diverse urban setting. We have about 10 regular doctors and some traveling specialists and the majority are sloppy and overworked. One clinic in this area serves for walk-ins and also supplies all the doctors at the local hospital where they do rotating shifts. All this adds to bad and inconsistent service without any continuity of care. As a patient with chronic problems I’m forced to take what I can get and commonly have to wait weeks to see my “family doctor” who knows my history. Right now she’s on unannounced holiday until February leaving me with no one to see except the hospital “doctors” in Emergency and no contact with my main clinic in Edmonton oncologist. Since I managed to irritate her between my first and second chemo infusions in August and she quit when my doctor was again away for a month in August and was only available when my doctor sent and received messages from her office I effectively have had no care contact beyond the chemo treatments since I started.

    You can ask for doctors, and doctors can dump you, but given shortages you take who you are assigned to. Another limitation is all oncologists work for the main clinic or its three branch clinics. In a perverse model of teamwork they cohere to each other like a pack of dogs. One shuns you and they all do, so the branch clinic I visit because it is closest only provides chemo and some terse “care” and will not answer any questions, referring me on to my doctor or the main clinic and “my” nonexistent lead oncologist.

    Outside the two main cities in Alberta health services are minimal. The highest death rate in the Province is here in the North East where billions are spent on oil extraction yearly but tax rates to corporations are low and most workers are on temporary shifts and pay their taxes to the province they actually live. In the cowboy mentality here we live hard, play hard and die with our boots–as in we are poorly served and never make it to the hospital in time to change our shoes anyway. At the hospital they misdiagnose and fool around until you die or get better, either option seems to meet their goals.

    I think there’s lots of politics interfering with the system here. Though the fact that the same party has been in power for over 40 years indicates that the population of bovine voters are content, so it’s the population that gets my thumbs down. Most frustrating here is there is no dialog on anything. Politics as it is consists of mooing what sound like slogans in the place of opinions. It’s a great place to perfect meanness and treasure the very rare human connections you come across.

    As a solution I may be switching to another medical clinic about 11/2 hours drive from here. About 30% of the town’s people travel out of here for a closer contact with 20th century medicine. Be interesting to get to know one doctor that I can rely on. Or piss off:-)

    I see this as a kind of silencing and won’t accept it.

  9. As to “victors write the history” I was thinking of more ancient times.
    Like what we know about Western Europe in Roman times comes mostly from what the Romans wrote.
    Heck, we even call Germany Germany because the Romans called it that way.
    We know very little of the Netherlands’ people in appr. 2000 years ago.
    Ditto for what Herodotus tells us of ancient Greec historic events.

    That different stories about the same events exist, is a fact. It shows us how complicated life can be and still is.

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