[K12OSN] OT: phpwiki, twiki, and attribution

Petre Scheie petre at maltzen.net
Fri Dec 9 16:14:32 UTC 2005

Sorry this is rather long.

In the article about FOSS.IN that appeared on lwn.net (thanks for the link Sudev), and 
in the follow-up comments, there was mention of non-programmers contributing to projects 
by working on documentation.  Everyone always thinks this is a good idea, and it is.  It 
has always seemed to me that while only a small subset of people have the skills to 
contribute code, just about anyone should be able to contribute documentation, and 
therefore there ought to be an abundance of it.  And I think the K12LTSP wiki is a 
testament to that.  But I think there is a greater opportunity here that we, like most 
projects, are missing because of one deficiency: attribution.  The articles listed on 
our wiki don't identify who wrote what.  One of the great motivators in FOSS is bragging 
rights, the ability to say "See what I contributed".  In the source code, you will 
usually find credits for who contributed what; but there is no such information in our 
documentation, and I think that means we've lost an unconscious motivator.  I say 
unconscious because I think most everyone on  this list contributes because we all 
believe in this project, and not because we're looking for fame.  But knowing who 
contributed what is part of the lore that helps build a community, and I think we need 
to find a way to incorporate that.  And I think most people like to be recognized for 
their contributions.

There's another aspect: When I talk to teachers, administrators and others about why 
FOSS should be used in schools, one thing I always mention is that it provides the kids 
a way to build and do things they can put on a resume.  High school students don't have 
much experience that they can list on a resume; it's a chicken-and-egg problem, in that 
they aren't old enough to have had many, if any, jobs, and to get a job it helps to have 
experience, and so on.  With FOSS, regardless of their age, they can build something 
that is public, say a website, that they can list as experience, one that has had some 
public scrutiny even (if the website is publicly accessible).  "Create your own 
experience" as one teacher likes to say.  That's great for the students who like 
programming, but what about others?  This is where a project's documentation comes in: 
Wouldn't it be great in a class that teaches kids word processing, spreadsheets, 
presentations, etc.--the standard OOo stuff--to assign the kids a project of writing a 
short document about, say, how to format an article. Or pick something the kids are 
into, say, Gaim.  The kids have to use what they just learned which reinforces what they 
just learned, and they have to explain it which also reinforces it.  Then those articles 
are posted to that project's documentation website, which helps that community; plus, 
with attribution, the students now have something they can cite on a resume: "I have 
written documentation for the OOo project, which is publicly available at 
http://whatever.address.com".  This would be more impressive to a potential employer 
than "I wrote papers for English class" not because of the subject matter--papers for 
English class ARE important--but because the employer can see an example of the 
student's work, work that has been vetted not just by the teacher but by the whole 
world, and is perhaps even used by the world.  The documents don't have to be long, and 
the quality will no doubt vary.  But the potential quantity would compensate for that. 
In short, there are many benefits to such projects.  But many, perhaps most, projects 
don't have attribution, and often make contributing documentation cumbersome.

Back to our wiki.  The K12LTSP phpwiki-based wiki doesn't show who wrote what.  The 
(newer) twiki-based LTSP wiki does appear to display who wrote what when.  I don't know 
the particulars, but I assume this feature, or its lack, is a function of the wiki being 
used.  If I'm correct, the question I want to raise is what would it take to move our 
wiki to a wiki system that does automatically give attribution?  I don't envision many 
students contributing to our wiki (although I know some people on the list do have 
student administrators).  But as an educational community I think we should practice 
what we preach. (I think I'll mention this idea to the OOo people, too.)  Plus, people 
on this list will change jobs from time to time; the benefits of having your name 
publicly listed in contributing to FOSS projects--"resume fodder" as a friend of mine 
calls it--are not limited to just students. ;-)

So, can we build a better system?  Anyone have any opinions about wikis?


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