Sunday, January 9, 2011

Yay! Engineering For Change allows for global brainstorming and one place for ideas

Just as I was spending so much time thinking of ways to meet the need of sharing knowledge around the world (instead of scattered in wikis and small websites and archives of peace corps / world food organization archives and ... ), and connecting people face-to-face, comes out. 

I'm still exploring the site (see workspace at and it's not immediately obvious if it has all the features I would like. It's interesting the differences between how I imagined a design would work, and how E4C is implemented.

I am most concerned about the issues most pressing for me: keeping knowledge flowing inside a loose group of students / people, and making sure it's not stuck inside email. I'm not sure I like the "discussion, whiteboard, activities" format, mainly because of presentation and navigation concerns. There's no "search within this workspace" so far as I can tell, and no way to limit read or write access. So it may not be suited yet as the end-all-be-all for my needs.

For reference, I sent this email on 12/19/2010, 3:32 AM:
MIT Global Challenge Website is awesome! It is a great way for teams to get publicity and for people to meet people.

However, there's another related unmet need. Whether this falls inside MIT GC's vision (integrate this functionality, or create new site) or not, I'm not sure. (Temporarily, calls this site "EXPflow" for experience flow)

I was talking to g.g. about the need for a way to keep information flowing from student to student inside a team, and from team to team related to a topic or skill. Issues:
  • A lot of stuff is stuck in someone's email *
  • the PSC requires team documentation but doesn't allow anyone to see it (related: teams aren't motivated to create quality documentation)
  • this info is also not shared with people outside of mit (publicity) (contributing to community, who will then contribute to us, we figure out best practices and get to more effectively help people)
  • a lot of information is not passed on from student to student because people are too lazy or hosed to ask for it / find it (not centralized).

thoughts on the design of EXPflow:
  • you create a team ("project"?) 
  • associated email archiving created automatically (cc all your relevant emails) or better yet, just create a mailing list, use some existing code library for searching / navigating / displaying Mailman archives and integrate
    • pro to just creating or separately having an email address to cc (former option) is, you have flexibility of privacy control -- maybe a subset of conversations would be suitable to general public, not just your team?
    • also, definitely not stick with default mailman navigation, because it's terrible to search for something and you can't view all replies to a topic as a "conversation" all on one page
  • tags, mainly for location and topic
    • perhaps make location and topic tags mandatory
    • allow for tag hierarchy, e.g. recognition that La Vaquita and Guatemala are both projects in mexico, so someone can search for "mexico" and get both these results.
      • this "duh location hieararchy" tags should be automatic if possible (aka county or province info added automatically) and possibly invisible (not user-added, don't need to see a zillion "province a" province b" tags (so maybe they don't fit 100% with "tag" concept) 
      • user should still be able to group tags under a single tag, e.g. if there's a new group "alliance of farmers in southern mexico"
      • Topics should be similar... 
    • now, people can search for "what have people done in watsan" or "what projects in zimbabwe can i join, or do they not exist" (perhaps autosuggest "not found, here are some topics from regions nearby"
  • Great if there was view-access-control, so people browsing the internet from other schools can read public stuff without making an account, and be inspired to join in
  • and definitely OpenID awesome, or signin with gmail / facebook / whatever
  • awesome if opensource, other people can decide to host their own GC server code, or modify it to suit their university, (perhaps GPL or other license so their modifications must be shared with everyone? debatable)
  • other stuff that I forget now

* As a stop-gap measure, teams should be encourage to create Mailman mailing lists which have archives. So future teammates can simply sign-up and get up to date (eliminates "info stuck in email of graduated student" problem).

Definitely a solution to similar problem to learn from  (though we have clear different needs, like the concept of a "team"), (see venn diagram)
Then see guidelines here which is actually a good listing of some of the content that we would want on EXPflow:

And on 12/19/2010, at 11:37 AM (yes, 8 hours later):

Quick note-- I think of this as on a higher level than just the IDEAS competition. E.g., these groups of people ("teams") form, and do things and may never opt to enter the IDEAS competition or even structure their actions for the IDEAS competition.

It's a way for me to sort through the bewildering amount of information out there (peace corps, UN Food and Agri, ...).

I mean, more efficient biodigesters? People have been improving the concept and localizing them for decades. Agriculture? We're talking centuries.

At the highest level, the level I would make design decisions, I would think of it as similar to stackoverflow--a solution anything with similar needs can use.

That would be a vision. I also support actually getting things out the door so other people can come and critique and help out ("talking to the customers early in process").

Hmm, maybe there's a third site! The "Q&A" site, similar to stackoverflow.

  • sharing of information so it's easy to get up to speed on the most current best practices
  • with trust levels:
    • within "team"
      • hierarchical. Then, the IDEAS competition adminstrators are simply a meta-team
      • and entire universities are meta-teams (I trust the average person with MIT certs more than average Joe Schmoe out in the world)
    • anyone with internet access
So in a sense, Users:
  • Carrie just read The End of Poverty and wants to start looking at all the things out there she could do to help, and maybe she's an MIT student and wants to see what's being done that has need for her skills
  • Nassu has a startup she founded, has insights into creating a startup in USA
  • Raz went on a PSC trip to La Vaquita and knows a lot about La Vaquita and possible projects there, with context
  • Feng is some international NGO dude who has field experience in many countries working mostly on watsan stuff, interested in sharing watsan experience
  • Bob is some local NGO dude who's been working in Zimbabwe for years, interested in sharing Zimbabwe context
  • Zog has been working at XYZ Giant Co. in the manufacturing side and can share how to scale production to the millions
But these are overlapping communities (IDEAS, EXPflow, q&a) so they should be integrated.

I do like stackoverflow within fields. So... in a sense Stackoverflow sites would simply be a part of this meta^meta-site. But centered around this vague concept of "concerned with the less well-off"
  • that's another design decision, to what level should we aim for, are we talking just "bottom billion" or do we also want to include e.g. work in the USA
Okay, I lie, that wasn't a quick note.

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