Tag: communities

Open source community calls in the wake of GDPR

I am a supporter of the intentions and sentiment behind the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force last month. However, it comes with some side effects.

Take community calls for the open source community, for example. Here’s how they often work:

  • Agenda — someone with a level of responsibility within the project creates an agenda using a service you don’t have to login to access and to which everyone can contribute (e.g. Etherpad)
  • Synchronous call — at the appointed time, those wishing to participate connect to some kind of audio and/or video conferencing services (e.g. Zoom)
  • Recordings — those who are interested in the project but couldn’t participate at the time catch up via the agenda and recording.

I’ve been running community calls using this kind of approach for the last five years or so. It’s an effective method and a process I do so automatically, I didn’t even think about the GDPR implications.

Yesterday, however, I was informed (very nicely!) by Carlo Polizzi, Moodle’s DPO and Legal Counsel, that I needed to delete the data I’d collected in this way and find a new way to do this.

GDPR requires that (unless community members contribute anonymously) we must, at the very least:

  1. Gain consent from each individual that we can store their personal data and that they agree to our privacy policy.
  2. Inform individuals what that data will be used for and how long we will be storing it.
  3. Give them the option of withdrawing that consent at any time and having their data deleted.

This means, of course, that community members are going to have to register and then log in to a system that tracks them over time. I’ve written before about creating an architecture of participation for episodic volunteering. This certainly prevents more of a challenge for the ‘easy onboarding’ part of that.


So, not sure what to do, put up the Bat-Signal and asked my network. Out of that came suggestions to use:

  • An encrypted etherpad solution that auto-deletes after a specified amount of time (e.g. CryptPad)
  • Forum software that feels quite ‘realtime’ (e.g. Discourse)
  • A Moodle course with guest access open (e.g. MoodleCloud)

On a more meta level, I also had some feedback that synchronous communication discriminates users for whom English isn’t their first language and/or who are disabled.


For now, given the above feedback, we’re going to end community calls in their current guise. I’ve met with Mary Cooch, Moodle’s community educator to discuss a few options for how we could do things differently, and we’re going to explore using the existing MoodleNet discussion forum at moodle.org along with BigBlueButton.

If you’ve got any questions, comments, or suggestions, I’d love to hear them, as this is something that many other open source projects are going to have to grapple with, as well!


Image CC BY-SA opensource.com

Types of relationship and communities of ‘ought’.

Introduction

The most fertile time of my week, ideas-wise? Sitting listening to sermons in church every Sunday. For whatever reason – perhaps because I can think at least twice as quickly people talk – I end up scrawling ideas for blog posts and reminders of things to look-up on the back of my service sheet. Other members of the congregation no doubt think I’m making notes on the talk.*

Today’s sermon was on The Gospel and Witness, which made me think about relationships within communities. I consider the following a work-in-progress, but share my thoughts in a quest for rejection-or-reinforcement – and perhaps even examples/counter-examples.

Types of relationship

At the lowest level are fleeting relationships, those in which we expend very little energy. We offer politeness but no access to our ‘inner world’. This kind of relationship is transactional and, indeed, is perhaps best illustrated by purchases made in shops.

Next up comes networks. Acquaintances, perhaps friends of friends, people you follow and rarely interact with on Twitter. This sort of relationship is give-and-take. I give some small part of myself and in return get something back of use. An example might be indicating that I’m looking for a new car or music recommendations and in return gain some generic feedback.

Further up the chain are groups. These are defined either implicitly or explicitly and exist for customised advice and support. These too can exist via social networks, but – online at least – are perhaps best facilitated through forums. Examples include getting constructive criticism of a new document you’ve drafted, advice about a particular situation encountered, and so on.

After groups come communities of practice, as defined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger:

A community of practice (CoP) is…  a group of people who share an interest, a craft, and/or a profession. The group can evolve naturally because of the members’ common interest in a particular domain or area, or it can be created specifically with the goal of gaining knowledge related to their field. It is through the process of sharing information and experiences with the group that the members learn from each other, and have an opportunity to develop themselves personally and professionally. CoPs can exist online, such as within discussion boards and newsgroups, or in real life, such as in a lunchroom at work, in a field setting, on a factory floor, or elsewhere in the environment. (Wikipedia)

Whilst informal, communities of practice are focused on a particular end and have pre-determined boundaries. Their focus means that communities of practice are likely to be more successful than groups. Relationships are likely to be predicated upon either informal or formal entry requirements (e.g. job, ownership of an item, previous experience)

The final type of relationships are within a community of ought. This is a term I’ve invented to describe those organizations that have the power to tell individuals (or at least strongly advise them) how to behave. This, of course, includes most religious organizations, but really any organization where an individual defers in some way to authority. Such deference does not have to be formal in nature, but must include adherence to some kind of code or set of rules. Others in the organization must be able to tell whether an individual is ‘doing as he/she ought’.

Conclusion

Although some may feel my description of ‘communities of ought’ sounds somewhat controlling and scary, people do in fact, in some areas of their life (he says, making a huge generalisation), prefer to defer to authority. And, if so, it’s much better to defer to an authority within a community than an individual earthly authority.

This post is more an observation of my own thinking than a statement as to whether such communities of ought should or should not exist. I’m currently thinking that communities of ought are more likely to get things done. I’d be interested in your thoughts, however.

* Before you castigate me for my irreverance, I’m fully able to have a debate about the theological implications of the sermon afterwards as well, thank you very much. :-p

Pragmatism, dead metaphors & the myth of the echo chamber.

Building upon Karl Fisch’s post from July about the myth of the echo chamber, this post reflects my thinking towards engaging and building consensus amongst colleagues as a result of studies towards my Ed.D. thesis.

There has been much discussion – in fact ever since I can remember – about the problem of ‘echo chambers’ in any given community. As in:

That’s all very well, but aren’t we perpetuating an echo chamber here?

You’re preaching to the choir; we need to get out there and spread the gospel.

And so on.

Whilst I understand the sentiment, it’s always felt a little odd to me that the two activities of community-building and inquiry on the one hand, and bringing others into that community on the other, should be seen as separate. I’ve been looking recently at the work of a number of Pragmatist philosophers which has helped clarify my thinking in this area.

So that people actually read this post rather than dismiss it as an abstract philosophical argument, I’m going to boil down what I want to say into the following three points:

1. Engagement and acceptance

If you engage with another community you lend some legitimacy to their programme. As Stanley Fish puts it:

It is acceptable not because everyone accepts it but because those who do not are now obliged to argue against it. (Fish, 1980:257)

Sometimes refusing to engage and accept someone else’s point of view is the best idea. In the context currently under consideration, that means ploughing on with the ‘echo chamber’ until others want to join it.

2. Dead metaphors

The vocabulary of a community is that of dead metaphors. So, for example, the metaphor of ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ may have stimulated thinking in 2001 for a few years, but this metaphor is dead and lacks utility to those in the community to which it originally engaged.

As Richard Rorty puts it, citing Davidson, it is like a coral reef:

“Old metaphors are constantly dying off into literalness, and then serving as a platform and foil for new metaphors.” (Rorty, 1989:118)

Metaphors are used when the words and phrases within our vocabularies are not rich enough to capture something of value. ‘Memes’ often have an element of metaphor, therefore, as they correspond to something compelling yet previously-unexpressed.

3. Language games

It’s true of almost every community that one or two, or even a whole subset of, individuals get caught up in semantics. As Ian Hacking puts it, deciding whether something is a ‘truth-value candidate’ depends upon whether a sentence has a fixed place in a ‘language game’:

This is because it is a sentence which one cannot confirm or disconfirm, argue for or against. One can only savor it or spit it out. But this is not to say that it may not, in time, become a truth-value candidate. If it is savored rather than spat out, the sentence may be repeated, caught up, bandied about. Then it will gradually require a habitual use, a familiar place in the language game. (Rorty, 1989:119-120)

This brings us back to the idea of a ‘dead metaphor’ – something which I think will eventually happen to the concept of ‘digital literacy’. Echo chambers are thus important for pinning down a metaphor so it may do some work.

Conclusion

Echo chambers are good if, and only if, they exist for consensus building. This is, to paraphrase Charles Sanders Peirce, not a short-term project but one that tends towards the ‘end of enquiry’. That is to say the project involves grabbing a metaphor and killing it through use in order to feed ongoing discussion and community-building.

Or something like that. :-p

References

  • Fish, S. (1980) ‘What makes an interpretation acceptable?’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader, p.265)
  • Rorty, R. (1989) ‘The Contingency of Language’ (in Goodman, R.B. (ed.) (1995) Pragmatism: a contemporary reader)
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