What’s your Appropedia story?


What brought you to Appropedia? What did you find, and what difference did it make for you?

We’d love to hear your stories, short or long, about how you used Appropedia. Please take a moment to add a comment at the end of this post, to tell us about your experience. Whether you learned something, or were inspired, or found what you needed for your project, or contribute your knowledge about making the world better in one particular way – let us know what Appropedia means to you. Even a single line is valuable feedback, and appreciated.

You can share your story as a comment below, or add it to our Appropedia:Stories page on Appropedia itself – and you can read other stories there, as well . You can also share on this Appropedia Facebook post.

We hope to re-share these stories to inspire others, so comments left here are accepted under the same Attribution ShareAlike license used by Appropedia. Many thanks – and we look forward to hearing your story!

Humboldt Sustainable Future


Last Wednesday, I had the honor of presenting on the future of Humboldt (Northern California) Sustainability for the Humboldt Bay Center for Sustainable Living and the Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The presentation was part of a growing movement of community wide sustainability and hopes to catalyze a series of large-scale open space technology style meetings.

This clip starts a few minutes into the presentation, just after I describe that the presentation was made with the help of many local and over-the-internet colleagues. Click the info button to access the introduction (part 1).

Thanks to StreamGuys for providing excellent streaming services.

Collaboration Fail


David Stairs of the Design Altruism Project argues that many collaborations aren’t actually collaborative. In a sobering post, he notes that people want to set up a project to be the hub for collaboration in their field… often without checking who’s doing the same thing, or even using the same name. We’ve observed similar behavior.

Partly it’s about wanting to be at the center of things – and that’s natural. And partly it’s about not realizing just how much work is involved in making an online community. I’m not sure what the solution is. One possibility is the Wikipedia experience: perhaps what happened with Wikipedia is that it was a single project which gained a good reputation, gave a good experience to many contributors, was a clear concept to grasp (a free encyclopedia), and a broad enough scope to be of interest to many, many people.

This hasn’t happened to the same degree in architecture, design or sustainability, though we’ve made good progress on Appropedia – especially as we’ve come from a number of different projects and chosen to collaborate rather than compete.

Another key element in collaboration is a recognition of our limits. As Wes Janz noted (quoted in the same blog post)

“…And, you know, it’s all good, an orphanage in Sri Lanka, house inspections in Mississippi post-Katrina, a community center in Kenya… But I just got sick of it and had this idea that you should change the name of DWB to Designers With Borders. As in, maybe there should be some boundaries, some active awarenesses that we are unqualified, or unfit, or unable to work borderlessly.”

Not that we need to be changing names – just recognizing our limits. I can’t recall who said it, but it is our weaknesses that make us great, not our strengths, for our weaknesses lead us to work with others and create something greater than ourselves.

Pardon this meditation on failure. There are many encouraging successes to dwell on, support, and learn from, and we’ll continue to do that. A cautious recognition of where things go badly pear-shaped is one side of the coin of success, and we do well to keep both in mind.

Joining the Commons: Appropedia switches licenses


The open license we use is central to what we do. Open knowledge can empower development, sustainability, appropriate technology, emergency management and all manner of progress. This means understanding what an open license is – giving freedom for all kinds of reuse and remixing, not restricting commercial use. This is the kind of license we have always used, as have Wikipedia, other Wikimedia projects and many other wikis – and the particular license that we have used is the GFDL, or GNU Free Document License, managed by the pioneering organization (some might say radical) the Free Software Foundation.

However, the GFDL was intended for software manuals, not for wikis – it’s good, but not quite the right tool for the job. The good news is that it’s now possible for a wiki site to convert its license from GFDL to a more suitable license – the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. This has essentially the same freedoms is the GFDL, but also:

  • Is more practical for making printed works (you can reference the license rather than printing the whole thing);
  • Has a useful “human readable” summary (at the page linked above);
  • Has a “mark”, a linked image such as the one you see at the bottom of this page, which helps readers know what permissions they’ve been given, and helps search engines to index pages by permissions;
  • Is used by many bloggers and other creators of online works, meaning we can share with these more easily.

We in the Appropedia Foundation have been reading, weighing our options, asking questions and listening. It seems clear that the best course is licence migration to CC-BY-SA-3.0, so we are not delaying any longer. We’ve set the 21st of April as the day to convert to the Creative Commons License. This final week is your opportunity to give feedback and insights. We strongly believe this is the right course of action, but you can consider this as a case of “Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

(Okay – we wouldn’t tell someone to keep their mouth shut forever, but this really is a major decision, and it’s hard to imagine turning back once we’ve switched.)

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Btw, if you have a WordPress blog, like we do, there’s an easy way to add a Creative Commons mark in the footer: the creative commons license widget – that page says it’s only tested up to WordPress 2.5, but it seems to be working on version 2.71 without problems.

Your community, in a global community


Can local groups and communities could use the wiki as their own way of connecting and sharing knowledge?

Answer: Absolutely!

Appropedia is not only a living library, but:

  • A collaborative workspace, both to grow the library, and for plotting real-world action.
  • A networking tool. While our platform (MediaWiki) is not designed as a social networking tool, this is a community full of hardcore sustainability buffs and problem solvers from around the world, and from all walks of life.
  • A “shell” within which communities can operate, serving their members and connecting with partners both local and distant. A community of communities, if you will.
  • A way of increasing profile & findability.
  • A way of increasing synergy. Why work on a greywater treatment page on a locally focused site, that will have a small number of contributors and readers, when you can work with a global community on making an awesome page?
  • You can have your own pages on your own projects, too, as part of a collection of designs from around the world. Be like the developer of the Home biogas system (Philippine BioDigesters), who received emails of thanks, along with design improvements, from around the world.

This was prompted by a question from Steven Walling during a a recent presentation on Appropedia. It made me realize how far ahead Appropedia is when I envisage it, compared to what a visitor to the site sees today (e.g. the greywater treatment page is one-twentieth or one-hundredth as good as I’d like to see it). People already say how great the site is, but I foresee something much, much greater.

(I know I say “around the world” a lot, but hey, that’s what Appropedia is about!)