I cannot edit that

When dealing with structured data there are no tools for collaboration

In my community we meet quite often: there are usergroup meetings, networking events, BarCamps, StartUp Weekends — we even use the need to eat as an excuse to make plans on how to change the world. There is an enormous amount of knowledge in these communities, but we fall short in tapping it.

Blog posts are the gravestones of ideas

What I am doing right now is the wrong approach — but as I am going to show you later I have no other means right now. Let’s say I’d like to map out the start up hot spots in my area. I could write up a blog post with 'The 10 hottest places for start ups in the area'. This blog post would be valid for a few weeks, maybe half a year. But it will rot, its data will get outdated sooner or later. I’d have to constantly visit and update it. But as it is with people engaged in communities it is with specific knowledge: it will shift to another person who rises as a new expert. And they will write up another blog post.

But what if they could collaborate on mine?

They can. Send me an email. Tweet me a link to a new location. I can create an account for them on my blogging platform — if it offers that feature.

The task of collaboration on piece of text isn’t as simple as it sounds. If you are in the business of asking someone for help you better make it as easy as it gets to collaborate with you.

And there the trouble starts.

We need atomic collaboration

Picture this:
You can go to my imagined posting about the 10 hot spots and just click on 'Add a hotspot', provide the details of I location I missed and click send. I’d get a notification email with a preview of your addition and can accept it with one click. I can do that even without knowing who you are, as the data you provide speaks for itself.

This is what I call atomic collaboration. Atomic in the means of actions required to collaborate. They should be small. Really small.

We need structured data

You have to trust me on this: there is basically no usable way to track the changes to piece of text. If I want atomic collaboration I need structured data. I can split a text into it’s parts — headlines, paragraphs, lists, etc. — editing gets a lot more manageable.

We need open data

There is one last thing: collaboration on data also requires you to let go in terms of ownership of the content. There is no better invitation to collaborate on content then to make it public domain. The open source movement has shown the way: everyone can collaborate and if there are differences they are either settled or a fork is made — there never is the one solution.

Atomic collaboration on open structured data = ?

I think we all could use a github for data. A platform that is neutral in terms of the content it manages but makes clear decisions on how the collaboration is done.

I’ll keep on looking!

I did a followup a few weeks later where I explained a little, what I think when talking about the Github for data.