December 16, 2014

FedWiki Daily #3: Skirting the Orange Halo of Death

So this is a little weird, because I am going to warn you about an interface issue before you even touch federated wiki. But there are reasons.

A lot of things in federated wiki are difficult because they have to be. It's a federated data-ware JSON driven platform that rewrites the assumptions of the web, not Twitter. You're not going to change the web with a big button marked "easy".

But some things are just difficult because they are not explained well.

Such is the case with the "Fork to Local" functionality in federated wiki. I watched my class this fall struggle with this the first three weeks, and it was painful. I am now watching two very smart web-literate people in #fedwikihappening tear their hair out online over this.

It's such a horrible cycle of frustration, and it gets people so MAD that I want to tell you about it before you touch federated wiki at all. Maybe before you have even SEEN the interface. 

Because if you know what's going on, it's really quite simple. It really is.

Fork-to-local usually appears like this -- you're editing, and all of a sudden there's a yellow-ish/orange-ish "halo" around the page. "What's that?" you think. You think it might be your browser, so you switch from Chrome to Firefox. And in Firefox YOUR PAGE IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. You make your changes in Firefox, get an orange halo and link it to a friend who tells you what you think is on the page isn't. You check your phone and it's different there too! In fact, it's a completely different page depending on whether your at home using Chrome, at home using Firefox, or browsing on your phone. You go to work and your edits aren't up, even though you just saw them at home. You go home, and your edits are clearly on the site.

What the heck, man? If this is federation, then federation SUCKS.

In reality, this "fork-to-local" functionality is very simple, and it works like stuff you've used before. This video walks you through how Fork-to-Local in your browser works essentially the same as saving a Word Document to the cloud.

Now, why does the fedwiki server hiccup more than, say, OneDrive? That's a question for another day.

Could the fork-to local functionality work more intuitively? That's a question I'll ask you all on January 2nd.

For now, if it fails, just finish up. make sure you're logged in and connected, and fork it back to the server. Or at least remember I sent this email, and go dig it up and re-read it (and *then* fork it back to the server).

Hopefully this introduction, before the fact, will save some people some headaches, so they can save brain cycles for the stuff that's actually hard, not the stuff that's just confusing.

We'll be pointing you to your fedwiki homes in just two days. (Excited yet? I am.)