Be Informed

You have a computer that can access all of human knowledge within seconds. Please don’t remain ignorant. Do a little research, read opposing views, learn more about something you’re not familiar with.

“Now, we are caught in a series of confusing battles between opposing forces: between truth and falsehood, fact and rumour, kindness and cruelty; between the few and the many, the connected and the alienated; between the open platform of the web as its architects envisioned it and the gated enclosures of Facebook and other social networks; between an informed public and a misguided mob.

What is common to these struggles – and what makes their resolution an urgent matter – is that they all involve the diminishing status of truth. This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means, as this year has made very clear, that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.”

How technology disrupted the truth – The Guardian

How to Write a Successful Craigslist Ad

My wife and I use Craigslist frequently. Not to only purchase items, but to sell our unused electronics and household items for a little bit of pocket-money. We like to see these things get another life with new people. Over the years I’ve sold quite a few items with pretty good success. Here’s a few tips for others trying to use Craigslist. 1

Take nice photos

You can use your phone camera and still take nice photos of the item you have for sale. There’s a few things to be sure you do when you’re setting up your shot. This doesn’t require 45 minutes and tons of effort.

Make sure you have lots of light. 90% of photography is letting as much light into the camera as you can. Taking a photo of something large, like a bed frame, indoors? Open any nearby windows and turn on the lights in the room. If you have a window open (or a big light in the room) make sure that light is behind you when you take the photo, not in the photo itself. Otherwise your item will be a silhouette against the bright light.

Keep your item in sharp focus by holding still and taking your time to line up your shot. A blurry photo is more frustrating than no photo! If there are details of the items folks need to know about (like labels or model numbers) get in close and take an extra photo. Make sure there’s nothing distracting in the background. It removes the attention to your item. Depending on how organized you are, a mess of whatever can also make you appear less trustworthy and could reveal more about your private life than you intended. Make sure folks can’t figure our your address or other personal details to protect your privacy.

Whatever you do, don’t use a stock photo. People know what the heck an iPad looks like. They what to know what the one they’re buying looks like. Also, stock images (or images taken from elsewhere on the web are often a violation of copyright and just look spammy.

Use Gud English

Please, whatever you do, put a little effort into the language of your post. One sentence is not enough. Five sentences with poor grammar and “U Wot m8?” are not really selling me on the idea of doing business with you. Also, the search on Craigslist takes into account the text of the post, not just the headline. Being descriptive helps potential buyers find your ad.

If you’re selling a manufactured good, like computers, personal electronics, cameras, home appliances – include the official description (e.g. Samsung Galaxy Tab Zero 56) and a link to the manufacture’s website for the item. There’s no need to provide a super-detailed list of every specification if you can point to an official source.

For electronics, a link to the tech specs can be helpful for those who want to geek out.

If your item has multiple spellings (Game boy and Gameboy) include the most common in the title of the post and the other somewhere in the description. 2 This way folks searching for either spelling will see your post.

Where are you?

Make sure you are clear that you’re not going to drive across the state to sell a $30 item. Offer to meet half-way. When you do eventually meet, do so in public, during the day. Coffee shops are a good place to meet for most folks and they are seemingly everywhere. If the weather is fair many have outdoor seating so you don’t have to carry your authentic leg lamp inside. 🙂

Clear Contact Methods

Let potential buyers know the best way to get in touch. By default it will be email (CL even allows buyers to email without revealing their personal address). Realize that some folks don’t want to give out their cell number or don’t use text messaging 3

Follow up!

Reply to polite messages and offers. If someone is too low for your taste, a simple, “I’m asking a fair price and am not interested in going lower than $X. Thank you.” often works. Once your item is sold, take your listing down. You’ll only frustrate people who think the item is still for sale – and yourself by dealing with dead-end requests. 🙂

Photo by In 30 Minutes guides – Licensed under Creative Commons


  1. And a sort of reminder for me next time I go to post something.

  2. How do you know which is more common? Search on Craigslist for both and see which shows more relevant results. Use that one.

  3. This may be hard to believe, but these people do really exist. You’re leaving them out if you demand texting.

Notes from the first Enterprise MediaWiki Conference

On May 22 – 25 I attended the first Enterprise MediaWiki Conference (EMWCon) in New York City. It’s a continuation of the similarly named SMWCon, but with a strong emphasis on all flavors of MediaWiki and how it is used in organizations large and small. I was able attend in my capacity as a staff member of the Wikimedia Foundation (WMF), but have had a personal interest in the MediaWiki community for a few years now. I thought it would be helpful to write down a few notes on my experiences and share those with folks within the Wikimedia movement.

At the conference I learned how folks are using MediaWiki, what difficulties they face in their use, and their concerns for the future of the platform. 1

Quick Take Aways

A few large points that struck me as worth mentioning.

  • There are many people using MediaWiki in interesting and unique ways. This is the 4th MediaWiki-focused event I’ve attended in the last two years and at each one I’ve discovered new uses in new industries. This time around? Johnson & Johnson, General Electric, a large banking company, and a large oil company all use MediaWiki in some capacity to help document and share knowledge within their organizations. This is on top of groups like Circ du Soleil, MITRE, NATO, and NASA that I was already aware of. I was also impressed by the half a dozen independent developers who support organizations in using MediaWiki. Some folks have smaller organizations with smaller wikis – which is impressive. It’s even crazier to think that this bit of open-source software can be used inside so many large, well-known, organizations – often to great success.
  • Users of MediaWiki – specifically those that write their own code – want acknowledgment. They want to know that the folks who are pointing MediaWiki toward its future are aware of these diverse use cases and keep that in mind when making decisions that would impact non-WMF-supported use.
  • They also want to know what the WMF’s plans are. They want to be reassured – and to be able to reassure others within their organizations, that MediaWiki will be around. A simple, high-level roadmap would do wonders here. There is a large ask of the foundation to make a decision on what sort of support will be offered – even if the answer is an uncomfortable “nothing” it would be better than the current strain of “Eh, we really don’t know.” At one point during the conference I made the joke that the WMF had ‘cookie licked’ MediaWiki. :p
  • I had one attendee, a long-time MediaWiki admin and community member, ask me, “Am I a volunteer? A contributor?” This is from someone whose organization has no less than 14 extensions on MediaWiki.org and who has contributed code to the core development of MediaWiki. They were not certain if their contributions were as valued given that what they work on has a much larger impact on third-party users than Wikimedia projects. People within the MediaWiki community want equal treatment and respect as developer contributors.
  • Lastly, the WMF should consider the impact this community has had in the development of MediaWiki as a popular and healthy open-source software. There is an incredible financial worth in the patches and extensions contributed by third parties. I mean, to be frank, we have people working at NASA and MITRE (among others) sharing their work with the MediaWiki community. The time and talent alone is something that should be considered a strength within our community.

MWF?

Another topic that has been gaining steam recently in the MediaWiki community is the idea of a “MediaWiki Foundation”. A non-profit organization that focuses on the core development of MediaWiki as an open-source software project – influenced by all parties equally. I think it’s going to happen in some capacity.

Generally speaking the MediaWiki community agrees it won’t be the big, giant, dramatic change like moving all of MediaWiki ownership out of the WMF.

Instead the focus will be on small deliverables. Right now the MediaWiki Stakeholder’s user group is looking for a small task on the wishlist, funding (passing a hat around!) and working to show that something was accomplished. Then, after being able to show their work, approach the WMF with a request for some of their time to discuss how they could work together. If you’re interested in following along, check out the MediaWiki Stakeholders’ wiki and the #mwstake room in the Wikimedia Phabricator.

A Real Community

While some wikis are internal and not public, the folks at the conference freely shared their experiences and knowledge for others to benefit from. One attendee described the community and our relationship with one another in an interesting way. We’re not competing with each other to ‘build the best wiki’ but we are competing together against closed, propriatrty systems of knowledge management that permeate organizations across industries. These systems have an antiquated model of documenting and sharing knowledge that is antithesis to truly sharing information to empower members of the org. For example, SharePoint sets permissions to be closed by default. You have to know the information exists, somewhere in the laybranith of SharePoint sites, before you can request access to it!

I think that this event acknowledges that we come together freely to share across industries and uses. It is endemic of having a natural community – not one forced out of branding, marketing, or sales departments within a for-profit organization.

Wikipedians in our midst

While the conference was focused on MediaWiki use outside of Wikimedia projects, attendees did have an opportunity to get to know more about the Wikimedia world and meet folks who are involved in related projects. One of our hosts, Pharos, is a long-time editor on English Wikipedia, president of the NYC chapter, and was a Wikipedian-in-residence at the Guggenheim Museum.

At the end of the first day the NYC chapter brought pizza and people together to talk about what they had been working on. I met no less than 3 individuals involved in Afrocrowd.org, a Wikipedia project I had never heard of until this event!

I also met a long-time MediaWikian, Frank Taylor, who was interested in the work the WMF was doing around emerging communities. He even offered to put the folks at the foundation working on this outreach in contact with folks he has worked with in Central and South America. Which is a kind and unexpected example of the communities sharing interests!

Conclusion

I encourage folks to attend future EMWCons (and SMWCons). They are a great opportunity to learn and share with one another, to create relationships beyond Talk pages, and to grow an already impressive community. In particular I would like to invite the following groups.

  • WMF staff who work on MediaWiki core development, planning, and developer relations.
  • People who use MediaWiki – or are interested in using a wiki!
  • People who want to encourage open-source software and free knowledge – even when the knowledge is shared not among the entirety of humanity. There is a very real halo effect in people using MediaWiki. The philosophy of the wiki changes organizations approach to sharing and working together. It breeds familiarity with many aspects of the wider Wikimedia movement. I know I’m only a factor of one, but my Wikimedia contributions are born out of the use of MediaWiki within a ‘closed’ organization. 2

See also


  1. Some may object to the word “platform”, but for many people using MediaWiki inside organizations, it truly is the foundation on which all of their process and strategy sit.

  2. Heck, my professional career as the ‘wiki guy’ has lead to my current role at the WMF!

One of the Hiring Questions

When I applied for the position of community liaison at the Wikimedia Foundation I was given a set of questions to answer. Here’s one that I think was important. The answer I gave is something I try to remember when working with people who have an approach to dialog that is unlike mine.

What might you say to someone whose feedback is unconstructive?

  • Listen, ask clarifying questions, encourage action.

Unconstructive feedback usually comes from passion. That’s good! We don’t want apathetic contributors. Sometimes that passion can manifest in misguided ways. Sometimes culture plays a role in interpretation and intent. So first I’d be patient and empathetic. Maybe the editor is having a bad day. Assume good faith and engage positively with the individual. Politely remind them that their behavior reflects on the community as a whole and ask them to remember to remain civil.

If people are sticking around – on talk pages, in conversations, Phab tasks – but frustrated, I’d like to know why. Is there history there? Past experiences? Can we use our own positive behaviors to shift those expectations? For example, if someone says, “Yeah right. You’ll never get back to me. People always promise to and don’t.” I’d be sure to make a note that getting back to people is a perceived negative and use positive behavior (getting back to people when I say I will) to negate that argument.

Another big part of engaging with folks in the wiki way – transparent to a fault – is to make sure that you’re talking to the audience, not just to the person who is being unconstructive. Let others who are reading know that you’re remaining positive and constructive with your actions and don’t let things devolve. I’m a fan/practitioner of the Charles’ Rules of Argument (http://fishbowl.pastiche.org/2004/03/21/charles_rules_of_argument/). No jokes or sarcasm. Keep things simple.

In the end, you can still accomplish a lot with a diverse and productive community.