Six-month retrospective and evaluation

[16 July 2008]

This klog started about six months ago, as an experiment. In an early post, I wrote:

So I’m going to start a six-month experiment in keeping a work log. Think of it, dear reader, as my lab notebook. (I was going to do it starting a year ago, but, well, I didn?~~t. So I?~~m going to start now.)

My original plan was to make it accessible only to the W3C Team, so that I could talk about things that probably shouldn?~~t be discussed in public or in member space. Norm Walsh has blown a hole in that idea by pointing to this log [Hi, Norm!]. So public it is. (Ideally, I?~~d have a blog in which each item could be marked with an ACL, like resources in W3C date space: Team-only, Member-only, World-readable. Maybe later.)

Next year about June, if I remember, I will evaluate the experiment and decide whether it?~~s been useful for me or not.

So, as one of my teachers used to say at the beginning of a group evaluation of some student work: what works, what doesn’t work?

Things that don’t work as well as I would like:

  • As might have been predicted, the fact that Messages in a Bottle is public, not private, has encouraged me to be circumspect in ways that fight with the lab-notebook goal. I don’t want to be carelessly rude about colleagues or others in public, the way one can be in private conversations and to their faces. Across a dinner table, one can greet a claim made by a colleague with a straightforward cry of “But that’s bullcrap!” without impeding a useful discussion. (This depends in part on the conversational style cultivated by individuals and groups, of course. But as some readers of this post will know, this is not a speculation but a report.) It doesn’t feel quite right, however, to say in public of something proposed by someone acting in good faith that it’s just bullcrap. You have to spend some time thinking of another way to put it. Enrique comes in handy here, since he will say anything. It has not been proven, however, that Enrique will never piss anyone off.
  • For the same reason, I have not yet found a good way of recording issues and concerns I don’t have good answers for. In a lab notebook, or a private conversation, one can talk more forthrightly about things that are going wrong, or things that have gone wrong, and how to right them. But in public, members of a Working Group, and editors of a specification, do better to accept a sort of cabinet responsibility for the work product. You do the best you can to lead the group to what you believe is the right decision, and then you accept the decision and defend it in public. I have not yet found a way to combine the acceptance of that joint responsibility, and the concomitant need to avoid bad-mouthing decisions one is responsible for defending, on the one hand, with forthright analysis of errors on the other. Sometimes careful phrasing can do the job, but any need for care in phrasing constitutes a tax on the writing of posts about tricky subject matter.
  • So try as I might to keep pushing these posts toward being a work log, the genre keeps pushing back and trying to make them into something like a first-person newspaper column. That’s a fine and worthy thing, and I can’t say I don’t enjoy that genre, but it’s not quite what I was aiming for when I started. As a result, one cannot read back through the archives and get the kind of record one wants in a lab notebook, and I’m not sure Messages in a Bottle is working optimally as a means for me to communicate with myself, or with those I work with most closely.

And on the other side, some things do seem to work.

  • At one level of abstraction, the primary goal of this worklog is to improve communication between me and those I work with. There is some evidence, both in the comments here and in other channels, that some of those I work with do read these postings and find them useful, or at least diverting. I have never bothered to try to check the server logs for hit or visitor counts — my guess, based on my Spam Karma 2 reports, is that humans are strongly outnumbered by spambots among my readers, and I’d just as soon not have that demonstrated in quantitative detail — but it’s clear that more people read these posts at least sporadically than I would ever dream of pestering by sending them email meditations on these topics. If they read these posts and derive any insight from the reading, then this klog would appear to have improved communication at least somewhat.
  • It’s probably not actually a bad thing that I think of this as a public space. It makes me a bit more likely to try to write coherently, to supply relevant context, and to do the other things that help ensure that a communication can be read with understanding by readers distant in time, space, sentiment, or context from the author. If I occasionally indulge in a private joke or two, I hope you will bear with me.
  • It’s easier for me to find records of points of view and analyses that have gone into posts here than to find records kept only in files on my hard disk or on paper shoved into the shelves behind me.
  • So far, no one has complained even about the really boring technical discussions about regular grammars, even though it’s clear some of my readers would rather be reading about Enrique.

In sum, I think I believe the experiment can be adjudged modestly successful, and I will continue it for another six months.

3 thoughts on “Six-month retrospective and evaluation

  1. Sincerely Michael, I’m happy to hear that you continue. It has been at each post a very cool journey through things I had no or very poor knowledge. Your blog is really a very enjoyable and instructive reading.

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