Finishing touches before we open: format conventions and onboarding funnel

Delighted to see Witness taking shape before my eyes! Good work, everyone.

I wish to draw everyone’s attention on two things before the opening date is upon us: format conventions for Witnesspedia articles and the onboarding funnel.

Format conventions

In my own contributions, I tried to stay close to an encyclopedia format. This includes:

  1. Start each entry with a definition, for example

    Reading the Room, usually abbreviated in REDR (pronounced “redder”), is a martial art based on situational awareness, strategy and hand-to-hand combat.

    and only after that start to discuss, tell its story etc.

  2. Use sections, for example “History”, “Economic policy”, etc.

  3. Use links for words that should have their own encyclopedia articles, for example:

    The first founding principle is the danger zone . It is the area of pre-Sundering research at the intersection of economics and anthropology. This was spearheaded by scholars such as Marcel Mauss, Karl Polanyi, Albert O. Hirschman, James C. Scott and David Graeber.

    Links go to other Witnesspedia entries (example: the Pluriversity project), or to Wikipedia (example: Marcel Mauss), or even to nowhere when I think someone should make a Witnesspedia entry at some point.

  4. One Witnesspedia entry, one post. Some of my articles are in topic starters (Aethnography), others in posts further down in their topics (example: REDR.

I am open to any convention. Someone should write one, though, so that, when the wiki is open to contributions, it does not become too much of a mess.

Onboarding funnel.

@nadia always says that it is a challenge for people to find the way they can best contribute, and that the challenge is greater the richer and more complex the project. The entry on aethnography gave me the idea to make a funnel where people would be guided to task lists (or to people in the team who are overseeing parts of the project) depending on their skills and interests. This would happen in a quasi-RPG way.

The idea is this. If you are an economist, anthropologist or social scientist, you would be invited to join the ranks of the aethnographers of Witness. You can choose whether to act in the capacity of a theor, an augur or an incanter

  • Theors are comfortable with abstract models. In the WBA, they propose and discuss alternative value theories, check the main models behind the different districts, and so on. For example, in the Covenant, the theoric mode of production is a monastic economy. Theors are supposed to debug it.
  • Augurs are good at real world data and applied analysis. In the WBA, they flesh out the models with information that makes them “come alive”. For example, in the Covenant, the monastic economy is unresponsive to demand-side force. Augurs come up with a mechanism to absorb that force, namely the ecosystems of capitalist companies that make knockoffs of the super-high quality goods made in monasteries.
  • Incanters are agents more than analysts: entrepreneurs, civil servants, managers, politicians, activists. In the WBA, they populate Witness with companies, institutions, movements etc. To stay with the example of the Covenant, they can flesh out things like the markets most likely to be served by its capitalist companies, the management culture in Ordo Operarum, or the how the swarm of AI brokers around the Institute for the Works of Religion.

However, we also want to welcome SF fans and creative people at large. Should we add a fourth figure? And which one? Or maybe this idea of a funnel is wrong?

Need a decision on both issues from @yudhanjaya @Joriam @hugi @amelia @nadia .

It’s a good format. I’m planning to follow your conventions, using the Covenant post as a template, so that’s what I prefer.

If you want to contribute illustrations, for example, what are you then?

My point exactly: the entry on aethnography can double up nicely as a funnel, but it is not complete.

Ok I am thinking in terms of visuals/ux from info to input to output and back.

I like the way Sam Muirhead and the crew over at Open Source Circular Economy did it. They used a discourse forum in a very structured way. Giving people instructions on what kind of thing to post where and how to tag it:

So I would start there.

Then if we have a good setup, then we can easily set up a landing page where content is picked up dynamically from the platform and presented in such a way as to make it easy to see what is going on, when, where and how to get started (a replicate of an existing landing page but with different content:

+1 for this format. To add to this:

Every Distrikt entry should have the following sections: Political history, economy, culture and contemporary life, topology, notable people. Aspects of these can be farmed out to their own sub-sections if it looks too big to fit under one heading, or if a Distrikt is notable for a particular system: but these are the minimum for (heh) the State Machine to regard a Distrikt proposal as being a well-fleshed out one.

One of the things I find interesting is what might when you put, say, a writer, an economist, a politician, and an anti-state activist in the same room with a shared structure and overall vision. You’ll find them spotting and adding what each other have missed - a person might propose a system, and someone might go ‘no, there’s going to be protests on the street about that’. And now you have a much richer simulation of a fictional city.

We’ve already seen this to some extent with alberto and me arguing over the Covenant, which he sees as idyllic and I see as ripe for censorship and Potemkin village-ism; the end result had strains of both arguments, and therefore is better for it.

The entry on aethnography gave me the idea to make a funnel where people would be guided to task lists (or to people in the team who are overseeing parts of the project) depending on their skills and interests. This would happen in a quasi-RPG way.

Sounds like we can literally role-play the State Machine and/or various workshops of aethnography. A set of tasks, after which a user earns the “aethnographer” title?

Regarding getting SF writers / incanters onboard: I want to see if we can reach out to Archive of Our Own, aka AO3. AO3 is possibly the largest fanfiction community on the net, full of passionate writers used to taking worlds and playing with them in all sorts of interesting ways. Here’s the kind of scale they’re at:

No guarantees, of course, given that our project is unknown in these communities right now . . . but with those kinds of numbers, and given this kind of product-market fit, someone might bite.


I declare incompetence here – was not thinking about gamification and badge-earning. You guys decide, or, if you want a second opinion, we can evoke @matteo_uguzzoni, our resident game designer.

I was thinking of creating a little narrative whereby contributors can place themselves easily. “I am a data scientist looking at CO2 emissions, therefore I am an augur. Let me look at my recommended tasks list…”

This is another critical point: we should have a landing page saying clearly what we are looking for. I would say:

  1. Introduce oneself topics. Helps to get a grip on what skills people have.
  2. Witnesspedia entry edits. Self-explanatory
  3. Comments to Witnesspedia entries. Debate on the entries themselves.
  4. Proposed new entries. Distrikt proposals, and entries on things other than districts. Currencies might become a big deal.
  5. Non-text contributions. Illustrations, videos, music, data visualizations, fictional economics papers, whatever.

Should we already encourage people to write fiction, too? Or is too early?

I see everybody agreeing and I want to also give my thumbs up, but let me wear the black hat just for a second: I feel this solution is very sophisticated and maintenance heavy.

If you want people to ‘join the ranks’ of anything, you must execute the actions so that this group exists, mingles, interacts.

The ideas I had to get the ball rolling were much smaller and punctual — already taking into account that the capacity we have for this project is quite limited. I was thinking to start this process by giving everyone a Wiki that would have gaps and offer particular prompts such as:

  • [Economists, Sociologists, Policy Makers] Complete the “education system” in the “Aethnography” page
  • [Team of Storytellers and Economists] Create a Distrikt Minor
  • [Illustrators] Give the first view of “Avantgrid: The off-grid archipelago” to be added at the top of the article

Of course those prompts would come with a certain structure for people to follow, like how to submit and entry and how to indicate you’re already working on something, but it’s much easier than introducing people to new terms and trying to evoke a sense of group.

I feel Alberto’s suggestion is super cool, but it’s more in the realm of ‘perfect solution’, if we had time time and manpower to run all we wanted.

Anyway, black hat off!

I’m not sure I agree, as the solution is modular. That is; it does not require any set level of ambition. If you want to write a stub that others can build on, go ahead. But if you do write an extensive article, try to focus first on the standard sections to make it interoperable with the rest. This doesn’t stop you from playing with the format. For example, compare the articles on Chandigarh and Wellington. The article on Chandigarh has a top-level section on Postcolonial significance and the one one Wellington has one on Housing and real estate. Other place articles are more divergent

  • like that of Xilingol League which has three sections: “Demographics”, “Administrative subdivisions” and “Demonstrations in 2011”. They don’t follow the exact same format, but there is some sort of “platonic ideal” for Wikipedia articles that good editors try to approach.