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2004 Winners: http://www.aec.at/en/prix/communities/winners2004.asp

Two first places: Wikipedia (no surprise there), and The World Starts With Me (Netherlands / Uganda): http://www.theworldstarts.org "The World Starts With Me is a sex education and AIDS prevention project that simultaneously gives young Ugandans the opportunity to acquire Internet and computer skills." -- DougMerritt

Submission deadline: March 26

I had to rewrite it at the last minute for the tyranny of the form; please don't shoot me. -- SunirShah

Ars Electronica has created a [contest] for "digital community" this year in celebration of its 25th anniversary. There is 40 000 euro in cash prizes available, two 10k prizes and six 5k prizes. Should we enter Meatball?

I'm only interested in doing so because the money would alleviate immediate fiscal concerns for the MeatballServer. My continuing unemployed status as well as my tuition has basically drained my finances. I'd rather have a source of funding independent of the membership than one tied to the membership as that changes the character of the community.

The trade off is simple. Extra attention must be traded off against the chances of winning and the value of winning. However, in this case, I don't think we'd actually get any attention unless we won, and the value of winning is significant as the prize :: cost of applying ratio is very high.

There might be some blowback. For instance, we'd have to make some arrogant claims like we initiated Wikipedia, which isn't exactly untrue (between the script, the social support), and the fact that Meatball was responsible for raising the profile of wikis before Wikipedia. Not to mention to helping redesign ScoopEngine.

I hate writing these things, but the money is important. The deadline for submission is one week from today.

I know 1.5 of the jurors; I know JoiIto and HowardRheingold. -- SunirShah


project description

project basics

web address of the project

project details: object and cultural-geographic context, outline of the project's origin, development and history to-date, type and extent of the (groups of) individuals currently involved, technological basis, etc.

technical information: objective, statement of the problem being addressed, solution and features, fields of application, concrete areas of implementation, potential users and beneficiaries, licensing type, system environment, technological basis, etc.

statement of reasons why the submitted project deserves to win a prize in the "Digital Communities" category

resources: optional upload of supporting information and resources in digital form (in the case of texts, the complete, unabridged version of the text; scientific, scholarly or theoretical texts about the project; media coverage and published reactions; photographic and/or video material). If you think that illustrations, drawings, diagrams etc. are important for evaluating your project, please upload them in the following formats: tif, eps, jpg (jpg, eps only at maximum quality), 300 dpi (in sizes ranging up to 18x24 cm)

submitter: information about the person submitting the entry


Please upload 1 portrait of the submitter in the following formats: tif, eps, jpg (jpg, eps only at maximum quality), 300 dpi (in sizes ranging up to 7x10 cm).


Spin it, baby. We need to make the judges feel we are pushing the edges of the artistic world. We need an angle that is more than a bunch of engineers coding wiki features, and more than "liberalist online governance in a networked age." -- SunirShah

I think "liberalist online governance in a networked age" is exactly what they're looking for, actually. -- BayleShanks

Allright, I have been mostly starting flamewars on meatball, and then escaped off to CommunityWiki but I dare to speak here nevertheless. I think meatball is an excellent example of people, global people trying to figure out how to make the world work better, a small but fine circle. You have SoftSecurity here, do you? This can win a price. MattisManzel

UseRealNames, BarnRaising and ForestFire are more nuggets to work with. -- MarkDilley

We can use bits from the MeatballBackgrounder, and rewrite to make it more artsy. -- StephenGilbert

Scientific work

Cultural work

BTW "ars electronica" happens in Linz, Austria 250 km from Graz, Austria. Maybe mentioning the connection, the international member list, the "Austrian contribution" may help psychologically. -- HelmutLeitner

Definitely, mention the intn'l member list. This should go in the "details" part at least "type and extent of the (groups of) individuals currently involved" -- BayleShanks

note: i think we should be careful not to restrict our MeatballMission in "real life". However, for the purposes of contests like this, we have to sell ourselves by inventing more specific "objectives". -- BayleShanks

Brainstorming on the "statement of reasons" part

Brainstorming on the "technical info" part

approach 1: answer each thing on the checklist

technical information: objective, statement of the problem being addressed, solution and features, fields of application, concrete areas of implementation, potential users and beneficiaries, licensing type, system environment, technological basis, etc.

objective is cultural rather than technical, although some technical wiki improvements have come from meatball (i don't know exactly which ones. interwiki? kept pages? what else? even deleted page?)

problem being addressed: the grand problem of understanding the patterns which occur in online communities, and in forming strategies for building healthy online communities.

solutions and features:

fields of application

concrete areas of implementation:

potential users and beneficiaries: (list of communities that we've helped, and how we've helped them?)

licensing type: default copyright

system environment, technological basis: usemodwiki wiki software. however, we are discussing a switch to oddmuse wiki software.

approach 2: ignore those items that don't really apply

basically, note that our "objectives" and "features" are cultural rather than technical, and that in fact we are discussing moving to a different software substrate.

however, this might be a good place to note those common wiki features which were thought of on meatball first.

note that we run on UseMod wiki software right now, and that if we moved to something else, it would be a wiki.

we might go on to talk about:

those aspects of our culture which are most interrelated to wiki software

(yeah, everything is, but that don't sell good).

(the way we use?) wiki demands that we develop a high degree of trust for each other, and that we resolve conflicts and come to an understanding when there is disagreement; this applies both to disagreements about specific topics of discussion, as well as personal conflicts.

it demands that we give and accept constructive criticism to others' writing style. quality is maintained only through peer review of others' contributions.

anyone-can-modify-any-page meshes nicely with our egalitarian philosophy

[Submission deadline has been expanded to March 26]. -- HelmutLeitner


What about instead of applying with meatball applying with an alliance of e.a. Gr├╝nderwiki, Community-wiki and Meatball. That would add some diamonds, wouldn't it? 040305 11:16 UTC, +01h MattisManzel

Seems like that would just confuse the judges (and make them think it was some sort act of desparation) unless they all agreed to group under the "meatball project" banner. Which would be fine with me, to the extent that I am a member of CommunityWiki. But the "(flame?) war" that might be necessary to decide this might take longer than a few weeks!

However, if we just put a notice on all three wikis that they are allying with "meatball" under the name "meatball" for the purposes of this contest, and no one disputes/vetoes this, then we're good to go. I think that for the sake of simplicity we should assume that in the event of such an alliance, the prize money for this contest should all go to Sunir, and he should spend it however he chooses in his personal life (which may be meatball hosting). Otherwise, the discussion of how to divide the $$$ in the case of a win would take up more time than the alliance is worth.

In any case, alliance or no, we could state that meatball has spawned other communities, including those two.

-- BayleShanks

That sounds reasonable. I agree. -- MattisManzel

Should we enter?

Yes, certainly. -- BayleShanks

How do Sunir and Alex and Hellmut and the others think about it? MattisManzel

Obviously Sunir has already decided to enter. I'll support whatever he does. But I've little to give, because I'm over my ears in 4 critical software projects.

Chances look dim. ContentOverForm will not work in this "artistic" contest. Overall scientific, cultural, social engagement for "art of communication and community" might. Spawning of projects and communities might.

There is no no place to argue about the how, only one boat has got a chance and it carries the name "Meatball", better not talk about what that means. Let's Sunir take the lead and help him as much as we can. -- HelmutLeitner

Entering a contest is always an inspiring way of self-reflection. Therefore I am fully for it. On the ContentOverForm vs. "artistic merit" issue, I'd rather put it that the ContentOverForm focus is the final deliberate (anti-)artistic touch to counterpoint todays overstylised superficial media landscape (c.f. blogging as a pointed example). This would be much more in line with - what I percieve as - the hands-on spirit of MeatBall than trying to spindoctor a kind of pushing the "traditional" artistic edge. On the monetary issue: donations and membership could be handled totally independently. -- DavidSchmitt

David is right, find out what MeatBall is rather than find out how MeatBall could sell. Anyhow, it is bigger than art (traditional art, - the idea about contemporary art though follows, it is keen on following). Meatball includes art. Or even more exaggerated: - We decide what art is. MattisManzel

How are the preparations for the submission going? You're still in it, Sunir? 040317 22:01 UTC, +01h -- MattisManzel


Address, description, basics


The Meatball Project was founded in April 2000 by Sunir Shah to explore "collaborative hypermedia". Its initial focus was to provide a common space for wiki developers and proprietors from all over the Internet to collaborate, but it has grown into a thriving project of community and culture. Although the Meatball project is larger than just one website, Meatball's work is predominantly represented by MeatballWiki.

The name Meatball came from the analogy that the web looks like a bowl of meatball spaghetti, where the links are the spaghetti and the content is the meatballs. In that respect, Meatball places a premium on content over form. Also, Meatball plays into the distinction amongst early net.culture between "meatspace" and "cyberspace". Meatball doesn't consider itself a community of avatars in cyberspace; instead, it is a community of people in meatspace who happen to interact over the internet.

Technical description

Wikis are communally editable websites, where every word on every page can be modified by each and every person. They are consequently highly collaborative spaces, where no content is explicitly controlled by any one person. Wikis were first implemented in 1995 as the WikiWikiWeb by Ward Cunningham as a backend to the Portland Pattern Repository. Influenced consequently by Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press, 1977), wikis architecturally are heavily-crosslinked hypertext, where each node in the hypertext represents one concept (e.g. a Pattern). They are identifiable not only by their universal editability, but by their simple "page name is link name" equivalence. Wikis and particularly MeatballWiki tend to value content over form; there is a heavy emphasis on raw text as opposed to graphical style.

Hundreds of wiki implementations exist, targeted at various user groups, and running on many different platforms. Wikis are used by corporations, small project teams, software developers, research teams, and individuals. MeatballWiki currently uses the UseMod wiki server software, which is a Perl CGI script. We are not tied to our choice of server software, however, and may switch to a different wiki software package.


The wide scope of MeatballWiki would initially suggest that Meatball had no mission other than "online culture" and "online communities". It naturally contains technical analyses of indexing schemes, wiki architecture, and inter-wiki protocol design. Yet it also philosophizes about the nature of hypertext, government, and identity, not to mention detailing user interfaces, community building, and conflict resolution.

Meatball is a teaching and learning community of online community leaders--their proprietors, developers, mentors, and samaritans. We explore what it means to build a community online. We believe it is defined solely by the personal relationships that form it. What differentiates us from many online meta-communities is that while we do talk about technology, we spend more time talking about sociology; and when we do talk about technology, we do so in a social context.

Politically, we are strongly egalitarian. The founder made the choice that the power in the community should not rest in one person, but rather be devolved liberally to all community members, in order to remain consistent with the principles of simplicity and openness that went into the design of wikis in the first place. The result was the "soft security" pattern language. The typical concept of security and order on the Internet is hard: logins, passwords, encryption, special powers concentrated in the hands of a few. The underlying philosophy is that most people will try to break things, and are therefore untrustworthy. Soft security, on the other hand, works on the assumption that most people want to create, not destroy. It is a social system that works by assuming good faith and sharing power evenly, so that the community as a whole is more powerful than any one individual. In addition to leading to a healthier community, soft security is often more secure than hard.

Our motto is, "People and people and computers and people". We like to view online community building as similar to the traditional rural practice of "barn raising".

One of our primary functions is to support other communities. We do this both by analysing common patterns of online community, and by helping and discussing specific situations with members from other communities. We study other online communities to learn from their mistakes and successes. We explain solutions clearly. We provide assistance to those who need it. In turn, we gain support by being valued.

Only for others

Meatball only exists as a community of support for other communities. This makes it different from other submissions in that while it is a community itself, it is in a very meaningful way also a community of communities.

First, Meatball acts as a centre for the wider wiki organization. Meatball has greatly impacted the operation of WikiWikiWeb, the original wiki, as well as Wikipedia, the largest wiki. In fact, Wikipedia began by using the UseModWiki software, Meatball's own. More specifically, we have created the unique MetaWiki search engine, a search and analysis tool that spans many wikis; we have standardized the Rich Site Summary wiki extension, ModWiki; we have organized the "Tour Bus", a communally-edited tour of wikis worldwide; and we are currently collaborating amongst the wiki development community to build a standard wiki data protocol so that people may write new higher-level applications like wiki editors and visualization tools.

More importantly, however, we spend most of our time helping others learn how to navigate the difficulties of online community. With our soft security ideas: a belief in social order over technologically imposed order; our exploration of identity; wide-ranging advice on conflicts; an ongoing study in trolling and stalking; and a mantric zeal in reapplying forgotten basic principles in human relationships (like "Assume Good Faith" and "Forgive And Forget"), we have help countless communities mitigate their internal social problems. Although most luminary amongst our friends are Kuro5hin, Wikipedia, and the original WikiWikiWeb, we strive to help anyone. We have even saved ZWiki from a Slashdotting.

Why Meatball deserves to win

MeatballWiki is one of the central hubs of the growing wiki community. It has produced the clearest elucidation to date of the "soft security" philosophy which explains how and why to run a successful open community. It contains a rich body of wisdom on how to resolve personal and impersonal conflicts between community members. It has been a place where leaders from open communities can meet, discuss problems in their communities, and get advice from each other. From the beginning, it has served as a gathering place of wiki software designers, and has been the genesis of many useful wiki features which have becomes standard.

Why enter?

For the most part, Meatball tries to keep itself grounded and away from a fickle and dangerous fame. One of our half-joking credos is that "Meatball is boring to everyone who is not interested in us." Entering this contest goes against our very identity, so why did we enter? First, it was a fun way to bring the community together once again. We appreciate all forms of barn raising. And second, the chance to free Meatball from fiscal matters was worth persuing. We felt it would be better to give the community its own resources rather than relying on the charity of others. In that way, we may continue our mission to support other communities without worry for years.

About the submitter

This entry, like most things done by Meatball, was created collaboratively by the Meatball community. As founder, Sunir Shah has been charged with the responsibilty of being our representive for the Ars Electronica Contest. Sunir has been involved extensively in online communities since before he even got onto the Internet; he was even an active member of FidoNet at one time. Now, he is a Masters student at the University of Toronto's Knowledge Media Design Institute where he crashes headlong into the world of the Internet and tries to reconcile it into thousands of years of human experience. In a very real sense, he's doing a Masters in Meatball.



Ok, most of this is cribbed from MeatballBackgrounder and MeatballMission, with some editing and re-arranging. I don't have time to do much more, so help me out here! I think we need some more on specifics. -- StephenGilbert

"As we put our ideas into action, Meatball becomes performace art. We strive to be beautiful, not in your eyes, but in your mind. We want to shimmer and make people smile, and we want to do this by attracting and showcasing life."

Oh gosh, do we really have to say that in our entry? So CHEESY! -- BayleShanks

"From the beginning, it has served as a gathering place of wiki software designers, and has been the genesis of many useful wiki features which have becomes standard."

This could use a detailed list. Intermap? publically editable intermap? deletedpage? were any of these both 1) started here, and 2) now "standard"? -- BayleShanks

hey, so should we upload a tarball of meatball? the list of things to include says "in the case of text, the complete, unabridged version of the text". -- BayleShanks

In terms of values for this community, I don't like the implicit emphasis on never mentioning tech without mentioning even more social stuff to surround it with. (that's a more general comment; I don't think it should be taken out of the submission, however) -- BayleShanks

Should we write something about our use of pattern languages? I don't know quite what to write. -- BayleShanks

Sunir, please respond to say that you're going to turn this thing in, and when. And then post when you've sent it in. It would be too bad if you forgot about the contest and no one turned in our entry! -- BayleShanks

We need to work in the words "international community" somewhere.

Ok, I'm trying to submit the thing, except I realize I don't have a photo that I have to mail?!?!?! These requirements are retarded. -- SunirShah


well i guess you can always print out your online picture and mail that if it comes to it :)

-- BayleShanks

I've had to rewrite most of the submission to fit their stupid form.

I need a deputy representative in the next five seconds. I need an address, phone number, etc. -I've nominated Helmut. He has no choice. ;) - SunirShah

The submission form doesn't even work. Goddammit. -- Mrs. SunirShah

Well, if it's any consolation I think everybody who submitted through that form in English got the gender wrong since the translation's all hosed. If Rhizome wins I think I'll show up in a dress. --francis

It seems that the Digital Communities award ceremony is separate from the rest of the event:

The awards ceremony will take place on June 23, 2004 in conjunction with the UN Global Compact Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York. [1]

That's not a short trip for you, Mrs. Leitner. -- StephenGilbert

Maybe I catch a cold and you replace me, Mrs. Gilbert? :-) -- HelmutLeitner

Hopefully we'll be able to send Sunir. If not, I'm sure we'll get someone there. Um, if we win with our last minute entry. -- StephenGilbert

WikiPedia has [won] one of the Golden Nicas in the Digital Community category. WikiTravel, KuroShin, Delicious, and NYC Wireless also got Honorary Mentions.

That link seems to be stuck in an infinite loop.

Works fine for me. They use some browser-detection trick; what browser are you using? -- StephenGilbert

Hey, congratulations to y'all! -- SunirShah

'see 'we finally won? -- MattisManzel

Congratulations to WikiPedia! They do a great job and carry the main load to make wiki popular. A wiki as #1 in the category online communities is a strong signal and can serve as a motivation for every wikizen. Thanks! -- HelmutLeitner

I didn't even know Wikipedia had entered. I'm completely out of the loop now. :) -- StephenGilbert

Good technical decision. The best engine and by far the most users and contributions, but not as influencal as MeatBall or WardsWiki for the community. -- ReiniUrban

Reini, happy to see you here. Are you back to the wiki world? -- Couldn't agree less. It was surely no technical decision. From programming we know that there usually is no "best". It all depends on priorities, viewpoints and application types. -- HelmutLeitner


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