World insurance schemes

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Not all insurance schemes are paid for and delivered in money. Granted, we pay for the European Union, which started as an unstated insurance scheme against war (and seems to have worked very well, given how the German and Greek governments must feel about each other at the moment); ditto the UN.

The biggest insurance scheme is still starting up now, and that’s to distribute skills, capacity and goodwill across the whole of the world, so that if any one part of it is hit by disaster, the rest are willing and able to help. As I keep saying in CrisisCamp, it’s not them and us any more, it’s us and us. I have two favourite illustrations of this at the moment – that an African-led group (Ushahidi) could help with a disaster in the Americas, and that the satellite sites for next month’s Random Hacks of Kindness (RHOK1.0) aren’t London, Paris, New York, but Nairobi, Jakarta and Sao Paolo.

What happens next could be interesting.  The tiger, Chinese, Indian and Brazilian economies all grew rapidly in the last couple of decades.  But there’s more. The ‘third world’ is huge, complex, and to Western eyes deeply disorganised, but there is a lot of will there to learn about using and creating technologies, and a lot of work on making that possible, from the solar-powered internet station in a portacabin to the African-created idea of linking individual PC wifis from house to house to form Internets. If we are all becoming equal in the eyes of the Internet, then we Westerners might one day blink, and find on opening our eyes that Africa has overtaken us in innovation, enterpreneurship and hunger for change.  And then we might need yet another insurance scheme that isn’t paid for or returned in money.

Postscript: spent part of weekend watching Random Hacks of Kindness team working in iHub Nairobi.  V impressive techs; see also Africa Launch business site.

Visualising wikis

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I’ve been doing some website updates recently, as part of the CrisisCommons work. My father taught me to always clean and examine something carefully before you take it apart, and this works as well for code and sites as it does for cars and houses, so I’ve been carefully analysing each site against a set of intended (and frequency-weighted) user journeys. And what would be a really nice thing to have would be a tool that generated a semantic network of a wikisite so I could trace its hub nodes and get an easy visual representation of how much each node and link is used (colour-coding seemed obvious here).

Now I remember the small worlds (everything is just 6 steps from everything else if you know which 6 steps to take) and semantic network theories from uni, and I’ve knocked up a few labelled graphs myself in my time, and I know there’s some great graph generation freeware out there, so I thought “this has got to be a standard item in the open source community, surely”.

Er. No. But there are some good things out there already.

* Aharef’s visualising websites as graphs. (example). Verry close to what I’m looking for, but runs off weblinks and doesn’t tag the hub nodes.
* Flexplorer. Great tool for mapping all the websites you’re pointing at. Not so great for mapping just the one wikisite. Does do good labels.
* Wikmindmap. Does wikis. Does labels. Doesn’t do the whole of a wiki. More of an explorer’s torch (sees ashort way but very well) than an explorer’s map (sees everything but in less detail).
* Powermapper – too literal. You get a (non-graphical) representation of the site contents rather than a summary that you can infer metainformation from.

So close, but no cigars. There is however a plan. Aharef has published his/her/their mapping code, so I’m going to see if I can change it to pull out the [[]] tags, and add a name to every heavily-linked node. It’s a plan. We’ll see how the reality pans out. But right now, I’m having a lovely time playing with the Processing visualisation tool and working out whether hacking Flexplorer is a better option.  And it seems like I’m not the only person thinking about doing this.