Oakland Wiki to new LocalWiki platform

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Marina Kukso

Apr 29, 2014, 7:01:43 PM4/29/14
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Hi everyone,

As some of you may know, we've been working on a new version of the LocalWiki software that runs Oakland Wiki.

It's a bit of a different model from the current model. Right now, all the different LocalWikis around the world are separate..they live on their own websites. About a year ago, looking at the fact that many of the projects failed to get traction (often because it was hard to find and raise awareness of the sites in the first place), we decided to shift development to more of a federated model where the sites are interconnected and part of a LocalWiki network.

We've now been working on this for quite some time and are within a couple months of launching it. There's actually a live alpha of the new site (with full functionality) already up at http://localwiki.net. There have been a number of communities who have started new LocalWikis over there. Many existing LocalWikis (like Seattle, Toronto, Santa Cruz, Raleigh, and more) have already moved over to the platform and soon sites like Davis & Rochester (who are running an older version of LocalWiki) will move as well. The new site already has (what I think are) really neat new features like searching for addresses to get a point on the map, creating entries directly from the map, and the ability to add pages from the main page, and will continue to have more features developed for it.

I think a number of folks are already familiar with this stuff and are happy to move Oakland over, but I wanted to start the conversation with everyone to answer any questions and hear people's thoughts. Please feel free to reply to everyone or to reply to me directly for anything you'd prefer to not share with the group.


Gene Anderson

Apr 29, 2014, 8:07:07 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
What wasn't said, and people including me are not happy about is this means our pages won't reside on oaklandwiki.org anymore, but in a sub-directory on localwiki.net, i.e., localwiki.net/oakland. In addition, no more custom favorite icon, and while our home page can have a custom graphic as now, no more Oakland Wiki logo at the top of every page, just the Local Wiki recycling logo. Some of these might change, but aren't there as currently implemented.


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Matthew Senate

Apr 29, 2014, 8:35:04 PM4/29/14
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I spoke with Marina about this development. On the other hand, LocalWiki is heading toward the "Open Street Map" model rather than the "MediaWiki" (software behind Wikipedia) model. I think this is a very good idea to head in this direction, but as Gene points out there are costs, mainly in terms of customization and decentralization. 

On the other hand, the benefits of keeping local data all together are huge. For instance, we can start to show data from different localwiki communities alongside one another: imagine all the articles on the Oakland-Berkeley border, from BerkeleyWiki and OaklandWiki alike!

On top of that, the administrative costs of maintaining the system are far lowered. It's nice to eliminate technical overhead when possible.

Excited to hear other thoughts.

Lauren Briskin

Apr 29, 2014, 9:25:09 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
these are all great points, both matt and gene.

i've already told marina about 1736 times how important i think the "oakland"  part is and gene put out some even more important reasons. i think part of this is, personally, i hate change :) along with many of you, we've put a lot of sweat into "oaklandwiki" and even if it's EXACTLY THE SAME ONLY BETTER, it will still have a new name, which is change, which is hard.

another part of this is that we're oakland people, and really, oakland people have oakland pride! the flip side of that is, not everyone who contributes to OW *is an oakland person- they might be editing bruce lee's page from across the world, or just stumbling on the info. this might mean that localwiki.oalkand is a plus because it's more coherent, or it might be a little drawback because the stumbler won't sense the oakland pride! or both!

wondering if any SEO "studies" have been done? like if someone is looking for info on oakland (or seattle or wherever), will the name change affect that?

all of the new features that the merge enables are great. but i want my tree and my domain name! :) (and will learn to love whatever happens)


Gene Anderson

Apr 29, 2014, 9:28:21 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
Thanks, Lauren. Let it be known you and I are not the only ones unhappy about the proposed changes. (Hi, HiMY)

(and will learn to love whatever happens)

I'm hoping I can do the same, but have doubts (already expressed to Marina) about the "Welcome to Mega-Local-Wiki" approach.


Marina Kukso

Apr 29, 2014, 9:28:29 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
Hi everyone,

I very much apologize, but in the interest of keeping my first email short, I omitted key details that would be necessary for people to make up their mind about this:

What will change for Oakland Wiki if there's a move:
  • Domain name
  • Logo (for now)
    • Currently there's no logo, but this is something that we're working on.
  • Being separate from other sites
    • There are a number of ways that the sites are interconnected on the platform and we're still figuring out other ways to help the sites benefit from the work on other sites. For example, you could choose to have Oakland content would come up when people search for things in other areas and vice versa.
  • New features
    • I mentioned some of the new features above, but there are more new features (like detailed user stats, the ability to bookmark entries and get updates about them, having recent changes and other "discoverability" tools more prominent, etc.)

I also said in my email that a number of folks were happy with moving and failed to mention that a number of folks are not happy with moving. I very much apologize for making it seem as if everyone was on board. I started this thread so that everyone can share what they think about this issue.

Regarding concerns about visual customization, please remember that the site is incomplete visually at the moment. What we hope is to work with everyone from different communities to figure out what customization is important and helps the projects grow and what customizations aren't important (this is a Venn diagram).  The plan is to figure out the customization elements (like logo) before a broader public launch. There have already been lots of suggestions made that are super helpful and that are getting incorporated (you can help contribute to mockups here: https://localwiki.mybalsamiq.com/projects/localwikiwireframes/grid).

Finally, if you'd like to learn more about why we decided to head in this other direction, please read this huge blog post we wrote last year: http://localwiki.org/blog/2013/jul/25/big-news-future-localwiki/

- Marina

On Tue, Apr 29, 2014 at 5:35 PM, Matthew Senate <matts...@gmail.com> wrote:

Gene Anderson

Apr 29, 2014, 9:41:30 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
I'd be very interested to hear what sort of feedback there's been from the Davis Wiki folks about the proposed changes. In no small part because they've been independent for a while, and have a highly customized look.

I know there are some great reasons to combine the wikis, but the Davis and Oakland wikis don't have SEO and traction problems. Making them more generic isn't going to help other wikis as much as it hurts Davis and Oakland.

Why not give local areas the option? Plan A, join the LocalWiki collective. Plan B, install the software on a domain of your choosing, like other open software.


Matthew Senate

Apr 29, 2014, 9:42:54 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com

Can you clarify the alternative here?

From my perspective, the version of localwiki that we're using is no longer going to be improved and maintained by LocalWiki, the non-profit organization that funds the development of open source software that is behind each localwiki instance. By opting out of this move to localwiki.net, OaklandWiki would actually be opting-in to supplying (or paying for) its own technical support for a deprecated software project. This is not simply "the default" it's very risky.

I haven't been able to commit much time lately to administering oaklandwiki, and thankfully others including Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov have stepped in to do so (in some cases with unavoidable problems and frustrations). This is above and beyond what should be expected of them and we owe them great thanks for this.

As someone who tries really hard to keep technical overhead at a minimum, and still gets projects bubbling over the pan and onto the stove, I don't see localwiki instances staying independent for very long.

In my opinion, it's smarter to stay in solidarity and realize what great service LocalWiki has provided so far and what they will do if we stick with them in the future.

// Matt

Julio Rios

Apr 29, 2014, 10:50:24 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
I understand that there is something lost when OaklandWiki becomes absorbed into localwiki.net, but I agree with Matt and the LocalWiki crew that this is the best course of action for a variety of reasons. The obvious technical limitation of long-term supportability is important, but I am more excited about the possibilities.  I like some of the distinguishing features of the OaklandWiki aesthetic, but they don't make OaklandWiki the community of people that are passionate about learning and sharing their Oakland knowledge, which is what I think is really valuable, and I believe will be unchanged.

I live in Oakland, and spend most of my time here, but I also spend my time in other parts (Berkeley, SF, LA, Atlanta,...) and I am also part of those communities; I'm sure many of you have a similar perspective.  I'm happy to have a common experience (e.g. common login) when visiting the LocalWiki sphere of communities I frequent and I consider the temporarily imposed uniformity a small price to pay for the convenience.  Also, looking to  the future, when subdomains of localwiki.net are more thoroughly integrated, it will not be as painful as it currently is for different LocalWiki instances to interact over common topics (like County, State, and Regional issues).

Change is hard, and I know there'll be some things I don't like, but I'm optimistic about this migration.

Eddie Tejeda

May 3, 2014, 2:50:14 PM5/3/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Philip Neustrom
Overall I think this is a smart move for long term viability of OaklandWiki. I've actually been hosting the site on my personal Amazon AWS account, so I will certainly welcome saving a bit of money. There have also been multiple occasions when the site went down while I was unavailable and had to scramble to recover it.  That shouldn't happen anymore for a project at this scale and importance.

I do think that the domain is very important and if there is anyway to preserve it, I would recommend to do that.

But if that is not an option, I would like to share a few practical thoughts on what it would mean to switch over domains.

First, if not none properly, your SEO will hurt.  Google "Oakland DAC" or Oakland History and you'll see how prominent OaklandWiki is on the search results page.

Simply doing a wholesale URL forward from oaklandwiki.org to localwiki.org will almost certainly make you disappear from Google (at least for a while). I would suggest that you preserve the current URLs and map them to the new URL with 301 Redirect. This is what Google recommends when switching domains and can help preserve some of your current search engine standing.

Eddie A. Tejeda
2012 Fellow, Code for America

Gene Anderson

Apr 29, 2014, 9:50:16 PM4/29/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
The LocalWiki software isn't open? It can't be updated if areas don't opt to join the collective LocalWiki? If that's true, it's reason enough to find an open and open source alternative.


Vicky Knox

May 4, 2014, 3:08:59 PM5/4/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
Hi Gene! To answer your question, the software is and will remain open. The concern that Matt brought up was actually that the current community of developers will be focusing their energies on the new platform. If Oakland Wiki were to remain a separate platform, it would face the risk of not recieving maintenance.

Vicky Knox

May 14, 2014, 12:11:49 AM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Hey everyone!

I wanted to reopen this conversation because I don't think we have come to any collective agreements or conclusions.

I honor and take Gene's concerns very seriously. It is understandable that he would feel strongly about this issue: Gene has been a pivotal contributor to the wiki, perhaps contributing more bulk of content than any other user. This is not to say that others' contributions don't play a significant role in their own way: be it through the creation of interesting new content, the pursuit of community allies and partnerships, or envisioning a new future for community media in the form of a global local wiki community. Whether we remain separate or join the global platform, we will all have to compromise in some way or another.

In my mind, our conversation begs the question: "What is Oakland Wiki?". So far as I can tell, we are: a local history and storytelling project, a grassroots Yelp-like service, community activist media, a civic organizing platform, a research tool for journalists, a community informatics/resources database, an archive,...and who knows what the future holds!

With this in mind, here are some points I'd like to make:
  • Gene makes a valid point that a move would compromise some of our local flavor. Julio believes that this might be true, but temporary. Lauren reassures us that our content will remain valuable. Marina offers that we give input on the new website design. Gene, do you think that this is a reasonable compromise? How do you feel now that Eddie and Matt have offered their views from a technical standpoint?
  • What about a legalistic standpoint? At our last meeting we were approached by a real estate developer whose company was featured in the article "Predatory Developers". His initial reaction was to make a legal threat. He ended up being really receptive to our inclusive and agency-inducing nature, creating a username, contributing to the wiki, and shaking our hands afterwards. That to me was a real wake-up call, and a threat I think a larger conglomeration of wikis would be better able to coordinate around and handle. To me, not getting sued is a bottom line.
  • From a community informatics angle, I think a global platform makes the most sense. I met a young homeless person recently at West Oak BART who had boot rot and needed a foot washing station. The closest place that I could find on my smartphone was the Berkeley Free Clinic. Imagine a future where local wikis are used as a centralized listing of community resources. If Oakland Wiki is going to be used to connect people with local resources, official city borders are going to limit our access to information.
  • And on the topic of physical boundaries: I'm from Imperial Beach, which is in the San Diego-Tijuana border region. We are a transnational community, and have a large Filipino diaspora. Saying that Imperial Beach is just Imperial Beach without also being Tijuana and Manila and etc. is simply inaccurate--everyone in our community occupies multiple spaces. I'm not sure how Oakland Wiki on its own will honor and include transnational identities, or link to relevant city wikis without risking link rot and an ad hoc external linking system. 

tl;dr: Moving to a global platform will have its initial hiccups, but I think it will open us up to more content possibilities, will give us greater legal and technical stability, and will be inclusive of global intersectional (or trans-city :P) identities. LocalWiki and Oakland Wiki are ultimately community media experiments. I think we all need to honor each other for our unique contributions to the community, and as a community we need to support each other in this process through dialogue, improvisation and compromise. I don't mean to sound patronizing...I just feel really passionate about this issue!


Vicky Knox

May 14, 2014, 3:00:56 AM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Hey. I was just thinking...I'm not sure if talking about this over email is the best way to lay out and understand all these perspectives. There is a larger chorus in favor of migrating, but majority rule shouldn't be our MO. How do you feel about acting in true wiki fashion and working on a page about it together? I'm also doing this to include more people in the conversation and to preserve this historic debate in the wiki itself. 

I've started a placeholder at Oakland Wiki vs LocalWiki.

Marina Kukso

May 14, 2014, 11:50:56 AM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Sounds good! I'll paste over the details that I provided in my two emails above. Not sure if everyone wants to share their thoughts on the entry, so I guess people can just add their own thoughts to the wiki entry as they like.

Lauren Briskin

May 14, 2014, 8:32:34 PM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
the answer i never really got was: is this really a "choice"? what happens if we opt to stay "oaklandwiki"? practically speaking? i hear there's some serious things about the open source software and some domain name/server issue costs, but it would be great if we could spell those out, not so much in a pro-con type way, but a factual way, if possible. 


Matthew Senate

May 14, 2014, 9:12:02 PM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
In terms of choice, I'd say the world is your oyster. I think it's essential to remember that every member of the oaklandwiki is absolutely vital for their unique and valuable contributions on- and off-wiki, but ultimately they do participate in the project on a voluntary basis. All OaklandWikiers retain their agency and autonomy in their participation, and in their future visions for OaklandWiki. If it's the case that these intuitions and visions based on personal experience and reasoning lead toward or away from OaklandWiki.org (the software, the community, the name, the brand, the idea, the narrative, etc), we should accept and celebrate them and their choices either way. 

For the record, I would like to speak for "dissent":

In software, especially free/libre/open source software, there is the idea of a "fork" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fork_(software_development), which is based on the principle that forking is possible, at any time, because the source code is available for free for anyone to use and re-purpose, under the terms of a free or open copyright license. As a result, forking can provide communities with a release valve for energy as experimental down-stream forking, an opportunity to resist unfairness through moral forking, or forking based on mere intention and design choices that take the project in new directions.

This is also true of free culture. The creative commons license used for OaklandWiki enables the content to be forked, migrated, and developed independently from the core, original, or future platforms.

But what does this mean for a wiki? And for a wiki based on a local area, specifically Oakland? Does forking make sense for software, for content, for community, for vision?

I would respect and value if anyone on the list has something to share about why folks may consider forking (even as just a thought experiment or option) because I think it would help us get a wider view of the situation. 

Correct me if I'm wrong or performing a great error of omission, I am hearing that concerns focus mainly around "local flavor" in a sense--against centralization, and sharing a skepticism of mono-culture through the potentially unified and homogenized platform of the future LocalWiki. 

These concerns are awesome! You are awesome for feeling them! I weighed heavy these concerns as well for some time. For me, I realized the opportunities abounding overcome my inclinations for things such as decentralization of content. I realized my expectations did not match the context and it will indeed be worth it to try something new, and jump into it, following good patterns that groups like Open Street Maps developed.

However, perhaps we should swallow these criticisms whole and take them as an opportunity. What can we do (regardless of platform upgrade, etc) to preserve, or even proliferate the aspects of local flavor, decentralization, and heterogeneity that folks find valuable?

To me, layout/skin is one thing, but maybe we can be even more radical. What sort of aspects of a wiki, or specific actions users can take, that are specifically relevant to Oakland? What does decentralization and heterogeneity look like? What lessons have we learned so far?

Perhaps an OaklandWiki Unconference is in order for this summer?

// Matt

Philip Neustrom

May 14, 2014, 10:04:04 PM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com
Hey all, jumping in here kinda late. I'm out and about in NYC this
evening so I can't address all the great points folks have raised here

On Wed, May 14, 2014 at 9:12 PM, Matthew Senate <matts...@gmail.com> wrote:

> Correct me if I'm wrong or performing a great error of omission, I am
> hearing that concerns focus mainly around "local flavor" in a sense--against
> centralization, and sharing a skepticism of mono-culture through the
> potentially unified and homogenized platform of the future LocalWiki.

The concerns that Gene voiced have very much been on our minds over
the past year or so (and even further back, really). We've been
thinking about them constantly, and we didn't make this change
lightly: it came after taking a cold, hard look at what we've been
doing over the past ~10 years (!) And it was clear that the approach
we had been taking wasn't going to bring free, open local knowledge to
the world, or even to a small fraction of it[1].

If we could change some things about how things work and possibly
increase our impact, both collectively and individually, we had to try
it out. The alternative -- that of slowly bit-roting into irrelevancy
as closed, unaccountable, for-profit "local" sites run by
megalomaniacs[2] cannibalized our communities the same way Facebook
cannibalized and commercialized our personal relationships -- seemed

There are trade-offs here, but we believe it's very possible for us to:

* Develop a unified platform that allows us to bring open, free
knowledge to the entire world.
* Maintain strong "local flavor" and regional autonomy.
* Figure the rest out, together.

There are some big questions about branding here, but I'm confident we
can figure them out, together. Maybe in a year we'll say "Oakland
LocalWiki" instead of "Oakland Wiki," or maybe we'll all keep saying
"Oakland Wiki."

There's lots of examples to draw from with respect to local/regional
branding vis-a-vis global efforts -- Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, Open
Knowledge Foundation, Code for America all have their own structures
and solutions here. We don't know what ours will be yet, but we
didn't want to prematurely optimize and over-plan. Maybe we'll add
custom banners, logos, and other stuff we all feel is needed. But
what we want to do, right now, is experiment, test some of these
assumptions, and see what we need to change, together.

With respect to some of these other questions (local flavor &
autonomy), Marina has been doing some work to lay some groundwork


There's so much more to figure out, of course!

See also:
1. http://localwiki.org/blog/2013/jul/25/big-news-future-localwiki/
2. http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Nextdoor-Website-CEO-Accused-of-Hit-and-Run-259175061.html

Okay, off to play in the "Oakland by the Hudson" :P


Lauren Briskin

May 14, 2014, 10:42:50 PM5/14/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
i hear you, matt, and appreciate the response. clearly, we can do anything and in regular conversation, i'm the one saying the same thing you just did- there are ALWAYS choices :)

to clarify what i was trying to ask, though, maybe in a better way: what happens, logistically, if we "opt out" of the localwiki migration? what would this require, technically? can someone answer this in as value-neutral way as possible? (i also am usually the one to say that's not possible!) like, what are the financial costs associated? logistical requirements like, buying and hosting a domain name? keeping up with the coding? (these are the only things i can think of, but i am guessing there are others.)

i have lots of thoughts on this, and have only shared a few, but i feel like i'm (we're?) missing some data to make an informed opinion, and am not clear what really happens if the complete migration is made to localwiki and oakland opts NOT to do that. 

thank you!



Marina Kukso

May 15, 2014, 12:20:26 AM5/15/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Hi all,

Sorry for being late with responses.

Staying with the current software would take:

1) Keeping the domain name registered and paying for it (very cheap, around $40/yr)
2) Hosting the software on our own server and paying for it (not as cheap as $40/yr, but not very expensive. i'm actually not sure how much it would be). If we fill up our server space and have to move to a bigger server (as happened when we were unable to save new changes or find saved changes through search), we'd have to do this ourselves.
3) Because bug fixes & new features will only happen on the platform, we wouldn't see those.

Lauren, let me know if this is value-neutral enough and anyone else, please let me know if I've left any other logistics out.

To reiterate what Vicky said, everything is and will remain open source - both the platform version of LocalWiki and the version of LocalWiki that Oakland Wiki is currently on.

There were also a few questions about SEO. One of the major reasons that drove the decision to move to a platform model was SEO and content discoverability. The basic idea is that if everything lives at variations of one url, that any content on that url gets better SEO juice and that any new content added to the site immediately benefits from being a part of an already highly-ranked site (similar to how any new entry on Wikipedia benefits from being on en.wikipedia.org and when any entry on Wikipedia becomes more popular, it boosts the other pages).

To give a sense of the size of the platform, the current dashboard of localwiki.net is showing that there are 69,000 entries already on it: http://localwiki.net/_tools/dashboard/. Some folks expressed concern that sites like Oakland and Davis would take a hit to SEO by being affiliated with localwiki.net, but I don't think that's true. For example, Ann Arbor recently moved over and it looks like "Birthday Deals," one of their most popular entries, is still the top hit for "Ann Arbor birthday deals" search: https://encrypted.google.com/search?hl=en&q=ann%20arbor%20birthday%20deals. I think that given the size of the platform and how much more growth is possible on it, that we will eventually very much benefit in terms of being discoverable (more so than we are now).

Additionally, Eddie said: "Simply doing a wholesale URL forward from oaklandwiki.org to localwiki.org will almost certainly make you disappear from Google (at least for a while). I would suggest that you preserve the current URLs and map them to the new URL with 301 Redirect. This is what Google recommends when switching domains and can help preserve some of your current search engine standing." Mapping the new url's as Eddie suggests here is what we would do and I think that the Ann Arbor example (where we did this) shows that it doesn't seem to hurt the ranking.

Gene also asked about Davis and what people think. We've had a banner on Davis explaining the changes and showing people the new site for months and I think maybe only 1-2 people added comments. Philip - please correct me if I'm wrong here.

I think I've responded to everyone's fact-oriented questions above, but please let me know if I missed any or if there are new or follow-up questions.

- Marina

Marina Kukso

May 22, 2014, 7:16:18 PM5/22/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Hi all,

Thanks for starting an entry about the migration.

I added a bunch of stuff from this thread, organized it a bit, and clearly answered a few q's. If there are any q's I missed, please be assured that they were errors of omission. I will take a look again later tonight to see if there's stuff I missed. Please also feel free to add more stuff.

Entry is at: http://oaklandwiki.org/Oakland_Wiki_move_to_new_LocalWiki_platform

Marina Kukso

May 22, 2014, 7:20:12 PM5/22/14
to oakla...@googlegroups.com, Gene Anderson
Also, I forgot to say that I didn't copy anyone's comments from this thread over to the entry because I wasn't sure who wanted their stuff on there. If you'd like to add your perspective on potential migration, I created a comments section. You can either just copy what you wrote or write something new, etc.

- Marina
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