From Michael's Internet Database
I'm Michael Slattery. Below is a brief description of some of the projects I've been working on (or would like to work on).
Water Engineering on the Web
I've created an information website entitled Water and Wastewater Engineering, but have only found time to write a few articles. Also, I'm unable to activate the TeX module for displaying scientific formulas, because my web hosting service prevents me from executing shell commands. (The details of this problem can be found here here.) I could solve this by renting my own server and transfering that site to it, but perhaps there are easier work-arounds. At any rate, in the meanwhile I could write articles without scientific formulas in them - if I could find the time.
I also plan to write for my water engineering blog, but I'm only at the stage of studying how to set up information streams so that I can find relevant news. If I get this going, the blog will serve as a source of information to be fed to the water engineering page that I've created on Facebook.
- Main article: Convivial Tools
As originally defined by Ivan Illich in his book "Tools for Conviviality," a convivial tool is one which allows the user to work with independent efficiency and with minimal reliance on external expertise. The underlying theme of all of Illich's work is how to give back to the average citizen some part of the control over knowledge and technology which is typically exercized by specialized elites.
My original wish was to foster design of household appliances that could be more easily repaired by their users (Reparable Tools). Only later did I discovered that Illich's ideas could provide a framework for this project. I've created two websites to promote Illich's ideas: a Convivial Tools Encyclopedia and a Convivial Tools Database. Their contents are largely the same, but the "Encyclopedia" site became overly formal, and moreover I prefer the software of the "Database" site. I plan to develop the "Database" site, but I got bogged down in the writing of detailed articles about all sorts of subjects only vaguely related to convivial tools. I should develop the section about the characteristics of convivial tools. I should also start a blog about convivial tools, to stay up-to-date with recent developments.
The Convivial Internet
- Main article: Convivial Internet
The characteristics that make a tool "convivial" can also be sought after in the design of software or websites. For software design this involves aiming to help the average user to descend within the program, to understand how it works, and to modify or configure it without disastrous consequences. Currently software for use on the interent, including even open source software, remains far from the ideals of conviviality.
Websites themselves are "tools" in the broad sense, as objects designed to help us learn (such as books are). There exist a great many sites that provide some sort of online help, such as review sites, rating sites, question-and-answer sites, online forums and wikis. However, help websites too often have low usability. Searching for answers in online forums, for example, can resemble searching for a needle in a haystack, and may often provide information that is unreliable. A convivial help site needs strong editing, to increase usability, limit bias, and provide verified answers. As an experiment I began working on an Internet User Guide website to share my own (limited) knowledge of basic Internet use and possibly help others avoid all of the false leads I followed. But of course the extensive work involved in writing content for this site has turned out to be beyond my capabilities.
Another internet-related project would be to create a Cooperative Social Network, similar to social networks such as Facebook or LinkedIn but structured as a coop. I believe that Cooperatives are a viable economic alternative to less democratic forms of enterprise, and most of my websites are hosted on Ouvaton, which is a French web-hosting cooperative. While there exist several innovative projects for building a social network that would be distributed over the computers of all the users, there are distinct advantages to hosted systems. In order to reduce the amount of advertising and data mining, the service could operate on a freemium model: the basic service would be free for all users, while paying premium memberships would benefit from additional services and priviledges. The premium members could form a consumer's cooperative.