Process principles

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In addition to the overall microformats principles.

A lot of thought and experience went into designing the microformats process, and somewhere I want to capture that background. However, this page is not for that purpose, but rather to collect brainstorms and ideas on improving the process, along with some methodologies (or patterns) for considering changes to the process.

by Tantek, 2006-08-01 17:45-0700.

Questioning Assumptions

Much of what microformats has achieved can be directly attributed to various assumptions made by other organizations, groups, experts that have been questioned about technology, markup, adoption, XML, XHTML etc.

There are other kinds of assumptions being questioned as well however, even assumptions that most don't even realize they are making due to habits and ways of thinking learned years ago. Not to mention established cultural behaviors in various communities.

Prevent the negatives

One assumption that pervades A LOT of process-think (bureaucracy if you will) is that it is of utmost importance (unquestioned even) to prevent negatives from occuring. I'm using "negative" here as a shorthand for "negative actions", "negative outcomes", "negative effects" etc. If you read any contracts for example, you'll see an incredible focus and obsession about preventing the negatives. Most processes build up rules to follow to prevent a negative that occured that recently occured. Problem happens. Not covered by the process. Rules added to the process to prevent the problem. One might even assert that most governments and bodies of law are grown this way.

What's wrong with focusing on preventing the negatives?

Because rarely is that the *actual* goal of any organization or effort. Most efforts have a specific *constructive* goal in mind and *that* goal is more important than the prevention of any negative. While that may be easy to understand, the habit of preventing the negative is so deeply ingrained that people often act to prevent the negative to such a great extent that they prevent the *actual* goal(s) of the effort(s) as well, and thus end up thinking and acting against their own interests.

What is the alternative to preventing the negatives?

One alternative might be the actual goal of the organization or effort, as explained above. But that doesn't work. Or rather, it doesn't work in a universal enough way in order to actually combat the deeply seated prevent the negative assumption. When that goal or effort is completed, it is far too easy to simply fall back on old habits.

The key alternative to prevent the negatives is the inversion of the entire statement.

Enable the positives

One of the key realizations that I (and lots of other people have) had when first seeing and subsequently interacted with Wikipedia was how the nature of the medium and the culture and the community built around it enabled a constant stream of small positive steps to construct something incredible. I'm not sure that aspect was overtly designed into the system (and the culture around it), or if it was a happy accident or if it evolved. Regardless, we can use that aspect as a design center, especially in something like microformats which also depends on the incremental positive contributions of lots of people.

Thus when someone does something which appears to cause a negative, rather than first think, how do we prevent that, we should consider, how can we redirect/shape the *initiative*, *energy*, and *interest* of that person and *enable* such contributions to be positive, rather than focusing on preventing such actions. In the long term, I think this kind of philosophical shift will be absolutely essential for scaling both the growth and productivity of the community.

see also