Updated: May 31, 2006
The Attention Refinery
The next step in the evolution 
of wiki warfare

by Ben Seattle 

Introduction Why we need a new kind of wiki
Mockup Bart Simpson's page on "democracy"
Key Features Here are some of the cool things you'll get
Other Features Here are more cool things
Wal-mart's Wikipedia War a widely discussed article
What is this thing? If this is not a wiki--then what is it?
Comments from readers If this is not a wiki--then what is it?

Introduction    (Ben Seattle, February 2006, 1500 words)

Why we need a new kind of wiki with:

  1. individual zones of control
  2. a column on all pages where readers can post comments and criticism
  3. blog-like features
  4. the ability to rate and filter pages and comments

Mockup    Bart Simpson's page on "democracy".

Click http://AttentionRefinery.com/bart/democracy to see it.

Key Features    Here are some of the cool things you'll get:
  • Exclusive zones of control Wiki pages are cool. But sometimes you want to create a page that no one else can mess with. The Attention Refinery gives you exclusive control of the articles you write. No one else can edit a page you create -- unless you give them permission to do so.

    Of course a narrow side column will run along the left side of your article -- and readers will be able to attach, in sections of this column, links to comments or links to similar pages that they create. But the big center column belongs to you alone. You are master of this domain.

  • Sister pages So, you don't like that page on Wal-Mart that Mr. Burns created? Think you can do better? Well, go right ahead. Create your own page on the topic of
    Wal-Mart. And every visitor to the Wal-Mart page that Mr. Burns created will see, in the "sister pages" section of the side column, a link to your page, together with essential information about your page (ie: such as your short summary of the page contents and the rating that community members have given to your page).

    So then -- which page (ie: the page created by Mr. Burns -- or the page that you created) will be the "official" page on Wal-Mart?

    Neither. There will be no "official" page.

    Every community member who creates a page at the Attention Refinery (or, for that matter, anyone who creates a blog or a web page on the internet) will decide for herself if she wants to link to Mr. Burns' page at:

    or your page at:
    So your pages will compete for attention. If you want your page to win -- then try hard to make it good.

  • Page Rating So, you look at a page and decide that it was a big waste of your time and was created by an airhead know-it-all -- and you want to spare other readers from wasting their time. All you need to do is to give the page a bad rating.

    And, when you are trying to decide if it is worth clicking on someone's page to read it -- you will be able to see the average rating that community members gave that page.

    More than this, when we create collaborative filtering -- you will be able to look at the average rating as determined by that subset of people who you tend to agree with or trust.

  • Comments Want to make a comment on the wiki page? Go ahead. Want to comment on another comment? It's easy. And visitors to the page will see a link to your comment in a section of the side column, together with essential information about your comment (ie: like its title and rating).

    Comments will be sorted by date -- and readers may decide to filter what they see by using the rating (ie: like at http://slashdot.org). And comments are unlike wiki pages in one important way: they cannot be changed (so think carefully before you click the button to post). Comments are like email that you post to a discussion list -- because comments are used to create discussion threads.

  • Attention posts So -- you have something important to say about a page -- but it's not practical to create an entire sister page on the same topic. And, because the topic is important, you want to be able to change or update your post at any time.

    And you don't want your comment to be lost, or hard to find, in a sea of comment/discussion?

    That is what attention posts are for.

    Each member of our community has the right to create a single post (which he can modify at any time) that will appear in the Attention Post area of the side column. The posts in this area will be sorted by rating -- so they will compete for attention.

More Features    Here are more cool things:

Since we are creating the Attention Refinery from scratch -- we will not be weighted down with all the wrong architectual decisions that are now buried deep in hundreds of subroutines in the MediaWiki code that runs wikipedia. We have an opportunity to do everything right. We may be amateurs as far as understanding advanced database techniques and scripting languages -- but we understand the kind of functionality that is needed by soldiers of the class struggle.

If our ideas prove to have merit -- then professional coders can follow in our footsteps and implement our design ideas using professional methods and cool, open source languages.

  • Tables (which will be necessary for the systematic collection and display of all kinds of information such as: valuable books to read, worthwhile and active projects, indymedia threads, important email lists, revolutionary or pseudo-revolutionary groups or activists who are deserving of attention) will be easy for users to create, using forms that may look similar to this:
     Enter table data Add rows or columns?   
     Select table style

    Style 1
    white background

    Style 2
    light blue/green

    Style 3
    light blue side

    Style 4
    dark blue/green

  • No more ambiguity about pages based on capitalisation, spaces or punctuation. The page about Jack's popular song: Jack's_Hit, will lead to the same place as the page describing the slang expression Jack_Shit. This represents an improvement because users should not be forced to remember the exact capitalization or punctuation used -- and can become frustrated when they can't find their page (ie: because, with our current wiki, Wal-Mart, Wal-mart, Walmart and WalMart represent 4 different pages). So our new code will overlook these differences and be more friendly for beginners.

  • It will be easier to do other kinds of things -- such as making links or pulling part of the contents of one page for display on another page. It will also, eventually, be possible to pull a section of data on one page into a table cell on another page. This will make possible more advanced applications.

  • If this project is successful (ie: either successful directly -- or indirectly in the sense of inspiring other projects to make use of the design principles which serve mass-based information war) then other advanced features could be added.

    One of the most important features would be collaborative filtering (see "page rating" section above) so that you can make use of the ratings that have been given by people whom you trust or who tend to rate pages in a similar way as you do.

    Another key development would be integration with email and RSS feeds so we don't need to rely on yahoo email lists.

    Eventually we might be able to use the Attention Refinery to implement some of the key projects which I described in 1998 that will help to bring political transparency to the progressive movement.

Wal-mart's Wikipedia War    (Richard Demsyn, April 2006, 1100 words)
This widely discussed article helps make clear that the concept of a so-called "Neutral Point of View" (NPOV) wiki (such as used by wikipedia) is not practical for articles on controversial (ie: important) topics. It is not simply a few key words, like "Palestine" or "democracy" or "communism" that will be controversial -- but more ordinary words like "Wal-Mart".

This is why I believe I must work on a different kind of wiki where multiple points of view (ie: multiple articles on the same topic) can compete for attention.

The Attention Refinery will allow any author to have exclusive control over her own article (or to allow trusted people to help edit the article). But side columns will display for readers a list of all other articles on the same topic (ie: what I call "sister posts"). And readers will be able to post comments and rate articles -- which will be visible in separate sections on the same page.

This is a far more democratic solution to the struggle over the meanings of key concepts. Ultimately, we need words to express ideas and to think -- and the struggle over the definitions of words, and the ideas associated with words -- is part of the class struggle.

What we are seeing now are simply the first skirmishes in an emerging period of "wiki warfare".

What is this thing?    How do we describe this thing?

The Attention Refinery will be the digital nervous system of the Media Weapon community. The proposed Mission Statement of Media Weapon community is:

To help develop the theory and practice of information war
and mobilize the working class for the overthrow of bourgeois rule

The "tagline" for the Attention Refinery:

Information war wants to be free to serve the class struggle

A more detailed description would be:
The Attention Refinery will be an ecosystem of parallel and connected blogs and wikis that serve as an arena for progressive activists in
the Media Weapon community to:
  • talk to one another
  • compete and cooperate
  • organize our thinking
  • discover and develop powerful and practical principles and projects
  • resolve our contradictions in full view of friend and foe alike
  • gradually assemble a common agenda
  • learn how to wage information war as an essential and decisive component of the class struggle so we can help mobilize the working class for the overthrow of bourgeois rule.

                        go to top