Friday, 21 March 2008

Useful tips for new Wikis

I've read some really useful tips this morning on a forum recommended in a comment on one of my posts made by my colleague Sian yesterday. The forum's called Will Wikis Work? It's intended for users of Wikia Wikis but it still applies to others as well. So a big thank you to Sian for pointing me in that direction.

To summarise some of the points I found particularly useful:
1. 'The three factors that determine contributors to a Wiki project are Confidence, Interest and Awareness'. It's common sense really but they point out that confident users are those who are willing and able to contribute to a Wiki. In Wikipedia, which is so broad in scope, all of these confident users are likely to have some subject of interest that they can contribute to. In smaller, subject specialist Wikis like ours, however, the likelihood of finding people who are both confident, but also interested (or knowledgeable) in our subject is harder. Add to this the fact that many people who fall into these two categories may not yet know about our Wiki, and you start to understand the full scale of the work that we need to do to get people on there. As I say, it's not rocket science, but I thought the way that they explained and argued it was very clear and accessible.
2. They point out that the key to increasing the number of people who are interested, but also confident, is to train them. I've been thinking that I need to write a kind of user guide but this has confirmed me in that decision. They recommend 'a really easy user friendly introduction to Wiki editing.'
3. In terms of marketing, they recommend first marketing to those who are both interested and confident. Once the critical number of contributors is reached, you can then move on to really pushing the Wiki to people who are just interested but not yet confident.
4. I liked their equation to work out the likely number of contributors:

No. of interested x aware proportion x confident and passionate proportion = Potential contributors

The confident and passionate proportion can be assumed to be about 1% based on Wikipedia and other web 2.0 communities.

The number of people interested in postal history/philately is surprisingly large, but at the moment the number of them who are aware of our Wiki is very small. So that's where the work lies!

5. Again, it's common sense really, but they stress the importance of not trying to compete with Wikipedia, simply because it's pointless. They're always going to be bigger! To avoid this competition you can allow people to go into more depth and detail than a Wikipedia entry, which is encyclopedic, can allow. People don't need to have a neutral point of view. And people can contribute their own experience on a subject.

They then move on to how to attract contributions.
Useful tips here include:
1. 'you must identify places where the sort of people your project wishes to attract are common and talk about it there'...'you should consider the audience and the sort of visitors you want to encourage when composing it.'
2. Good tips on how to make people feel comfortable, welcome and motivated: stress that the wiki 'is a common effort', 'be welcoming to visitors and encourage them', 'keep posting regular updates describing the general progress and specific advancements', 'try contracting people that might be interested in contributing to your wiki in ,.... forums, blog, other websites'. I'm going to have a trawl in a minute to see if there are any postal history type blogs out there! There's certainly some interested groups on Flickr. They also advocate 'emphasising community involvement'
3. They suggest that personal invitations are much better than a general email/advert - so that's encouraging - I've been doing that a bit this week, hopefully it will pay off!
4. They preach caution when trying to promote your Wiki on Wikipedia or any Wikimedia projects as the administrators will quickly clamp down.

There's some interesting stuff on building trust with your community in the 'Building a community' section. We don't have 'talk' pages on the BPMA Wiki but I might set up a mailing list and start trying to chat to people by email. It won't necessarily build a community that are talking to each other but at least they'll be talking to me.

There's a slightly gloomy, but probably quite realistic stuff about the length of time it will take to build a community who actively contribute in the Improving your Wikia bit:

They warn that you may need to spend 'three, four or more months adding content all by yourself'. That you (I/BPMA) will have to create 'at least 95% if not 98% of all content.' and that 'That requires about 1-2 years of 1-2 hours of daily work.' 'Do not kid yourself. Only a dozen people will actively contribute to the wiki in the beginnings.' - so, anyone else want to do the rest of my work for the next two years? I've got to spend at least 2 hours everyday creating Wiki content! :-)

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Thursday, 20 March 2008

Theory, Motivation, and Truth

I haven't read anything particularly ground breaking this week, I've mostly just been familiarising myself with what's out there, which has been a useful process. A few things have caught my eye however:

It occurred to me the other day that I ought to be including a little in my literature review about the theory that underlies Wikis. I found one example of such theory, which I have to admit went a bit over my head, in Rafaeli, Hayat and Ariel who talked about Nonaka & Takeuchi's (1995) work on the 'thoery of organizational knowledge creation': 'The process of knowledge creation, according to this theory, involves social interaction and the transition between tacit and explicit knowledge. This theory proposes four modes of knowledge conversion: Socialization individuals share tacit knowledge through joint activities. Externatlization individuals link tacit knowledge to explict knowledge. Combination individuals combine different explicit ideas into more complex sets of explicit knowledge. Internalization individuals extract knowledge from newly created tacti and explicit knowledge.' What? I think I'll figure it out later. It's nearly11.00pm and therefore far too late for that kind of thing! There was also quite a nice reference in Ben Macintyre's 'How wiki-wiki can get sticky' to 'the Enlightenment ideal of the collective pursuit of truth' - which is probably an avenue worth looking into a little from a theoretical perspective.

On motivation, I was interested in Rafaeli, Hayat and Ariel's findings on what motivates Wikipedians to keep 'Wikipedia-ing'(!): 'The data...reveals that the strongest Wikipedians motivators are Cognitive ("Learning new things" and "Intellectual challenge") Affective ("Pleasure") and Integrative ("Sharing my knowledge") and "Contributing to other people")' These findings will be useful when considering how to motivate people to contribute to the BPMA Wiki. It's encouraging to know that there is such a vast community out there who are willing to share their knowledge for no real return. It renews your faith in humanity to know that not everyone is simply out to get whatever they can for themselves. Let's just hope that some of the spirit rests alongside an interest in the history of the post in some individuals!

The feeling of being part of a community was also found to be a strong motivator of Wikipedians. The key issue of course is how to create that community in the first place.

On truth, I also like Ben Macintyre's comment: 'Wikipedia has the same relationship with an encyclopaedia that yesterday's news reporting has with tomorrow's history book. Wikipedia is a first draft. It is not truth.'

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Authority again

I wanted to make a note to myself about Beler, Borda, Bowen and Filippini-Fanton's comment that 'museums should not just be seen as custodians of knowledge, but part of a wider exchange.' My first reaction, following on from my comments last week about negative perceptions of resistance to the freedom provided by Wikis, was to view this as a criticism of museums as authorities on certain subjects. Admittedly, the word 'just' shows that they're not saying that museums should not be the custodians of knowledge, only that should not exclusively be this. Which I think I agree with. I think I'm just still not wholly won over by the current trend for 'bottom-up' rather than 'top-down' information and the power of the crowd. I think that's probably why I quite like the Mitchell and Webb quote that a few people are quoting:

"Are you personally affected by this issue? Then email us. Or if you're not affected by this issue, can you imagine what it would be like if you were? Or if you are affected by it, but don't want to talk about it, can you imagine what it would be like not being affected by it? Why not email us? You may not know anything about the issue, but I bet you reckon something. So why not tell us what you reckon. Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uninformed, ad hoc reckon, by going to, clicking on 'what I reckon' and then simply beating on the keyboard with your fists or head."

As Oliver Burkeman said last year: 'if you heard it and laughed, it's probably because you share some of the ambivalence it exudes towards the idea of a world in which everyone is a creator of content' - so I'm not the only one!



There've been a couple of things to do with Wikis as a knowledge base that have made me think quite carefully. For example, in 2005, Rafaeli, Hayat and Ariel wrote that: 'Wikis should be most effective in gratifying users' "Knowledge Needs" for ad-hoc problems with decentralized knowledge sources.' As I touched on last week I had previously been focussing perhaps too much on the BPMA Wiki as simply a space for users to create content, without considering the collaborative benefits. It strikes me that for Wikis to be used to their full potential, they should be used more for the accumulation of, for want of a better word, 'facts'. Some of the posts that I have been encouraging are more about feelings and experiences of working for the Post Office. Others that I had considered a more about commenting on a particular issue or question. These are valid forms of user-generated content, and for that reason, I don't think there's any harm in using the Wiki as a forum for them. They do not, however, lend themselves to collaboration. The post about my grandfather's time working for the Post Office for instance, realistically will only solicit, at the most, collaboration from my immediate family who still remember the stories he used to tell us. It's currently pretty unlikely that one of his former wor colleagues might find it, but if they did, they might also be able to add to some of my Grandmother's anecdotes about the practical jokes he played on his colleagues. But that is all. There is little scope for collaboration.

But then I took a look around at some of the genealogical Wikis out there. They don't seem to necessarily mind if each page is only contributed to by one person - they simply encourage their users to create a page for each member of their family that they are researching. In the end, if successful, this could create a set of pages on a wide range of people from the past. In theory, if the group gets wide enough, then people might be able to start finding someone that they too are researching, and then they would be able to collaborate.

I don't think it's necessarily wrong to promote the creation of content that won't promote collaboration, but I think maybe I need to think more carefully about how to make sure that there is an element of collaboration possible. Otherwise why would people keep returning to the site. And how would a community develop?


Musings, methodology and planning

I spent Tuesday evening thinking about exactly what approach I wanted to take and reading the research handbook for tips on Masters research.

Research question
I've pretty much decided to more or less go for the question that Ross Parry suggested although I think I might omit the 'technical' bit. Not being a "techie", and because the work to create the BPMA Wiki was done by our web hosts, I'm don't think I could usefully contribute anything to this topic.

The title is therefore likely to be something like: 'Can Wikis really work for museums? The practical and conceptual challenges of Wiki technology for the BPMA'.

I toyed with idea of just look at one particular challenge - the key one that I'm facing at the moment with our Wiki - how to get people on there. I still haven't completely ruled it out as I think it would be a really good way of combining exactly what I'm working on at work with my MA. Plus I think there's quite a lot to say. The problem, I think, will be in collecting data. Contributions to the BPMA are still relatively infrequent. At the moment quite a few are prompted by me nagging people I know (for instance, the excellent post by my 89-year-old Grandmother about my Grandfather's experiences working for the Post Office! ) This would make it hard to get enough data together to create a representative sample.

With the research question above, I can consider a number of the key issues that the BPMA is currently facing or has faced at the start of our Wiki project:

  1. How to tackle legal issues like liability and the potential for abuse
  2. How do you get people to start using the Wiki - how do you market it? What ideas work best in prompting people to create content, what motivates people to contribute?
  3. The practical considerations - monitoring it, correcting errors, how much should you correct
  4. The more conceptual ideas - issues to do with trust (how much do we trust our users to write 'The Truth'?)
Data capture
I started having a think about the best ways to collect data. I think choosing 2-3 of the 'seeds' that I've come up with to prompt people to contribute, and just watching how they evolve over the next couple of months would make good case studies. I could use the '/diff' pages to log the kind of additions that people are making and look at issues to do with whether they're just adding content, or are actually altering what other people have put. It will be interesting to see how much the 1% rule comes into play.

As well as case studies I can use our stats package to analyse some quantative data i.e. which Wiki pages are most looked at, and of these, how many are editing content, rather than just viewing it.

For the more practical challenges, I think I may need to consult other museum professionals working on Wikis. Any volunteers or suggestions? I guess it would be a case of either meeting up with them in person and conducting an interview (probably only feasible if they're in London) or else filling in a questionnaire by email.

BPMA documents and my own experience will also form a large part of the data here.

A skeleton plan
I've started to think as well about a skeleton structure for my dissertation:
  1. Introduction
  • What are Wikis?
  • About the BPMA Wiki
  • How are Wikis being used, both generally, and specifically by museums and the heritage sector
  • What challenges will the dissertation consider in particular
  • Why is this subject important?
  • Methodology of the dissertation
2. Literature review
  • What are other people saying about Museums using Wikis and the challenges that they face
  • What are other people writing outside the sector about the issues I will be discussing?
  • What kind of wider work is out there about Wikis
  • Where does my work fit in to all of this?
3. Finding - presentation of findings from data capture

4. Discussion - discussion of findings

5. Conclusion

I had a brief period of worry that what I'm writing about isn't hugely new. Jonathan Bowen will discuss some of the specific challenges for museums using Wikis in his Museums and the Web Conference workshop this year. Other work has been done on case studies looking at how people behaved on two different Wikis used in a University context. People have looked at what motivates Wikipedians to contribute. So far, however, I haven't found an in-depth case study that looks at a museum's experience of using a Wiki. Also, it appears that at least some of the Museum Wikis that already exist are being used for internal purposes and not in the same way that we are using a Wiki. I hope that this will make my subject interesting and 'original' enough!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Three Wikis issues - potential for abuse, cooperation and authority

I wanted to make a couple of notes and comments about four points that I've come across in my reading today.

An article by John Sutherland in the Education Guardian on 7 Feb 2007 called Something wiki this way comes makes a point which I'm starting to see recurring across various articles about web 2.0 and Wikis. It's to do with authority and the perceived threats that Wikis pose to it.

Sutherland writes:

'The Middlebury ban [on students citing Wikipedia in their academic work] provoked a predictable culture clash: on the one side the whiskery 'old' authoritarian, wielding the censor's scissors [my emphasis], and on the other, the cyber-libertarians. Think Catholic Church, think Galileo, think Index Librorum Prohibitorum.'

I'm interested in this depiction of resistance to the freedom of Wikis in such a negative, old-fashioned light. I think the dangers to authority posed by web 2.0 shouldn't be underestimated, and resistance to them shouldn't be viewed in this mocking, almost dismissive way. That's not to say that I don't think Wikis and Web 2.0 aren't great, but I also think there is a place for museums remaining the 'authority' in certain circumstances.

The other three comments regard, again, Jonathan Bowen's paper for his Wiki Software and Facilities for Museums workshop that he will give at this years Museums and the Web Conference in April.

1. I was interested in the historical overview he gave to cooperation through Wikis: 'Human beings have collaborated throughout their development from the earliest times. Without cooperation, the human race would never have survived; with cooperation, it has thrived. People are well adapted to mutual support through intelligent behaviour when need, but are less well suited to a lone existence.'

I believe this historical perspective to the opportunities that web 2.0 provides were discussed at the Museums Association conference in 2007. As Jane Finnis's blog post on the discussion says: 'UGC is not new, well its not new in the offline world. But it is new in the online worlds and is a very different kettle of fish.'

I'm interested in exploring the fact that web 2.0 and Wikis are just an extension of what museums have always done, and therefore shouldn't be viewed as radical, terrifying and threatening.

2. I was also interested in what Bowen had to say about the potential for abuse on Wikis: 'There is a risk of misuse of a wiki if it is made generally writable. This certainly does happen, but is not as large a problem as might be first envisaged. It is so easy to vandalize a wiki that there is not much incentive to do this in terms of demonstrating expertise.'

3. Was also mildly alarmed by, but also wanted to make a note of, Bowen's comment that: 'While there are many success stories with the use of wikis, it is just as likely, if not more probable, for a wiki to be unsuccessful.' Let's hope the BPMA Wiki doesn't fall into that trap!

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Other Museum Wikis

At present I just want this to be a place where I can list all the other Museum Wikis, or Wikis related to museums that I come across. If you come across others, please let me know about them in the comments below.

These are the ones listed in Jonathan Bowen's paper for his Wiki Software and Facilities for Museums workshop that he will give at this years Museums and the Web Conference in April:

During my 'data capture' month, I hope to be able to explore these a bit, see how they tackle some of the issues that the BPMA Wiki is facing etc.


Ideas for getting people to use the BPMA Wiki

I want to start a page which I can gradually add to, and which others can make suggestions on, about ideas for increasing the amount of content on the BPMA Wiki. All suggestions are welcome.

Many of these ideas were prompted by an article I read called Wikis in Education: Is Public Better? by Sarah Guth. It made me look at the way I've been approaching trying to get content onto the BPMA Wiki from a different perspective. So far I think I've been concentrating on the principal of user-generated content and so have been offering opportunities for individual users to share their knowledge. This is still valid I think, but it is also worth exploiting the potential for collaboration that Wikis can provide. I want to explore the possibilities of co-authoring of pages.

The article also made me think that we need to offer opportunities that help people learn and improve themselves, as well as helping us out by posting on our Wiki! I had hoped that the opportunity to show off your own knowledge might be adequate but I wonder now whether this isn't enough. How can we offer opportunities that will leave people feeling enriched by their BPMA Wiki experience?

Here are some of the ideas I'm currently thinking about, some of them need some shaping and honing!

  • Someone, either a BPMA staff member, or a contact we have, writes a factual piece related to a postal topic. We then actively approach a particular group of people that we know to have knowledge on this subject, and encourage them to work together to improve the piece. We could even make sure there were a few intentional errors, either spelling/grammar or factual errors that needed correcting that might help them gain confidence.
  • I've been toying for a while with ideas involving getting a group of people into a room with a load of computers and helping them to write Wikis pages on the spot. This would hopefully spark the impetus needed to get some content on there in an environment where we were on hand to help and advise if the task seemed daunting.
  • Following on from the idea of having a captive group of people contributing to the Wiki, we could perhaps start the session with three groups and give each group a topic to write about. We could then rotate the groups so that the other two groups could edit what a first group had written. The result would be three jointly authored Wiki pages which would then be available for others to add to.
  • I'm wondering whether there is potential to work with other postal or communication museums and archives to co-author a number of pieces using the Wiki first as a collaborative tool between 'museum/archive authorities' but also leaving the pages open for other to add to/edit.
  • We could offer a service to budding stamp collectors who could upload images of stamps they wanted to know more about and ask questions about them which others could answer. This may at first mean a certain amount of BPMA staff/volunteer time, but we may be able to enlist the help of other philatelic organisations that we are in contact with to help us. This could link in with one of the aims of our London 2010: Festival of stamps initiative - to revivify interest in the hobby of stamp collecting. We could market it through philatelic societies around the country and maybe also through the Stamps in Schools initiative that BPMA sponsor.
  • Either BPMA or someone at the event could write an account of a BPMA event, and then flyer everyone who attends the event asking them to add to/edit what has been written. This would involve choosing the event quite carefully to make sure it was something worth writing about.
  • I have thought about offering prizes of some kind for the best entry in a group of entries produced by a project. The difficulty with that, unless it is people we can actually watch creating the pages, is that, without a login, we won't be able to prove which person has created what page.
  • I'm also pondering the possibilities of trying to build a community of remote Wiki users initially through our E-Newsletter facility. I could then perhaps create a mailing list simply for interested wiki users and contact them whenever new material that I thought might interest them was added to the Wiki, reminding them that they could contribute.
  • Royal Mail employees at Mount Pleasant sorting office in London (where the BPMA is based) could potentially provide a wealth of information about what it is like to work for the postal service. The computer suites available in the Mount, and the Work Time Learning sessions that all members of staff attend could also provide a good opportunity to test out some of the above ideas for using a captive group of people to spark some Wiki content.
I don't think there's any way that I'm going to be able to try all, or even many of these ideas during the time of my dissertation. Hopefully I'll be able to manage a couple though.

Any thought/suggestions/comments would be gratefully received!

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Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Marieke Guy's 'Wiki or Won't He?' article

Guy's, 'Wiki or Won't He? A Tale of Public Sector Wikis' responds to Steven Andrew Mathieson's Guardian unlimited article from February2006 on public sector wikis. Guy's article will be particularly useful for literature review because it shows that the technical aspects of setting up a wiki have been adequately covered, certainly more adequately than I could cover them.

It also makes some interesting points on what Guy feels is stopping a widespread use of Wiki technology in the public sector.

Among the barriers that Guy identifies is the potential reluctance that some organisations may feel when faced with the freedom that Wikis provide. This may have implications for authority, opinion and accountability and liability.

Guy also discusses the practical issue of the time taken to moderate content. I think this is a very real consideration. As the Web Officer, I get notified by email as soon as anyone makes a change to a BPMA Wiki page. I can immediately use a "/diff page" to see what it is they have added, and if necessary, I can revert the change. So far this has proved quite manageable but it may prove more difficult to manage if/when more people start to contribute to the Wiki.

Guy, like others that I've already read, cites the famous John Seigenthaler's entry on Wikipedia which, for a while in 2005, falsely linked Seigenthaler to the Kennedy assassination, as an example of the potential for abuse of Wikis.

Getting people to use a Wiki

Like Tonkin, Guy discussed the 'biggest barrier of all' - 'getting people to use a wiki'. He explains 'We are so used to the idea of Web sites as entities that are controlled by their creators that challenging this control is unnatural.

I was particularly interested in his application of the 1% rule which suggests that 'For every 100 people online, one will create content, 10 will 'interact' with it ... and the other 89 will just view it.'

Guy also includes some useful discussions of how others are using Wikis, including in learning and in libraries which may well be applicable and interesting for my project.

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Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Tonkin's 'Making the Case for a Wiki'

One of the first pieces that I have read for my dissertation is: Tonkin's 'Making the Case for a Wiki'.

The section I found most interesting was that titled 'Issues in Deployment'. Of particular interest:

'Even in the event of a wiki being made available, there is no guarantee that the opportunity will be seen as useful.' Tonkin feels that the difficulties include 'communication difficulties, lack of common ground, status issues in human relationships.'

Interestingly she links the likelihood of posting on a wiki to both gender and aggression: 'it is justifiable to theorise that wiki use -- and indeed motivation to contribute -- is likely to vary by gender, status and relationship to the apparent community.' and 'one might imagine that correcting a wiki page is an act that comes easier to certain individuals than to others, and one in which aggression plays a significant role.'

My first gut reaction was that it seemed unlikely that this link to gender be true. In my experience men might be slightly more likely to spend time on the internet, and therefore might be more likely to come across a Wiki. I don't think they would necessarily, however, be more likely to contribute than women. I'm also slightly uncomfortable with the word 'aggression'. I think those that contribute to a Wiki are likely to be confident, forthright and perhaps opinionated, but not necessarily aggressive. It will be interested to watch the contributions to the BPMA Wiki for signs of aggressive behaviour! I'd also be interested to hear others' thoughts on Tonkin's comments.

Tonkin also stresses the immense importance of getting to know your audience - 'if you cannot imagine your target group conversing comfortably together under normal circumstances, the chances are fairly slim that they will imagine they can either ... much less online.'

I think under certain circumstances BPMA audiences would be quite capable of conversing on various subjects. The challenge for us is more likely to be, I think, encouraging our core audience, many of whom are over 60, to embrace this new technology.

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Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Ross Parry's recommendation to proceed

My dissertation pack arrived today, complete with instructions and guidelines on writing my dissertation, and, most importantly, a detailed response to my proposal by Ross Parry. This concluded, crucially, with the very welcome sentence 'I recommend the applicant and this project for Masters research' - phew!

Ross described my proposed subject as 'a timely and potentially important piece of reserach into how museums might use wikis'. He noted that 'there is potential for genuine innovation within this project' - which was very encouraging!

He feels that my decision to focus on Wikis as a specific aspect of Web 2.0, and The British Postal Museum & Archive's (BPMA)'s Wiki specially as a good one as it limits the topic and stops it from becoming unmanageable.

Ross suggests that during my preliminary reading around the subject, I should seek to refine my research questions into one single, challenging question. As an example, (but not suggesting I should necessarily use this one) he puts forward 'Can Wikis really work for museums? The practical, technical and conceptual challenges of Web 2.0 technology for the BPMA'.

In addition he advised me to 'marshal more systematically [the] key ideas and themes.' e.g. the practical, conceptual and technical themes in the example title.

As recommended reading, Ross has suggested the online proceedings of the 'Museums and the Web' conferences, especially those of the last few years.

In terms of data gathering, Ross thinks that I need to get a clear idea pretty quickly of what I'm trying to achieve with the project as this will affect whether or not, and how much I need to gather user evaluation data etc.

Luckily Ross didn't foresee there being any ethical risks to my project (which is why I got my proposal back earlier than some people I think). He in facts suggests that I could even consider looking into the ethics of wikis (specifically user-generated content).

So there we are, permission to start on the project that will no doubt dominate much of my waking (and perhaps some of my sleeping) life for the next six months. I'm taking a week off from my MA this week. I'm still recovering from the final essay and I need some time to clean my flat, do some washing, and turn my head around! I expect I might do the odd bit of reading here and there but mostly I'm having a rest.

I'm actually quite excited about starting this project though. Unlike the prescribed essays all the way through the MA, it's a subject that I've been able to choose myself, and can shape into whatever I want to make it. It's a topic I'm becoming increasingly interested in and I feel quite fired by it. Whether or not I still feel like that by the end of August will be another question - if you're interested in finding out then keep reading! :-)

Next week I'll start doing some reading. I hope to comment on and summarise it as I go along on here.

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