Author Archives: Fabrice Florin

About Fabrice Florin

I am product manager at Wikimedia Foundation, where I help build new tools to help users contribute productively on Wikipedia. My previous ventures include: NewsTrust.net, a nonprofit social news network devoted to good journalism; Handtap, a wireless content service for mobile phones; shockwave.com, a web entertainment site at Macromedia; Apple Computer's Multimedia Lab, a new media R&D group; and Videowest, a producer of rock journalism for ABC, MTV and public TV. I am an Ashoka Fellow for my work as social entrepreneur -- and earned four patents for my interactive TV work at Apple. I am married to Phyllis Florin, my sweetheart of 35 years, and we're the proud parents of our son Adam Florin, 32.

Théatre Mécanique

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system for recreating a wide range of stories with animated puppets.

Theatre Mécanique is a proposed interactive storytelling system featuring animated puppets and computer-controlled multimedia.

I propose to create a Théatre Mécanique — a project which I would like to work on in coming years, in collaboration with others. (For a visual overview, check out these slides.)

The idea is to build an interactive storytelling system that would let you experience and remix some of the great myths and legends shared by all cultures around the world. It would enable small groups of people to collaboratively reenact some of these universal stories, connect them with their daily lives — and better understand each other as a result.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience some of the universal myths we all share.

This theater cart would enable small groups of people to experience universal myths, and select plot elements.

This mini theater would be mobile, like a hot dog stand, so it could be located anywhere, from birthday parties to street fairs or even on the Playa. It would feature animated puppets, which could either be controlled manually by live performers, or automatically by small computers like Arduino: the puppets could slide in and out of the stage, face one another and/or move their heads and limbs, as shown in the prototype we’re now developing for a balinese cuckoo clock.

Animated puppets would act out short stories selected by participants, set against colorful images on a rear-projected screen.

Animated puppets would act out short stories against colorful images, rear-projected on a background screen.

This mixed media system would include a good sound system for amplifying background music, sound effects and character voices, either live or pre-recorded. A rear-projection screen would set the mood by displaying a wide range of images for each scene, from landscapes from around the world to historical or futuristic scenes. An interactive controller at the front of the stage would let visitors and performers select different types of stories, characters, images and sounds.

Participants would be invited to approach the theater and pick a topic, place or time on the controller. The puppets would then act out a short 1-3 minute scene based on your selection. At the end of each scene, they would ask you for more plot ideas, to guide what happens next. The performance would be recorded on video, which could be emailed to you afterwards, as shown in this first example.

This is an ambitious project, but it appeals to me deeply, because it has the potential to support a wide range of applications: from simple party entertainment to more creative uses, like a time machine simulation — or even scenario planning for group discussions.

In coming months, I would like to explore this idea with friends and collaborators, starting with simple low-tech theatrical experiments and eventually building small prototypes for key parts of the system. I am quite aware this is a large, multi-year project, so I am proposing to start small, and spread research and development over time, with actual fabrication starting a year later. This process is inspired by our collaborative work on the Pataphysical Slot Machine, which we aim to exhibit in public this year.

For this Theatre Mécanique, I hope we can find the right balance between existing storytelling traditions and new interactive technologies — so that the human qualities that make great performances possible are supported by these tools, rather than supplanted by them. Interestingly, this also ties in with the larger challenge we all face as a species, as we look for the right interplay between human and machine intelligence. To that end, I hope that we can tap diverse communities of artists and engineers to participate in this creative experiment.

Fortunately for us, there is a large community of puppeteers already practicing around the world, from Guignol to ‘toy theaters’ to Wayang — and these creative artists have already paved the way for this art form to evolve in a computer-assisted setting! I look forward to discussing these ideas with interested collaborators later this year. For now, I have included below a variety of links that might inspire us in planning this project.

Onward!

Communications at Wikimedia

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I am happy to announce that I have joined the Wikimedia Foundation’s Communications team as Movement Communications Manager.

I have really enjoyed my work as product manager at Wikimedia in the last three years, leading the development of new tools like Notifications, Thanks, Beta Features, Media Viewer and other multimedia products. I am grateful for this opportunity to improve so many different parts of the Wikipedia user experience.

One of the lessons I learned during that time is that ‘better communications’ are really important to make the Wikimedia movement more effective. I also think that growing a ‘culture of kindness‘ is key if we want to engage a broader community of contributors. I hope to support both of these goals in my new role. 

I am now working with the WMF communications team on the Wikimedia blog and movement communications. My focus for the blog includes improving contributor workflow for community members and foundation staff, and providing editorial guidance for contributors. I also act as the main contact point for authors submitting new blog posts, and shepherd the publication process. Within movement communications, I work to improve the availability, distribution, and timeliness of communications from the foundation to the broader community.

I’d like to thank all my colleagues on the multimedia and product teams — as well as our many community champions — for being such wonderful collaborators over the past few years. I am proud of what we accomplished together, and I hope that the features we created can help many more people share knowledge productively in years to come. 

I’m delighted to take on this new assignment, and I look forward to many more productive collaborations in the coming year.

Onward!

A Culture of Kindness

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Many community members think that ‘being nice to each other’ can help improve Wikipedia.

Can we improve Wikipedia by being nicer to each other?

This was the topic of my talk at Wikimania 2014, which you can watch in the video below. In this short post, I would like to share some ideas from community members for growing a “culture of kindness” on Wikipedia.

Over the past few years, I have asked hundreds of Wikipedians the same question: ‘How can we improve Wikipedia?’. I invite them to write down their idea on a notepad, and then I take their photo, which I then share with other community members, as shown here.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales invites community members to 'be kind to each other' at Wikimania 2014 in London.

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales invites Wikipedians to ‘be kind to each other’.

Here are some of the most frequent responses I have collected: “Be nice,” “Help the newbies,” “Be friendly.” Participants often observe that participating on Wikipedia can be a frustrating experience for new and experienced users alike, because many of our members lack civility. That hostile behavior turns away many good people, who might otherwise contribute to our cause — and this seems to harm the free knowledge movement.

‘A Culture of Kindness’ Slides

With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I have collected for building more trust in our communities:

  • help newbies
  • train editors
  • reward kindness
  • build more social tools
  • use friendlier channels
  • give everyone a voice

Help newbies

Be more encouraging to new users. Improve the way we welcome new contributors. Let them know they can help. Show them easy, fun things to do. This can be done through community programs like the Teahouse, as well as through personalized tasks and to-do lists.

Train editors

Invite current editors to be more effective in their interactions with other users, through online training events and mentoring programs. This is easier said than done, as many editors don’t feel like they need to be trained or don’t have the time for this. But everyone can benefit from a bit of coaching when it comes to empathy. And special rewards could be offered to editors who take this practice seriously.

Reward kindness

Identify people who treat others nicely, show them appreciation, celebrate their acts of kindness, honor them as role models, encourage them to show others how to do the same. Kindness can be contagious!

Build more social tools

Simple features can help encourage kindness in subtle but powerful ways, like the popular Thanks notification feature that my team developed for Wikipedia. Other software tools could help invite more civil interactions, such as a better discussion system, real user profiles, or user avatars.

Another way to build more trust is to invite anonymous users to use a persistent identity, with some form of authentication that is more reliable than IP addresses. This idea is still controversial in our movement, but worth considering if we seriously want to improve current community relations.

Use friendlier channels

Communicate over more user-friendly channels: from face-to-face meetings to video conferences — or other ways to humanize how we interact with each other — to complement text-only channels that don’t convey emotions or body language very well. Our video roundtables are a good example of how civil conversations can be encouraged on multimedia channels.

Give everyone a voice

Make it easier for diverse user groups to contribute to our movement. For example, our nearly 500 million readers can help with simple feedback on how to improve Wikipedia content, as our largest user group. Women should also be empowered to participate more actively on our sites: to this day, a vast majority of Wikipedia editors are still men, and more kindness could help close that gender gap. And the same goes with many ethnic minorities and other disenfranchised groups. Giving all these users a voice can help make them feel part of our movement, and eventually engage them as future contributors.

Watch the video

To hear more about these ideas, you can watch this video of my half-hour presentation at Wikimania 2014, which provides more insights collected from community members:

Fabrice Florin presents ideas for improving how we interact with each other on Wikipedia, speaking at Wikimania in London on August 10, 2014.

This video is also available in other formats on Vimeo and YouTube. Key points of that presentation are featured in these slides.

I take these issues seriously, as they can slow down our collective work and prevent us from growing as a movement. The hostile behavior many users have experienced on our sites harms us all; I hope that over time, we can all make Wikipedia a safer place, so that more people can feel comfortable sharing knowledge in our projects. To that end, I am now studying the impact of kindness in collaborative environments — and I would be grateful for any recommendations you might have, as well as links to research studies, tools or best practices on that topic.

Some of the ideas above are easier to implement than others, some of them are more controversial. But I believe most of them could make a difference towards encouraging a kinder, more civil behavior within our movement.

Onward!

This personal blog post was re-published here on the Wikimedia blog on December 24, 2014. Fabrice’s talk on ‘A Culture of Kindness’ was first presented at Wikimania Social Machines Weekend, held by video conference on May 24, 2014. It was then shared with a larger group at Wikimania 2014 in London, on August 10, 2014. See also: Wikimania audience comments and video conference chat log.

Weiwei on Alcatraz

I was really inspired by Ai Weiwei’s new art installation on Alcatraz Island.

It’s a wonderful tribute to freedom and human rights, evoking global issues that impact us all, creatively blending fear and hope in the face of oppression.

Here are my photos from our expedition with art friends from Pataphysical Studios (see the full album for more pix).

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‘With Wind’ features a giant dragon made of kites created by Chinese artisans, with quotes from dissidents.

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‘Trace’ displays pixillated portraits of 176 prisoners of conscience from around the world, created with over 1 million Lego blocks.

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‘Refraction’ is a large metal wing made of solar cookers, evoking the freedom of flight enjoyed by birds on Alcatraz Island.

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‘Stay Tuned’ fills prison cells with the words and music of many poets and activists imprisoned for their views.

Well known for blending art and activism, Weiwei was himself imprisoned by Chinese authorities in 2011 and his travel is still restricted to his native China.

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I highly recommend a trip to Alcatraz to see this exhibit. It’s a short boat ride from San Francisco’s Pier 33 and the round trip lasts about 3 hours. And the unique setting on Alcatraz contrasts the prison’s dark history with amazing views of the Bay and birds in flight.

Learn more about the exhibit and tickets here. For more info on how and why Weiwei created @large, watch this video or this one.

Thanks, Weiwei, for inspiring us to speak up for freedom and human rights!

Adam and Dani’s Wedding

Our son Adam and his sweetheart Dani were married on September 20, 2014 at Olympia’s Valley, a rustic farm in the rolling hills of Petaluma, California.

Here are selected photos from this happy occasion, which gathered a hundred and fifty family and friends from around the world.

Adam and Dani's Wedding Ceremony

The wedding started with a ceremony under the chuppah by the pond …

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… followed by a reception and hora dance with ritual chair rising …

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… and even wider circle dances across the lawn. More >>

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We were all blessed by a thousand cranes lovingly prepared by Phyllis: they swayed in the wind under a willow tree, as a graceful tribute to our two love birds. More >>

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Throughout the day, I asked family and friends to write down their wishes for the newlyweds. We’re grateful to all for sharing their hopes, dreams and words of advice. More >>

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The celebrations continued through the evening, with a lovely dinner, toasts and dancing in the barn.  More >>

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The night before, we hosted a welcome dinner at the Petaluma Library, where many friends and family members joined us to toast Adam and Dani. More >>

One of the highlights was this video of Adam and Dani growing up and joining with each other: it brought back many fond memories for us — and a few tears of joy. 🙂

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We are lucky to be part of such a creative and diverse community, bringing together jewish, christian and many other cultures and perspectives. We all seemed to share an appreciation for social change — and for the cosmic dance of life.

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See our photo album for more pictures. Many of these photos were taken by other family members, such as Benedicte and Claude Florin, as well as Tony and Margie Bartovich, to name but a few. I’m very grateful to them for capturing these memories.

Thanks to all who joined us for this important rite of passage!

See also:
* Wedding Day
* Wedding Wishes
* Petaluma Welcome
* Adam + Dani – Wedding photos by Page Green

Greetings from Bali

I had a wonderful trip to Bali with my yoga studio in March 2014. We spent a week near Ubud, in the heart of island — and found a healthy balance between cultural and spiritual explorations.

Here is a short slideshow with highlights from this trip, set to the hypnotic gamelan music we heard everywhere.

To see more, check out this full slideshow. The individual photos can be viewed and shared here on Flickr (browse the full photo archive here).

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The trip was led by my longtime teacher Erika Trice, and organized by International Yoga, in partnership with the Bali Institute.  We stayed at Furama Villas, a lovely resort in the rice terraces near Ubud, where a friendly staff provided a great service with gamelan, incense and sweet fruits.

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We usually started and ended each day with an energizing yoga session — and ventured off in the island during the afternoons and evenings.

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On day 1, I met with the master mask maker I.B Anom, who introduced me to some of the special powers of his art. With the help of my driver Pinda, we found a nice miniature Garuda for our art project — and went off on a chase for Ooga-Oogas, giant demon figures which each village is building to fend off evil spirits for the upcoming New Year.

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On day 2, we went into nearby Ubud to visit the inspiring Neka art museum and watch a mesmerizing Legong dance performance.

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On day 3, we joined a cleansing ceremony to purify holy objects with ocean water — thousands of villages across the island made the same trip to the beach and we were honored to be part of this ritual.

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We then visited a master puppet maker, who brought a few of his characters to life for us and showed us around his family compound.

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And we ended the day with a hypnotic performance of Kecak — a ‘choir’ of men sat in a circle to re-enact the Hindu Ramanya epic with a spellbinding chant.

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On day 4, I met the talented young mask maker I.B. Anom Suryawan. We connected on many levels, and he is excited to collaborate on our Balinese Cuckoo Clock project: I now feel like I have a new friend in Bali.

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We then joined celebrations for the Balinese New Year, when every village in the island parades ‘ogoh-ogoh’, large demonic statues symbolizing malevolent spirits that need to be exorcised. It was really fun to meet our neighbors in the small village of Bindu, who made us feel part of their community.

On day 5, the entire island shut down to observe Nyepi, the Day of Silence, to reflect and meditate: no flights in or out of Bali, nobody in the streets, no electricity; we stayed in our hotel and I did my part by not taking any photos. 🙂

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On day 6, we went to Tirta Empul, where Balinese purify in the holy spring waters, then visited the Prince of Paliatan to discuss the future of Bali.

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On day 7, we went to the amazing Royal Pitahama for an afternoon by the river and a divine yoga session in this enchanted spot.

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Overall, this was an amazing experience for me, at all levels: physical, cultural and spiritual. I will miss this special place — but I now have some new friends I hope to meet again on my next visit.

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Throughout this trip, I’ve been moved by the kindness of our hosts, who are incredibly friendly with strangers like us: I hope we can bring some of that goodwill home with us, our western world could use more of that communal spirit and generosity, which seems especially strong here at the local level.

We have much to learn from the Balinese, to whom I say: Suksuma — thank you!

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Try out Media Viewer

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We invite you to try Media Viewer, a new tool for browsing multimedia content, which is now in beta on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia sites.

Today, viewing images on our sites can be a frustrating experience for casual users: when you click on a thumbnail in an article, you are taken to a separate page where the image is shown in medium size and surrounded with a lot of text information that can be confusing.

Media Viewer aims to improve this viewing experience by showing images in larger size, overlaid on your current page. To reduce visual clutter, all information is shown below the image, and can be expanded at a click of a button.

To see how it works, check out this video demo:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DL02Ry7u-w&t=11m15s; w=640&h=480&rel=0]

Fabrice Florin and Mark Traceur present ‘Media Viewer’ at the Wikimedia Foundation

This new tool is being developed by the Wikimedia Foundation’s multimedia team and we now invite you to try out in beta version. We plan to gradually release this tool in coming months, starting with first pilot tests in April, followed by wider deployments in May.

You can check out Media Viewer on this test page. Click on any thumbnail image to enlarge it. (If you haven’t already,  be sure to sign up or log in, then click on the small ‘Beta’ link in your personal menu to enable ‘Media Viewer’. For more info, read these testing tips.)

Once you’ve tried Media Viewer, please let us know what you think here in the comments, or on this discussion page.

We’re very grateful to all the community members who helped create this feature, through a series of roundtable discussions held in person, on Google Hangouts, as well as on IRC. If you would like to participate in future discussions, we invite you to join our multimedia mailing list.

To learn more, visit our Media Viewer page. Also check out this Multimedia Vision for 2016, to see how this all fits in together with other features in development. We’re building a whole new multimedia layer to help people learn through images, sounds and videos, not just text.

I look forward to more collaborations in coming months. It’s an honor to help improve Wikipedia with our community — and to create a better experience together!

Enjoy …

A Multimedia Vision for Wikipedia

How will we use multimedia on our sites in three years?

Our Wikimedia Foundation’s Multimedia team was formed to provide a richer experience and support more media contributions on Wikipedia, Commons, and MediaWiki sites. We believe that audio-visual media offer a unique opportunity to engage a wide range of users to participate productively in our collective work.

To inform our plans, we’ve created a simple vision of how we might collaborate through multimedia by 2016.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2RKZnrOXmw&w=640&h=480&rel=0]

This hypothetical scenario was prepared with guidance from community members and is intended for discussion purposes, to help us visualize possible improvements to our user experience over the next three years.

This presentation is intended for discussion purposes, to get community feedback on goals we are considering. To that end, we would love to hear what you think of this vision. Please join our discussion − or add your comments below − and help guide our development plans.

Read more on the Wikimedia blog.

Maman Requiem

My mother passed away in her sleep a day before Christmas.

She was a smart woman and a devoted mother — and taught us a sense of responsibility, determination, idealism and individualism. She had a difficult life, but made the best of it over the years. I learned a lot from her and will remember her fondly.

Sanda Florin, née Bossy (1926-2013) was romanian (from the respected Cantacuzino family), so a friend suggested we play this romanian folk song (Joc de Leagane) at her memorial. It’s called the ‘dance of the cradle’ and is meant to depict a tender relationship between a mother and her daughter. This is the kind of love that was often missing from her life, and I wish we could go back in time and share more of it all around.

Like my father before her, she asked that her ashes be spread over Lake Geneva, by the shores where they first met and spent much of their lives.

Rest in peace, Maman.

The photos from this video are posted here. You can learn more about Maman in this family archive.