Jay Cross is at ASTD TechKnowledge 2006 in Denver and provides this observation on communities of practice:
Next up was Bill Bruck of Q2 Learning on Creating and Sustaining Online Communities of Practice. After the session, several people told me they really appreciated Bill telling it like it is. Early on, he said that while he thought he was pretty good at fostering online communities, 90% of the communities he sets up fail.
I have had similar experiences, with the failure of the R&D for elearning community in New Brunswick as well as our local Sackville SOHO Society, which has died a natural death. I believe that it’s natural for online communities of practice to fail and that we may be putting too much emphasis on their longevity. If they serve a temporary purpose then I would say that they are successful, even if they don’t last.
Blogs seem to work this way. First you start reading other blogs, then you may aggregate them in a feedreader and then you may start to make comments. Later you may create your own blog and continue the conversations of others by linking to their posts.
However, your focus and links will change over time, as will the flow of the conversation. The ‘communities’ in which you are actively engaged will change and some conversations will stop entirely. This is similar to the failure of an online community.
We don’t view a discontinued blog conversation as a failure, but an unused community of practice is seen as a failure. I believe this is because we create most communities within an enclosed web space to which the members must go. On the other hand, most blogs are built around the individual and the community is dynamic (it flows).
Centering on the individual, who then decides on which people to connect to, is more natural than creating a box to which you must subscribe to be a member. With Elgg Learning Landscape, communities have the same properties as people and individuals link to a community as they would link to a friend. It is not necessary to go ‘inside’ a community space. This seems to be more natural. If more communities are built around the way that people naturally work and socialize then that 90% failure rate might drop.