Posts Categorized: Communities

Online Communities in Business

If you’re interested in online communities then read the latest report by Ambrozek & Cothrel. The report surveyed 135 respondents, many of them experts in the fields of virtual communities, communities of practice, etc. The list of influencers on pages 22/23 of the report offers an excellent start to filling your RSS aggregator with the opinions of those who have the greatest influence in this growing field. There’s lots to chew on here.

The most interesting view of the future, from one of the respondents, that I think should be considered for those in the technology-based learning field is:

?��Ǩ?�Cautious personal predictions for the future: movement from a linear scheduled-media environment to an IP-delivered, on demand, rich media environment where you can access tailored content where you want it, when you want it, how you want it … with linear programming and scheduling still firmly there, but as one of the choices you can make. [Media producers] may begin to talk about ‘brands’ and’genre content’ rather than ‘programmes.’ The public will begin to co-produce media, and the media producers will act more as editors who enable and shape this material, plus add the expert view and point to ‘the official view’ or ‘the best,?��Ǩ�Ѣ’the newest,?��Ǩ�Ѣ’the most apposite,’ ‘the funniest.?��Ǩ�Ѣetc. Media producers will also still offer quality crafted content but audience/members will be able to view the content in different ways and to also feedback and comment/add material in separate windows or on separate menus if people want to drill down or across to take a look. Further ahead: 3D networked gaming environments with chat and self-build homes/dens/vehicles will increase in popularity with children, particularly boys. Medics and scientists will see the value of such environments for teaching, and holiday brochures will neverbe the same again.?��Ǩ��

With more people involved in multiple online communities, getting information and sharing their experiences when and where they want, there may be less acceptance of pre-programmed, linear elearning. Learners will also want to involved in the creation of their own learning programs, and will have the tools to do so. Add these together and we may see the end of "content based education". If the content is up to the learner, then the only critical part (for organisations) will be the evaluation component. Instead of content-based testing, we may see a rise in performance-based testing. I hope so.

PS: There is a note in the report that the wiki is now open to anyone, but I haven’t found a way to get access –

Update: you can send an e-mail, which is available from the main link, and get wiki access from the authors – thanks.

Measuring Organisational Effectiveness

I had previously mentioned Marshall McLuhan’s work in the context of forecasting for the elearning industry. A quick review of McLuhan’s Laws of Media tetrad:

Enhancement. What does the medium enhance, extend, enlarge or intensify?

Obsolescence. What does it make obsolete? When an old medium enters its obsolescence phase, it becomes more ubiquitous, often changing from a utilitarian to a recreational role (e.g. fountain pens).

Reversal. When something is extended beyond the limits of its potential, its characteristics are often reversed. For example, cars which promote greater freedom, when multiplied to the extreme can result in gridlock.

Retrieval. What medium that was previously rendered obsolete does the old medium retrieve from the past? This is usually something from the distant past.

Mark Federman shows how these laws could also be used as a metric to measure organisations:

The Laws of Media in particular allow us to anticipate and articulate the totality of effects, both those that we wish to bring into being, and those we might wish to avoid.
Organizational effectiveness can then be expressed (as a percentage or any other appropriately scientific measure) as the degree to which effects deemed desirable can be achieved, those deemed undesirable can be avoided or mitigated, and effects that were originally unanticipated can be anticipated prior to their occurrence and achieved/avoided as appropriate. Thus, with this conception, effectiveness measures the leadership’s ability to anticipate, execute, and perform the inevitable mid-course corrections as new information becomes available. Seems pretty effective to me!

So the measure of effectiveness could be whether an organisation was able to identify when its technology product was "extended beyond the limits of its potential" and shifted its focus to a new product or service. For instance, has Learning Management System technology become extended so far that it no longer manages training and educational requirements, and now hinders the sharing of learning experiences? Would an effective organisation shift away from a reliance on pushing this technology?

McLuhan’s tetradic lens judges everyone in the same way.

Blogs – The Killer App

Maish Nichani, author of the well-known elearning post, has contributed this recent article on blogs:

Weblogs. They are everywhere. This humble publishing technology is proving to be the silent killer application of this decade. In this article I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ll define what weblogs are and explore the malleable attributes that make them so remarkably flexible under various contexts.

This is a good read if you are new to blogs and wondering what they can do for your business. For instance Maish covers this year’s best blog pitch event, which sought out a succinct business rationale for blogging. He also refers to some excellent blog site examples and has links to blogs for project management. This is a good place to start on your understanding of the blog medium.

Some of my previous posts on blogging including one on blogging’s similarity to speaking enagagements and blogging as a tool for knowledge work.

Community is King

Rob Paterson recently discussed Reed’s Law and the Support Economy. Here are some selections from Reed’s Law, but you might want to read all of it.


In networks like the Internet, Group Forming Networks (GFNs) are an important additional kind of network capability. A GFN has functionality that directly enables and supports affiliations (such as interest groups, clubs, meetings, communities) among subsets of its customers. Group tools and technologies (also called community tools) such as user-defined mailing lists, chat rooms, discussion groups, buddy lists, team rooms, trading rooms, user groups, market makers, and auction hosts, all have a common theme?��Ǩ���they allow small or large groups of network users to coalesce and to organize their communications around a common interest, issue, or goal. Sadly, the traditional telephone and broadcast/cable network frameworks provide no support for groups.


What’s important in a network changes as the network scale shifts. In a network dominated by linear connectivity value growth, "content is king." That is, in such networks, there is a small number of sources (publishers or makers) of content that every user selects from. The sources compete for users based on the value of their content (published

stories, published images, standardized consumer goods). Where Metcalfe’s Law dominates, transactions become central. The stuff that is traded in transactions (be it email or voice mail, money, securities, contracted services, or whatnot) are king. And where the GFN law dominates, the central role is filled by jointly constructed value (such as specialized newsgroups, joint responses to RFPs, gossip, etc.).


I’d like to close with a speculative thought. As Francis Fukuyama argues in his book Trust, there is a strong correlation between the prosperity of national economies and social capital, which he defines culturally as the ease with which people in a particular culture can form new associations. There is a clear synergy between the sociability that Fukuyama discusses and the technology and tools that support GFNs-both are structural supports for association. As the scale of interaction grows more global via the Internet, isn’t it possible that a combination of social capital and GFN capital will drive prosperity to those who recognize the value of network structures that support free and responsible association for common purposes?

Rob’s take on this is that, "What he is saying is that the big value to come will not be in selling a thing, not in having a broadcast network or even a association network but will come from facilitating the development of communities." Rob specifically names eBay as successful and Dell as unsuccessful in creating communities.

So how would you include this insight into your business strategy? Let’s say that you are an elearning company:

  • Should you focus on developing content? Apparently not.
  • Should you provide a learning portal or sell learning objects? Probably not a good investment.
  • Should you find ways to connect people and address their learning and performance needs? Yes.

So content is not king. Context may be important, but community is the new king (queen, ace, or whatever you prefer). The next ultimate learning solution may be the ability to link trusted experts with novices and help communities of practice to develop. Blogs may be a precursor, and the next technology to exploit this could be an eBay model that allows for apprenticeship in a virtual, caring environment.

The Blog as a Meaningful Business Tool

Matthew Lin, an MBA candidate at University of New Brunswick at Saint John,Canada, is currently conducting research on how weblogs are being used as business tools, and their particular implication for small and medium enterprises. Matthew has designed a questionnaire in order to survey individuals who publish weblogs or can describe the reasoning behind their company weblog. The survey is at The Blog as a Meaningful Business Tool.

If you or your company publishes a blog for business, then please support Matthew’s research.

Community of Practice Ecosystem

In The Community of Practice Ecosystem, Miguel Cornejo Castro discusses blogs and their role in CoP’s. He sees blogs as:

  • towers of dissent and independent thought;
  • an outlet for fringe member initiatives;
  • private premises of the independently inclined; and
  • a sandbox for the yet unproven.

The described ecosystem consists of a common core (board, mailing list, groupware), blogs that may come and go, and other catalysts such as repositories and lists that co-exist within the conversational space of the community. The ecosystem lives in a state of creative destruction as knowledge resources compete for attention. This model of a community of practice shows how a decentralized approach in the architecture of the tools & resources may make the community more dynamic, as well as stable, in the long run.


LearnNB had its first AGM today. This group is the overall organisation that includes the CSTD New Brunswick chapter. We have decided to put everything under one roof. The blog that I have started for the R&D community of practice will be linked to the main site, as well as the password-protected collaborative workspace. We are starting to align our technology and tools to enable collaboration throughout the province, and there seems to be a real willingness to work together. We will be hosting a CSTD Symposium this Spring (probably May) so stay tuned to the LearnNB site for more information.

Business seems to be picking up in the sector, especially for our private online universities, Lansbridge and Yorkville. New Brunswick’s legislation makes it easier for online universities to establish here and faster to get accredited.

My Kind of Workplace

Of course this had to start in California. The Gate-3 Workclub sounds like the perfect place to spend your workday. With a day pass or a monthly fee you can have access to common areas, phone services, private workspace, coyping services and much else. I think that we’ll be seeing more of these workplaces in the near future with the increase in micro-enterprises and project-based collaborative work. The operators state that it is more than a workplace, Gate-3 also provides:

Community with a work group that shares the day to day challenges and joys of an independent work-style.

Guidance and examples from work colleagues to help you with everything from balancing your work/life to using a PDA.

Support staff that will be there for you month after month and year after year.

Access to the latest in productivity tools, techniques and technologies without having to chase the latest fads.

The reassurance of knowing theres always someone on hand to help.

And there is a blog. Via Business Opportunities Weblog.

Great Value from NRC’s e-Learning Group

Seb Paquet, who works at the National Research Council’s e-learning group, with Stephen Downes and others, has been asked to quantify his impact on the research community. Personally, I see the connections that Seb and Stephen make on a daily basis. They are two critical nodes in the research dialogue of the e-learning community of practice.

Seb has helped me get started as a blogger and connected me to the work of some brilliant researchers, such as Lilia Efimova. Seb’s contacts helped to connect the open source bloggers at the last Moncton Cybersocial. Without Seb, Steve Mallet would not have showed up. As a result of the connections made at this event, a number of us are already discussing new business relationships. Seb’s published research informs my own research and practice, as many of my clients are interested in this "blogging thing". Seb’s perspective of the global community is a real inspiration for those of us in underpopulated, somewhat rural, New Brunswick. More recently Seb created the Atlantic Canada Bloggers wiki, a great map of who is blogging – the link is shown on my External Links [no longer available].

Stephen’s OLDaily is a great source of information, and I’m not sure how he finds the time to do it. His website is a treasure trove of information, insight, and sometimes contention (a good thing). Stephen’s Edu_RSS and Ed Radio are two small innovations that he developed in response to requests from the community. Stephen is someone who seems to be constantly giving back to the community.

I definitely feel that I am getting great value for my tax dollar from Seb, Stephen, Rod and the rest of the staff at the NRC.