I’ve mentioned before that I’m getting a lot of questions about creating “facebook-in-a-box” applications for industry niches or associations. Everyone wants a social network, but on their own terms.
I was commissioned to get a community going around the learning industry in our province in 2003, but that endeavour failed, for reasons I’ve noted. I also worked on a walled-garden healthcare community, and it was relatively successful, especially for the the mental health workers who took up wikis with a passion, and that was several years ago, before Wikipedia became a household name. I also helped develop the initial concept for a green building community, which is still a work in practice. Currently, I’m working with a collaborative community of senior public servants, who are taking a course over several months. It will remain to be seen if this walled-garden will continue as a venue once the course is over. One of the more resilient communities I know is the InternetTime Ning site. This is a grassroots initiative, based a lot on Jay’s personal and professional contacts.
All of these “communities” have been work or business focused. Some support existing organisational structures, while others are separate ecosystems. At OpenBusiness, a new world of guilds is seen as the future organising structure:
I see the emergence of a world of guilds of specialists, similar to the ecosystems that John Seely Brown describes in his book The Only Sustainable Edge. If this is where we are going, what else do we need to make the guilds system completely functional?
When I think of guilds, I see closed systems that control the knowledge of the discipline, with long apprenticeship periods and control of the labour supply. Is this where we are going? Will our online communities become closed, medieval-style guilds, or will the dominant model be more like the open source community with free movement in and out?
As there is more interest in supporting online business communities it will be important for those with experience (and a vision of the democratising and empowering opportunities) to help shape the conversation. If not, certain interests may hijack the conversation, much as e-learning turned into “shovelware” for the masses.