Community in a Box

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.

7 Responses to “Community in a Box”

  1. Matthias

    I am surprised about your pessimistic outlook. For me it is a natural thing that most individuals “lag behind”. So they still come up with the idea of their own little community instead of thinking in terms of broader platforms.

    The idea of open platforms is less than one year old. So I wouldn’t expect mainstream audience to reflect already on that level.

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  2. Harold

    Not pessimistic, Matthias, just concerned that we may not realise all of the opportunities afforded by social networks. I would also say that the idea of open platforms is much more than one year old – at least on this blog.

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  3. Dave Ferguson

    I wouldn’t read too much into “guild.” You’re right that to some extent, they morphed into a small community that kept away outsiders and at least tried to monopolize some craft — though that was in a time when many people believed in hierarchy, preordained roles, a great chain of being. With literacy at a minimum, you could only learn a craft by working in that craft.

    We’re moving somewhat away from credentialism — having a PhD might not hurt, but it won’t necessarily help, in many endeavors. So the informal, voluntary collaborations are somewhat like guilds seen from the inside: communities of practitioners.

    I have no doubt that in medieval guilds, you’d learn pretty quick that Wulf from Sussex, despite twenty years as a master, was full of crap, while your buddy Egbert from the neighboring shire told you you could rely on that young guy Jenkin to do a bang-up job fixing your masonry.

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  4. Harold

    But look how much credence our society still puts into little bits of paper. Once the new “guilds” are established it may be hard to dislodge them.

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  5. Dave F.

    Good point, Harold. We’d like to accept people for who they are and what they can do, but once we get beyond a couple of degrees of connection, the risk/reward balance seems to get tipped.

    Look at the ever-expanding world of credentials offered at professional conferences. At this year’s conference, ISPI has five certificate programs, to say nothing of the CPT designation.

    Soon members will have more letters after their names than real estate brokers or insurance salespeople.

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  6. Harold

    I didn’t renew my CPT designation because not a single one of my clients recognized it. I still follow the code of ethics and stay current in my field, but the piece of paper has no value. With an over-abundance of credentials, will they all lose their value, except for those making money off the process?

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  7. Gilbert

    CPT (like other productivity/performance designations) provides more value when interest rates are high. JIT specialist are in the same boat.

    I have seen this in the field of industrial engineering. Low interest rates diminishes the need for efficiency. After many years of low interest rates our local university finally abolished their Industrial Engineering program.

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