Boring is good

I thought that enterprise top-down software was a thing of the past and that small pieces loosely joined was the new model, but I’ve been in learning hell with a community of practice platform that uses the walled garden metaphor to the extreme.

Christopher Sessums refers to Clay Shirky’s comment in Here Comes Everybody, that “Communication tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring” . Christopher adds:

In other words, it’s not the invention of the tool that holds value; it’s the tool’s ubiquitousness that contains the value which ultimately leads to profound social changes.

Similarly, the tools that support virtual communities probably won’t be very interesting until they become invisible, everyday components in our lives. For some, this is already the case and as such we are beginning to see new and powerful means to share, commune, and identify with one another.

Message to tool builders – you cannot be ubiquitous inside a walled garden.

I have spent a few days trying to figure out my client’s system. This will be a larger problem when a casual computer user has to make sense of all of the functions as well as the underlying model of the platform.  Having created several online communities and participated as a member and a moderator of many more, I can’t see how a community can grow if there is any difficulty in using the technology. The only case where a complicated system will work is when the option of not using it is unacceptable. The litmus test for any community software should be, “is it easier than e-mail?”, because that is what most users will compare it to.

10 Responses to “Boring is good”

  1. Bret

    “Is it easier than e-mail?”

    That question is dead on. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard that question, or the variant, “Why can’t we just use e-mail?”

  2. chris

    One of the reasons we gave up on Basecamp was that our customers — almost without exception — preferred email. Couldn’t drag them away from it kicking and screaming. And really, why bother?

  3. Gilbert

    As a software designer I can tell you that E-Mail is uderused. Why not have emails with fields, calculation tools, interactive measurement elements.

    You would think that developpers would leverage on people’s knowledge of email tools and build applications that are more asynchronous in nature.

    An email based application would be great. I have seen applications that send an email to the person who then have to go to the application to fill a few fields. Would be easier to make the emails the application.

    Not sure if there are any good frameworks for doing this.

  4. Dan

    Email certainly is ubiquitous – and has been so for many years. I have used many online tools that have migrated to having an Outlook plugin so as to address this email dependency. These plugins range from extremely useful to terribly redundant. Regardless, email is a sort of comforting homepage for many who see it as there place of connection. Little do they know that there are now far better ways to stay connected with a sense of presence and timeliness. E-learning platforms and applications that can mirror the ubiquitous of email will only do so if the sense of connection is presented with ease.

  5. Dave Ferguson

    You wonder if the decision-making and stake-holding includes any of the end-users (or, perhaps more appropriately, target audience).

    I’m convinced that one reason people resist change is that they’ve been conditioned to see disruption of established patterns as counter-productive.

    First releases of large (or mandatory) applications are dictionary definitions of counter-productive.

  6. Ken Allan

    As a teacher who has experience with online teaching and learning I can vouch for what you say. Despite student access to an elearning management system, the majority who are ‘active’ learners use email to contact me despite there being many different routes that could permit them to do the same thing within the LMS. The ratio is far in excess of 95%. As well, it is often found that many would-be-communicators simply do not use the LMS for that purpose even when they are logged on. The phenomenon of lurking in an online environment is well known. I often wonder if a major contributing factor causing this is brought about by the barriers inherent in the difficulties met when using the learning software.

  7. alexanderhayes

    “…Having created several online communities and participated as a member and a moderator of many more, I can’t see how a community can grow if there is any difficulty in using the technology.”

    I dont really get that comment although I know you’ve coined it in stream of conciousness mode Harold.

    Firstly, you didnt ‘create’ an online community…you gave people an opportunity or filter thorugh which to talk within…without it they would have probably gravitated like mercury to the same spot.

    Members and moderators are the same thing. The distinctions are pure semantics….perhaps the pay packet is different ….just wait until you get paid to be a member…even then one word can divide a whole discussion and moderation is only good in….moderation.

    Speaking of walled gardens have a good read through this lot Harold –

    I think the litmus test is well beyond email…more like ….. ” Are we ready to have a coffee yet as a group without your bitching behaviourisms ?”

    Good luck buried in that LMS.

  8. Harold

    You’re right Alexander, I should have said, “having created several online community structures”.

    I would say that members and moderators are not the same, especially when it is an internal community for a single organisation. In that case, there may be no one with any experience in using the tools or working asynchronously (what we used to call computer supported collaborative work), and some facilitation is necessary.

    Interesting link, but I don’t understand the entire context.


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