What better article to read this past week than 11 lessons about digital communities from Rome by Courtney Hunt.
- Capitalize on proven, older designs.
- Build the new upon the old.
- Sometimes you have to destroy the old to make way for the new.
- The past can teach about process (people don’t change).
- Rules are only guides.
- Sometimes not enforcing rules allows the system to find its own pragmatic balance.
- Intimacy and humanity can overcome many design and resource flaws.
- Technology does not have to be alienating.
- Taking the time to make things beautiful reaps long term benefits.
- Manage signal to noise.
- People are ingenious.
I was confused on my arrival in Rome, easily getting lost in the labyrinth of streets and alleys in the old city. Hans de Zwart showed me how to let go and learn to flow with the traffic and street patterns. It became much easier, and on the last night I strolled the several kilometers, without a map, back to my hotel. I think many people feel confused at first in online communities. It’s up to the community to help them feel the flow.
The humanity of Rome was also quite surprising, especially after reading all the tourist warnings for the city. Even though there are places filled with vendors of cheap crap trying to take advantage of tourists, for the most part it’s like being in a bunch of connected neighbourhoods. Almost everyone I met was friendly and all merchants were courteous, polite and honest to a fault. One fellow tourist, an older gentleman from Australia, told me that he stopped a pick-pocket who was trying to lift his wallet, on the train. He cried out and grabbed the thief’s hand. As the train came to a stop, the locals on the train created a wall and forced the thief out, while at the same time calling for the police. They then apologized on behalf of their city. Rome is a community that keeps on trying, in spite of its challenges, because its people believe in the city.
Too often we focus on the technology and not the human relationships in online communities. Rome, and many other physical communities, can give us some insights on where to put our priorities. David Griffiths offers some good questions that anyone supporting online professional communities should ask.
“Community or Network? Organic or stagnant? Are you focused on solving the problem, or what lies behind the problem? Reactive or Proactive? Ask yourself, what is the purpose for CoP and how do you know if they are working?”
An online community should be much more than a place for economic man to get things done (collaborate). A community needs the attracting power of a greater sense of purpose so that people will regularly try to do the right thing for the long term benefit of all (cooperate). We can learn something from a city that is 2,765 years old.