I'm not sure if you've seen this meme but I've come across it in several books both about online and offline communities:
Interactions in communities -->
Creates Understanding --------->
Develops Trust ----------------->
Allows Exploration & Entreprenuership ->
Sets stage for Innovation
The most recent place I saw this meme again, in a slightly varied form was near the last chapters of The World is Flat (ok, maybe I make references to this too often these days :)
Now these are "grand" notions that often follow in a sequence like this above. You need to have one stage happening before you can really reach the next stage. Thus you don't really jump ahead and ask "How do we innovate?" but need to ask "What are we doing to set up an environment such that innovation can happen?"
It's important to realize that the arrows in the diagram above are not trivial. In other words, when you have one stage, you need to do something to progress it to the next stage. That something could take a whole lot of effort. But in terms of managed innovation, it gives points where you can measure how your population is doing and how you can recognize if you've reach that stage.
There are many books out there describing how to innovate and get others to innovate, and I certainly have not read nearly enough of them. I still wonder if some of them consider going through that meme sequence above.
The somethings are also where the opportunities lie. Many innovation and leadership management trends have come and gone, and still many exist in parallel. I'm no certified expert at it and there are likely some really good sources out there too. (Okay, maybe people like Steven Covey)
Right now, I'm just trying to develop an idea for the early stages of this meme, those focused on the developing the community. Hopefully more smart people will come along to explain what to do next.
Community and social computing
Laptops are the ubiquitous tool of Networked Man. It's also how you identify them in the wild.
I'm a very heavy laptop user. I take it with me almost every day when I leave the house. Hence, I need something that won't drag me down in terms of weight. I've been using one kind of Thinkpad or another for years, honestly, because this is what they provide me at work. It seems to do the job well and isn't too heavy (current one is about 5 lbs).
On the other hand,I really like the idea of convertible notebooks or Tablet PCs where you can flip the screen over
and lay it flat on the keyboard and then write on it. IBM's PC division (before Lenovo) had one for a brief time together with a notepad, but that went away. In fact most Tablet PCs were similar size (12" screens), which was a little too small for me.
The one I see out there now is Gateway's 14" widescreen version. However, they haven't made a good docking station for it, just a port replicator.
I'd like to a tablet PC with a docking station you can just plug into vertically to turn the unit into a sort of
all-in-one monitor-PC. There'd be a keyboard, mouse and cabling connected to the dock of course. But the core idea would be to have a dock that works like an adjustable monitor base (turning it, raising it, etc.)
When you're on the go, you could simply suspend, unlock and lift it off and put it into a locking hard case/shell rather than having to strap into a laptop bag.
Honestly, the five minutes it takes for me to hibernate my computer, undocking, and pack it; then do the reverse when at my location turns out to be about an hour a week I've lost. That's 40-50 hours a year; i.e., a whole week of work.
We just ended our weeklong meeting with the infrastructure, applications and design teams of our developerWorks. We have them once or twice a year bringing all the members of our distributed organization into a single physical location to talk about their projects, brainstorm, and engage each other in coordinating efforts.
This is our own internal community of developers and designers that help maintain and improve the extensive network of sites that is developerWorks, supporting over 5 million members, dozens of acclaimed topics, and many sites for other countries (locales). We call this collective "Scott McAllister's team" refering to the multiple teams and managers that report up to Scott. The event is our own Geek Week.
We have a whole other team of folks who do the great work behind creating our content on the many sites. That team is meeting at the end of February.
For my part, I talked extensively about our planned Community strategy, and the involvement of these teams. The plan is a holistic look at the evolution of communities, predicting what the next stage of evolution is, what that means to us in terms of future opportunities, what we should build, and even the next stages of what we could do.
Needless to say, Web 2.0 played a large part, but rather than in bits and pieces, I mapped out the overall solution that brings Web 2.0 to our whole site. I'd like to tell you the plan, but it's a secret. ;)
I can say that I get a number of people coming up to me and saying they really liked the presentation (gives me warm fuzzies :), some also wanted to know how they could get involved.
What I should say is that I had to consider what projects and experiments we were already considering and how it might relate to this plan. There are many smart people in our organization and many ways to interpret ideas. My strategy (behind the strategy) is to consider the many ideas and see if we can make good use of it in the overall plan. I like to be inclusive wherever possible.
That's actually much harder than it seems. For one, while we have a such a structure, we are not a strongly hierarchical organization (i.e., siloed) and have many cross-teams across the functional teams. This is not an unusual situation for many companies these days. One person may have different roles in several teams, so part of the time I'm trying to consider which role I'm talking to. We are also distributed across at least six different states in the US (not including the international teams), that makes it hard to just get appropriate time with people.
It's events like this week that greatly reinforce the "wholeness" of the team, as well as help spread ideas. It is a great offline community that most of our readers never hear about. It's when people connect that innovations--small or large--happen.
In a discussion with erik_k of help.com it seems apparent that tag-based communities are one of the premier forms of ad-hoc community building.
Rather than a formal process to start a community, people create tags around what they are working on or are interested in and it matches the folksonomy of others with the same tags, and what they collectively post about it.
This form of tag-based community isn't unique to help.com; there are other sites like 43 Things, del.icio.us, jeteye.com, etc. that all allow people to "bubble up" a community based on what they tag.
If people use the same keywords, they automatically become a collective or group of participants around the topic. With sites like Jeteye, you can create multiple types of content elements in each tag. Still others allow member of a shared tag to start a discussion area, etc.
This kind of ad-hoc process allows a population to rapidly organize and create communities around what they are working on. You can build quite a sizeable community this way if you have a general purpose site like help.com or del.icio.us.
The downside is that it can be chaotic and hard to track. Some tags get buried under others; there can be many, many tags that refer to the same thing but are disjoint, simply based on how you word the tag; there may not be a central or high-level navigation system. Finally, it's hard to "value" what one person creates over another.
The alternative is to have a formal community creation process and then build community tools around the created entity. This also has its weak points which primarily center around the fact that the process can become bureaucratic.
This isn't limited to just information, but also to other scenarios such as situational applications, where people get together to quickly prototype or build an application in a group setting. More on that later.
The Economist issue from last week has an 18-page in depth section on how people and organizations are evolving in the face of globalization, online Web 2.0 technologies, and changing ideas on organizing teams. This is one of the best articles I have seen on the subject (even better than Friedman's "The World is Flat")
You will need to be registered to access this premium content online, unfortunately.
Cnet's article on Small is beautiful for Web 2.0 start-ups gives attention to the growing sentiment that the application development process needs to become more lightweight.
This is something that can go in several directions:
While Jason Fried of 37Signals believes the idea of enterprise software is "dead", it's more likely a space that small projects just don't play in. Also there may be a great many more small projects going compared to large projects but it's difficult to argue either way that a number of small projects equals one large project or vice-versa. (Obviously, I'm not defining what "small" and "large" means; think of those as what they mean to you)
On the other hand, small projects may be a difficult idea for some organizations to handle, especially when they are focused on going for large ones. It's a matter of overhead; With each small project, the relative size of the overhead for running the project may seem a lot higher than the overhead of a large project.
However, the techniques needed to operate a large project many not be the same as the ones needed for small ones.
The real winner is the one who figures out what kind of project management techniques are most appropriate for any given project, anticipating its complexity and size. Of course, if you could see the future and know how much work was involved right away, it'd be a simple trick.
Okay, I try to avoid being the braggart but I have to say that this week our SOA Compass book that I co-authored with four other engineers from IBM is today's #1 in all computer books on the Barnes & Noble's site, amusingly enough even ahead of Lou Gerstner's Who says elephants can't dance?.
This is only for today and only on Barnes & Nobles rather than Bookscan or the NY Times list of course, but it put a smile on my face. After years of writing, this is about as good as it has gotten. This is a good day for developerWorks Books.
Amusingly enough, we are also #24 amongst all fiction and non-fiction books right after Stephen King's latest book Cell and ahead of other books I admire like Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, Larry Bossidy's Execution: The discipline of getting things done and even Dan Brown's paperback version of Angels and Demons.
Okay, it's still not yet the top ten of all books alongside Friedman's The World is Flat, or Steven Levitt's Freakanomics.
Of course, all such success is fleeting.[Read More]
Whether formalized or ad-hoc, there are several common types of communities based on the goals of that group of people
Some of these types include:
The behavior of the groups, the tools they need, the processes they use, etc. are different. Some groups may start out as one type and change into another. It really helps the group to identify what they want to accomplish.
The failure of most groups to develop or encourage a healthy, growing community stems from not setting up that initial direction.
For example, a project-based community need tools help manage the project and the product they are developing. This can be software, but it can apply to any kind of product really. Having tools to monitor activity, define schedules, and record achievements are all hallmarks of a good project management system. However, not all projects need complex PM
tools; in fact they can be quite intimidating or cause bureaucratic overload, which just leads to frustration.
A community of practice needs means for the members to get together and collect their ideas and experiences. Very often, you see this happening in Wikis and other group editing tools.
A community of interest exists to gather more energy and followers to a topic but may not be focused as much on developing knowledge, just sharing experiences. Thus, regular communications through some form of discussion tool is quite healthy.
This is not to say that any of these require only one specific tool to achieve their goal. Quite the converse. You will find that many communities will use the same type of tool for different purposes and many will need multiple tools to interact.
This is one of the reasons why when developing a community, you cannot base it on a single tool like a forum or a wiki, and similar why a single tool does not signify the extent of the community. So far, I have not seen no one perfect solution for all communities.
If you're a community of many other communities like we are at developerWorks, then you will likely have each of these different subtypes within yourself, and then you really need to expand the tools that allow your community members to interact.
I ran into someone who was taking an honors class in Social Entrepreneurism at the University. Their focus is on rural education and micro-economic enablement through micro-loan systems. If you have not heard about this concept, it was pioneered by Grameen Bank in Bangladesh a number of years ago and has since become a worldwide phenomenon.
As I was describing to them, however, social entrepreneurism (SE) isn't limited to helping the poor. There are other groups of people out there who need help and education just as much. Even dW is a form of SE in terms of helping emerging topics and technologies grow within the realm of software systems.
There are a great many valuable ideas out there initiated by people who know a lot about technology and software. However, not every developer knows what to do to keep a project running, sharing it with others, or getting recognition for their efforts.
We hear of many successful and innovative open source projects created purely on the basis of successful leadership, and even a hefty dose of good luck. However, there are tens of thousands of other projects which fall off the grid because the lead(s) of the team simply don't know what to do to get it to the next level.
Many technical people simply say "Oh well that's a marketing thing to get more people to use it", but that's only one element of it.
Towards that goal, the idea of dW started as one whereby we could help that kind of project that either came out of IBM or one we were involved in to help them grow and become more successful. It has grown in many ways beyond just the needs of IBM and we think that is a good thing for the whole industry.
Our community areas are no different. Our SE role is in the same domain: helping projects, topics and ideas to grow. That means we need to focus on providing tools, knowledge and other forms of assistance to fuel this.
Obviously, with a limited team there's a limit to how much you can do for anyone one group, and it always depends on the leaders of that group. However, by documenting successes, identifying best practices for different situations, we think we can help the situation for others. The learning and education here is not just in terms of solving a particular technical issue but addressing how to actually improve the human side of the equation.