Community and social computing
The amount of work going into building social collaboration has taken off in a new direction in the past few years. In particular, the interest is in creating "spaces" for users on the Web.
It's good to see the original work that started from BBS and text-based MUSHes/MUDs/MOOs/etc. has led to a new presentation online. Just take a look at the new generation:
I actually feel a little vindicated now of having tossed a few years of my life back in the late 1980s and early 1990s into playing and programming MUDs.
It seems like now, a decade or more later, the rest of the world is starting to catch on that the Web will need to allow people to show themselves; be an actual identity, rather than a collection of user accounts, preferences, and bookmarks.
These spaces are starting to permeate more specific areas; e.g., MySpace is catching on with bands and musicians, LinkedIn is already a space for business contacts, TheFaceBook caters to the college environment, etc.
Out of this it seems like Software Developers are still kind of stuck in team programming land. While we have a shared team space, most of this is just data about the current project we are working on. Once a project is over, the people behind the project essentially "disappear" into a pool of anonymous resources, only to be invoked again when the next project comes up.
I'm talking about conventional team development environments: CVS, Lotus teamrooms, Hyades, etc. They definitely are very useful for collecting files, tracking progress, controlling access, tracking bugs, and marking activity down.
But where is the human in all of this? Are we really just a set of resources designated by HR and your Project Manager? Are our main job activity the only skills we really have?
Is the sum of us just a cog in the wheel in the grand complication of our company's part in the overall machine of industry?
This is not about socializing, or wanting to be more. There are quite valid business reasons for wanting to promote your identity, calling attention to it, and organizing the information around the many human factors that surround you.
This Business Week article On-the-Job Video Gamingtalks about how companies are using 3D games as a visual training tool.Essentially, some game companies are taking existing 3D game enginesthey have created or even some of the "free" engines out there to builda 3D world that recreates their real-world environment and puts theminto a role-playing scenario like a retail store or a virtual bank...Except I guess you don't get to hack up the customers :)-rawn[Read More]
BusinessWeek's article On-the-Job Video Gaming talks about how companies are using 3D games as a visual training tool. Essentially, some game companies are taking existing 3D game engines they have created or even some of the "free" engines out there to build a 3D world that recreates their real-world environment and puts them into a role-playing scenario like a retail store or a virtual bank... Except I guess you don't get to hack up the customers :)
Per Rachel Happe's post on the value of community management, I wanted to share some thoughts on the value that the role of a community manager can bring to a community and to a business sponsoring the community. These are excerpts from the chapter on community and social experience management in my book (Social Networking for Business, Wharton School Press, 2010). Hopefully they stand alone, although the chapter provides relationships to the bigger picture.
The core competency here is in terms of facilitating relationships and communications between different parties. There are in fact many different types of interactions that this role takes on. In as such, this means they participate as a part of many different role-interaction patterns. This is significant since when such patterns are frequent and repeated, it becomes almost transactional, and therefore measurable. If you need the example of a more common role-interaction pattern: think of a support call from initial contact to completion after a solution or resolution has been reached and the customer is verified as satisfied. Each such complete interaction has a measurable value; or you could also measure it in terms of cost or time it took to conduct that interaction end-to-end. Finally, you could also measure it in terms of quantity of those interactions actually reaching completion rather than partial or incomplete resolutions (likely meaning an unhappy customer left hanging).
The RI patterns for Community managers are of a different sort but the following tables give some suggestions of the kinds of patterns they could participate in.
Table 9.1 -- The Value of Community Managers
Table 9.2 Supporting Customers or Partners
There's another table on their roles within the enterprise supporting employee and organizational interactions.
We'll be upgrading the Managing online commuities course next semester. The last I heard, the new course number will be MIS 424/524. This means that it will be a both undergrad (senior) & grad level course. Partially it is administrivia: grad students and professionals want to take it and can't do that as a 300-level (junior) course. Next semester, you don't have to be a degree-seeking student to register for this course, but yes, it is still local (rather than an online course) and a full semester long.
To go with that we will need to revise some of the cirriculum as well as add additional work appropriate for graduate level students. Unfortunately, I have not had much time to think about that and may not have it done before I leave on vacation in two weeks. I guess I get to take my laptop along and work a little over the holidays.
One of the regular assignments we have is analysis of news articles and papers on Web 2.0 and social projects and sites, and a presentation to the class. This semester has been more freeform to see what students will come across. For the grad level, I think we will need them to provide greater insight into the site they review: what is their business model/how do they make money or pay for it; how do they attract/retain visitors; how do they reward members; etc.
The final project also needs to start much earlier to give our students more time to complete the work. Apparently there was some confusion on what they were supposed to do. Also the selection of tools at their disposal were not sufficiently varied. We'll try and look for more tools per my previous note.
We like the aspect of interfacing with high schools, but we may need to expand to more schools to have a larger user base. The complication is that each trip to the high school has some overhead involved for both parties; the high school computers have firewalls/filters for some sites which are relevant; they may not be adequately equipped for enough students; high school classes may have a lot of movement (people come in and out of class often). A better way would be to bus the high school students to a controlled environment like the Hoffman ecommerce lab at UAMIS.
Lee Provoost’s post, “Adopting Enterprise 2.0 in large organisations: Fiat or Ferrari?” talks about how people can start with smaller
cars like a Fiat and eventually upgrade if need be to a Ferrari, rather than
wait decades of riding public transportation until they save enough for their
top car. I don’t see the entire negative with public transportation but when it
comes to social software, this ignores a large problem: migrating from one
social software system to another is a lot more complicated than just replacing
the tool itself.
Having seen first-hand several generations of social tools
in our company, and trying to get people to migrate from one existing
environment to a new one, it takes a bit of work to get people to switch to the
new system. A better analogy than cars may be “transportation networks”. In the
US, think about asking people to stop driving and using trains instead.
First of all, change is hard: people become used to certain features and know how to work it quickly. Unless the new social tool has the exact same features handled exactly the same, it means new learning, often new terminology, and trial and error.
Social tools also don’t always make it easy to migrate from one system to another. So you may also need to reenter your profile information, preferences, and generally reinstate what you may have already had before.
People place a lot of content and context into their social
environment, and unless that is all migrated with them too, they may see it as “loosing
their standing in that social environment.” For some this is in the form of
rankings; for others useful or valuable content that they left behind. New
social environments don’t need to start at zero but more often than not, they
are not fully compatible with the old ones or provide different tools and
require different fields; thus, migration is not a simple prospect of
Finally, a new system should probably not only perform better,
but all them to interact in better ways. This also means new features to ask
people to try out. The power of the new social tool may be in those new
features but in maintaining the status quo, many users will keep using what
they know, until enough people have adopted the new features.
These are just a few basic reasons in adoption that make it
difficult to simply “level up” to a new social system. If you run a social
software system in your enterprise, you should certainly not treat it like just buying a new car.
As part of the Managing online communities course, students have a semester-long assignment to blog weekly. This is to force the habit of writing on a regular basis and feeling the experience for themselves. As a Community manager they would have to try to encourage other people to blog regularly, but as most bloggers know (most blogs fail due to lack of updates) it isn't trivial to write on a regular basis. When you hit the workforce, it becomes even more difficult.
In any case, all our MIS 300 blogs can be read by the public. I think only the first 38 of those blogs are operational (the number of students we have). You'll find varying degrees of creativity and coverage, but that is to be expected.
Other tools-based assignments include those on forums, group editing a wiki, and creating a podcast. I'll try to point to those when they are ready.
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The basis of community in my mind is in the interaction between people. The tools, mechanisms, processes, and communications we use are the outward expression of these interactions. A community really lies on a subliminal level in the form of the trust we develop directly with other members of the community.
For the most part, this trust is an implicit factor that we associate mentally with another entity (a person or a group). However, to externalize this factor into a meaningful measurement that many others can relate to can only be a rough approximation. Beyond that, to normalize that measurement across anyone, anywhere reduces it to a lowest common denominator of trust.
This is still important, however. By indicating how you would rate trust between yourself and another person, and by sharing this rating with others, you describe the relationship network around you. Metcalfe's law states that the usefulness, or utility, of a network equals approximately the square of the number of users of the system. This is useful in understanding the context in interactions between people. Context after all makes the difference between princes and purloiners.
You can build a complex directed graph by combining the various relationship networks of all the individuals in a community. However, that just becomes increasingly complex with each person you add. From Metcalfe's law, the possible number of connections is squared, making huge numbers of connections.
A simpler way is to create an aggregate trust rating per person across all the ratings they receive from others. Each entity thus has a single rating factor.
Actually, two rating factors really. You need to ask after the result of any interaction:
1. Helpfulness - Was this knowledge source helpful? Do you trust that they were providing the information in good faith and for your benefit?
2. Usefulness - Was the information provided by the knowledge source useful to you? Did the information help? Can you put it to use?
A person can be a source of useful information but be too busy to help people get that info. On the other hand, a person can truly want to help but not really know much about a subject.
How do you apply these ratings? Keep it simple: rate 1 through 5, lowest to highest, on each of these factors per interaction you have with someone.
What you really end up getting over time, is a measure of the reputation of an entity as well as the number of people they interact with. By measuring recurring interactions with the same knowledge source, you can also measure how loyal people are to that source.
I've been playing around with TouchGraph's Google Browser to see how our blogs are linked in from other sites, and displays it in a graph network showing other sites searchable on Google that have pointers to your own blog.
I'll try to take a snapshot of the results later and paste that in here.
I came across a little gem out in the field of data we collect on ourpageviews yesterday: "Topic Popularity". It looks at the pageviews toour articles and tutorials, per the taxonomy topic keyword in metadataof each article, then divides it by the number of articles that keywordappears in to get an average pageviews per article (per topic name).
Current top ten hot topics in our articles:
I listened to our pre-release version of the 40-minute podcast interview with Tim O'Reilly, recorded by our editor Scott Laningham recently. It starts out as a backgrounder for how O'Reilly & Associates got started but moves quickly into the nature of participation, how the Internet and the web is the medium for new business, and the participatory nature of the net (what is now referred to as Web 2.0). Tim agrees with the other Tim (Sir Tim Berners-Lee) that really the term web 2.0 only serves to clarify the aspect first initiated with the Internet: network effects.
It's available on dW Radio and definitely worth listening to. I'll probably make it a supplementary piece for our MIS students to listen to for the class.
According to a recent New York Times article, Tim Berners-Lee is partnering with MIT and the Univ of Southampton (UK) to launch their Web Science Research Initiative. I don't have much more information than that but it sounds like a graduate level research space into a more modern version of social networking analysis. The key people are Berners-Lee, Wendy Hall (head of School of Electronics and CS at U of Southampton), Nigel Shadbot (prof of AI, Univ of Southampton), and Daniel Weitzner (principal research scientist at MIT).
Quote from the release:
Commenting on the new initiative, Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of theWorld Wide Web and a founding director of WSRI, said, "As the webcelebrates its first decade of widespread use, we still knowsurprisingly little about how it evolved, and we have only scratchedthe surface of what could be realized with deeper scientificinvestigation into its design, operation and impact on society.
"The Web Science Research Initiative will allow researchers to take theweb seriously as an object of scientific inquiry, with the goal ofhelping to foster the web's growth and fulfill its great potential as apowerful tool for humanity."
I'm pretty sure the web is already an object of serious scientific and even commercial inquiry, but more effort is always a good thing. In comparison, our undergraduate UAMIS class seems much less conceptual. I'm sure those ideas will eventually trickle down to us too. Social network analysis is a complex enough task, and not a simple topic; i.e., it'd need a full-blown semester to teach.
A little vacation afterthought...
While in Key West, former pirate stomping grounds with acual sunken treasure waters, we went to the Pirate Soul's pirate museum on a lark, which has actual pirate artifacts at hand and a fairly decent, if small, museum: a pirate chest, sword/buckler, matchlock pistol, dinner plate, etc. There's also a very nicely done digital book of pirate history you can peruse. It also holds one of only two actually-proven-provenance pirate flags known to the world. It's actually a fairly plain looking skull and bones (which I can't show here unfortunately). It's nothing like the made up stylized pirate flags we found over in the gift shop and you can see all over the place including this one on the back of a Jeep.
This rings back to the most recent Pirates of the Carribean movie where at one point a whole fleet of pirate vessels at sea with their own pirate flags. It looked like they all shopped at that Pirate Museum gift store. Obviously the movie is fiction, with more attitude added to pirate life than reality, but sometimes you see just how fake it is. In terms of the actual movie, I still think the first of the three was still the best, with this third being far too overachieving in terms of plot, and direction. Overstimulation is sometimes just that. The characters behave as the director figured self-interested pirates would, meaning they would do whatever they needed to achieve their own goals, but at some point, it got far too complicated to keep straight who wanted what. Visually, they also tried far too much, pushing into ludicrous speed... yes, they went plaid.
(See I didn't give away the plot entirely)
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As our developerWorks Community Editor, I'm faced with issues which are part talent management and part information management. Aside from all the regular issues of focusing effort and developing content to build a stronger community, I'm facing a happy problem of having so many enthusiatic contributors: what happens when there's too much to read?
It isn't hard to see this problem is evident; just try googling on a topic and see how many hits you get. Would you really want to read anything more than 100 entries?
In talking with James Snell and others a few weeks ago regarding corporate blogs, wikis and other such tools, we agreed that there are typically two ways of looking at who should contribute. We both agree everyone should be able to do so; but when you start running into large numbers, how do you organize this information?
First, there's the top-down approach where you pick the topics and find people to contribute to each category. This is quite commonly used; dW does this in our many zones.
Then there's also a bottom-up approach where you want topic experts to self-emerge from a population.
This second approach is harder to figure out, but the answer may not be as complicated, especially when you have a large population and numbers on your side.
I think the idea lies in building a Reputation network, modeled on trust. Each individual essentially would rate how a particular interaction with a potential expert turned out (in two types of trust, which I'll discuss later). You can then average all the trust ratings per candidate to determine their reputation. The number of interactions combined with this average trust rating describes their reputation.
Those with higher reputations automatically emerge as "experts" in whatever categories they want to focus on. The process is democratic and self-emergent within the community. For that matter it also automatically helps to define topic areas that people are interested in.
That's the basic principle. I'm quite sure there are many ways of looking at this, so I'd be curious to hear counterpoints.
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