Top-Down community creation
We have not officially released communities at work, but we have over 50, as it’s spreading by word of mouth (plus all this stuff is in vogue now).
I’m still writing the help guides, so I feel for the current users, and sometimes they are lost…the design of our communities is not very web 2.0, so people need help.
People have to fill in a request form that asks them various questions highlighting the committment and facilitation required.
Once I review that form I meet with the proposed community leader and talk to them about communities, domain, people (community), practice (output), tools, methods, participation, facilitation, structure, types, community indicators, shared identity, how they are different to networks, sustainability, etc…
NOTE: Previously with organisational/team based communities I met with the whole team on a telecon, and it was a bit messy because everyone had their idea of structure, etc…so now I meet with the proposed leader and a couple of key members, and we go through everything, then they may or may not talk to their team before coming back to me to finalise.
Once this is finalised I create the community to the required specifications eg. maybe a community only want forums, or maybe they just want a blog and a place to store documents, etc…
Then I ask the leader to pilot the community with a few key members, this way when it’s opened to more people they can visit and read the content and discussions that have already taken place. The idea is to make it attractive and engaging on the first visit.
The other aspect to this is that the community leader and key members will be proficient users and will be empowered to tackle questions by new users.
For me this is part of adoption - a blank community is not inviting, it lacks a gravitational pull, and a leader who is not equipped to properly lead may leave members in the cold. Plus as global community coordinator I don’t want to be asked questions that the facilitators could be empowered to answer.
In the future I will be running a Facilitator’s community so I can keep community leaders in the loop of running and sustaining communities, and a place for them to learn off each other. I also give them examples of community specific help guides and examples of instructional design to help their users orient and learn to use the community…it’s crucial they have a good experience, by their needs being fulfilled. This also goes for people who visit. In regards to design it’s important to role play and pretend you are a member or a visitor and see how you fair in knowing how to orient yourself when visiting or participating in a community.
Something I’ll add here is that the person I talk to has to be the community leader, they have to be the passionate person. What happens with organisational/team based communities, as opposed to practice or share interest communities, is that a sponsor will set it up with me, and then they leave it to others to run…whereas I’d rather speak to those others from the start as well…I want a relationship with the person running the community. I want the nominated person to be passionate and committed, and not doing it because their boss said so…this is something I try to make known to their boss.
Another thing I learnt is that alot of communities have lots of members for no reason. With our communities visitors are free to subscribe to blogs and forums, leave blog comments, and ask a question.
Members can additonally write blog posts, interact in forums, and add documents. But it’s more than this, members need to be involved either offline/online, they need to be an integral part…whether they are behind the scenes organising meeting/events or they are a subject matter blogger or perhaps they don’t write forum topics but get involved in a lot of forum replies.
The real communities are those where each member is integral, this quote by Adam Fields sums it up:
“There’s really only one rule for community as far as I’m concerned, and it’s this - in order to call some gathering of people a “community”, it is a requirement that if you’re a member of the community, and one day you stop showing up, people will come looking for you to see where you went.”
If you are not going to participate at all, well you might as well not be a member, but still subscribe or visit to content you are interested in.
Anyway, when people request to join a community there is a message to this effect, helping them decide right off the bat if being a member is what they thought it would be.
So far this post has been about community creation, but what I really wanted to focus is on the disadvantages of top-down creation of communities, wiki, blogs, etc… That is, what are we, the company, and knowledge workers missing out on by not being able to have the freedom to create these objects (bottom-up creation)?
I have explained above, in the pre-creation consultation of a community I talk people through what’s involved. A lot of the time it’s not what they are after, they didn’t realise “communities are conversations”, and they were just after more of a document management (DM) type thing. I tell them that DM is a way to centralise and make available what’s on people’s hard drives into one easy place. The additional feature of our communities is that we can also have conversations using blogs and forums, that replace and make less messy what happens in emails, and much more…it’s about awareness, discovery and connecting with people, participating, conversations, evolving content, and learning.
The other aspect is that they don’t know what’s involved in sustaining and facilitating a community to be a sticky hot spot for people to visit daily, interact…ie a daily resource to learn more about your interest. In the end, the less participation, the less it’s a community. In one community at work there are very few forum topics and I’m basically the lone blogger, so it doesn’t feel like a community at all…we don’t meet-up or discuss things we want to learn. I get lots of comments, but then you don’t have to be a member to comment on a blog. I learn from these comments, but I might as well blog outside the community (but we don’t have this kind of framework yet, we only have blogs within communities, an intranet 2.0 network solution is further down the line)…I’ll stop here as this is not a post about participation.
I’ve mentioned that some people:
- think they want a community, but don’t, once they find out it’s not what they wanted
- don’t have time to commit
- don’t like the top-down process of having to set one up
Bottom-Up community creation
It’s this last point I’m interested in, if community creation was a bottom-up process what would be different?
For starters our communities are not that well designed or intuitive so they need to interact with me anyway, and creating a community requires a few steps.
My speculation is that we would have hundreds of abandoned communities, as people would realise it’s not what they want, they don’t know it’s about conversation, they don’t know how to facilitate, etc…
What this means is that our community directory would contain lots of empty communities, which would be an unfriendly experience as people would browse and discover lots of empty spaces, and perhaps think this community tool is not really serious, or wonder how to find the good stuff.
What I do like about this approach is since people are free to create communities, they will, and we would potentially get lots of great communities. Factors such as limited time, attention, and the fact that you can do it yourself and not need permissions, would surely result in the creation of lots more new communities, compared to a top-down method.
Simply, if there is a button called “create a new community”, people will press it, but if the button is “request a community” and outlines steps in involved, they are more inclined to wait another day, or never (and continue as an email gang)…that’s human nature. But then again if they are really passionate about enhancing their email gang with more appropriate tools, then they will make time for the formal process of starting a community.
By using our top-down creation approach we are probably forgoing the creation of lots of good potential communities, but at the same time we are not getting; duplicate communities, and lots of abandoned communities that make the product look like horseplay. All this flies in the face of Dave Snowden’s experience in IBM’s change to bottom-up community creation.
Another thing is that bottom-up creation may result in more communities that have lower membership, but where everyone is a major contributor (these are thriving communities as you usually trust a smaller circle of people, and you are all on the same wavelength and have time for each other). At the moment our community requests are never for 5 or 6 people, they are always for an indended crowd of 20, 50 or 100, I don’t know why. What I want to see are real small and tight communities, at the moment I still think these types are still using emails. Somehow I have to make clear that communities can be tiny and are able to reject membership. As I get into below, maybe a Facebook Group type of design is more inducive to this type of community.
I suppose there is also the other point in that we are being an authority in deciding whether the proposed community is a worthy topic for organisational performance, and so far it is every time. We also have more casual spaces like a bicycle users community, etc…but these are the minority, the idea is that the majority of communities are about building situational awareness and capabilities.
We are not averse to casual communities (just as long as they are not the majority, we are at work!), as it’s a way for people to discover, connect, converse and engage at work…people like where they work when they are socially engaged. Casual communities are like bumping into someone in the coffee room, you never know what may percolate, perhaps a conversation in the bicycle users community will lead to a work oriented task, or finding some information, or wanting to create a new community, or collaborating.
As long as we give people the tools to connect and converse we hope that everything else follows, and this will certainly be true with a future social networking tool. I think more communities will be created as people will meet in the network, and then hook up as a group as a community to pursue their shared interests.
Dawn Foster has an interesting idea of a lounge area in a community, where people can bond in a forum about things that don’t have to be work oriented or don’t have to pertain to the topic of the community. I think this is a great idea, and is something I may suggest in the future, this gives people a way to connect beyond the commonality of their job, and get to know each other a little deeper, or simply more holistically (I mean we do spend more time with these people than our families).
So when I think about it our communities are transparent and bottom-up in that people participate and interact their know-how, allowing for emergence, but they are not very enterprise 2.0 in the way of bottom-up creation. If people were free to create I bet we’d get lots more created than we’d get asked to create, so we are missing out on some emergence here.
Groups and Design
I have to think to myself if our communities were intuitive in design like Facebook groups, would we be more likely to let people create communities, as a Facebook group is very simple to create and use.
But then our communities are more robust than Facebook groups, you can do a lot more with the structure, permissions, and look and feel. Facebook groups are more disposable whereas our communities seem more professional. With our communities you wouldn’t go to the trouble to creating a “Nicole Kidman hate group” (well you wouldn’t do this in the enterprise anyway), as they take longer to set-up, and gather people…so I’m thinking here that there is a difference between a group and a community, or at least a group being a feature of a social network.
In the future when we look into an enterprise social network, I’m sure it will have a group feature just like Yammer, or any other enterprise Facebook type tool, and in this case people will be free to create groups on the fly. I’ve got a feeling these types of groups will be more about getting a task done, or smaller things, or more temporary things, rather than our official community tool.
I wait for the future to see how these groups will differ to our communities…for starters groups will be a feature of a social network, so already you have a pool of people one click away from being part of a group.
Actually I see these groups being use heavily for cross team collaboration, or team collaboration tasks. We don’t have a basecamp type tool (which is more task oriented than a community, but very similar), so some people use communities for tasks, but they are not quite designed that way even though they have almost the same tools. Our communities are too big or serious to set up to for a one month task, so people nominate an existing community and create a folder, adding a blog, forum, and documents, and then give non-members permissions to just that folder. The problem is first you have to choose a community to do a cross team task, wait for the Facilitator to create your blog and forum, and secondly the other team after a while may forget the link to that folder.
Our communities are just not designed for this, but I really feel this is where a groups feature in a social network will shine.
BTW - only a Community Leader can create a blog or forum…community members must send a request to the leader of a community. What do people think about this?
Wikis - Top or Bottom
We are also piloting wikis, and at the moment, as a control mechanism for the pilot you can only create a wiki in a community. I have had requests for wikis that don’t fit into any existing communities, but these will have to wait. Just like blogs and forums, a community member has to request a new wiki in their community. Any thoughts?
One of our staff (Jeff Brown) posted a great reply to one of my internal forum topics:
“A wiki is just another type of document, isn’t it? It has similar features to a document, in that it contains formatted text, images, can get updated, and is read by (possibly) multiple audiences. Do we restrict people from adding documents? (No)
I can see wanting to reach out to the people who just created a wiki, and providing them with material on how to use it, make it better, etc. I got an “urgent” call several weeks ago about how to set up a community, about 5 minutes in after I started explaining about the process, they said they had to go and never called back. I think they decided it was too much work (midcall). I’d hate to think we are putting too much red tape into the wiki creation process.
What could happen if everyone could create a wiki? Are we worried that someone will create a wiki that is then abandoned or not updated? That we will have a flood of wiki-hungry users with no support?”
This got me thinking, documents are linear and wikis are websites (hyperlinked pages), is there anything about the wiki format that makes it seem more official than a document.
Each community could create about 5 wikis, one for notes, one lists, one for drafting articles, etc…so whenever you need a wiki you just create a new page in an existing wiki and go for it. If people want a whole wiki for a task or topic they can request it from the Facilitator…but in a global community this could mean waiting for the next day, and that’s too late, as we only want to wait 5 minutes, and rightfully so.
Since they nature of wikis are more immediate and spontaneous eg. brainstorming, lists drafting…I think anyone needs to be able to create one.
But at the same time wikis can be official eg Help Guides, Glossary…and we don’t want duplication.
In the future when we allow wikis in and outside of communities eg. in our document management system, I don’t see why they can’t be created by anyone. It’s up to the owner of that folder or space to promote the official wikis from the scratchings and non-official wikis.
In relation to our communities, even if we had a bottom-up approach of people creating them, they would have to follow instruction as it’s not straight forward like user designed web 2.0 tools, and they may be put off straight away. Due to this non-intuitive design they will have a better experience if they can wait and allow me to create one, as they will be needing my help anyway. This way I will not be receiving constant support calls.
As I said earlier, if the design was right, it would be more probable for a bottom-up community creation scenario. We would get duplication, and abandoned communities which we would have to monitor. We’d also get more support calls as we’d get members asking the differences between blogs and forums and how to use them, as the community creator would not be empowered. Maybe communities could be promoted to the official directory based on participation and success statistics.
But I still like the idea of top-down creation as I get to share my skill in how to pilot, run and best set up (structure) a community.
So I’m really in two minds about this.
And of course it depends on your culture eg. if I was talking about a company like Google, I would assume their culture is web 2.0 savvy, and can probably survive on bottom-up creation. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they have facilitating and leadership skills.
When it comes to wikis, well I think users need to create this at will, bottom-up all the way…keep in mind I’m not saying this from experience.
I’d like to here from the likes of Gia Lyons, Chuck Hollis, Joitske Hulsebosch, Stewart Mader, Luis Suarez, Nancy White, Shawn Callahan, Steve Dale, Ed Mitchell, John Smith, Richard Dennison, Dawn Foster, Stan Garfield and any others on bottom-up community and wiki creation.
eg. Does Lotus Connections enable anyone to create a community, if so, what are the pros and cons of this bottom-up approach.
[ADDED 8/01/09: The participation issue from community ownership and structure]
[ADDED 9/01/09: A social media proficiency strategy]