Someone mentioned the other day that, “The number of members in the community was small, so the use of the CoP was very minimal”
As a general statement, that has nothing to do with it. There’s no reason that small member CoPs won’t thrive, just because of the quantity of people.
Sure if you have more members, there is more opportunity for original content and for comments to that content…as I said it’s an opportunity, not a fact.
It’s true, seeing others participate may influence you to do the same, so you may get this more frequently in a CoP of large members.
But, there is also to consider the issue of quality over quantity. Sure you may have lots of activity, but does the community have a rhythm, is everyone happy with the types of things being posted, or would they sooner get away from the noise and huddle in a corner with a batch of people they really gel with and have some some engaging conversations.
Sometimes you may find there is not much activity as you’d think in large CoPs, as not everyone may know each other (trust), and may not be confident to participate, whereas this is not an issue in small trust based CoPs.
All it comes down to is do your members have a shared interest, know and trust each other, and want to participate (a willingness because they want to, not because they are told to)
- if they do, it will be used
BUT, Critical Mass of people or Network Effects is not as essential in communities as it is in networks, from wikipedia:
“The classic example is the telephone. The more people own telephones, the more valuable the telephone is to each owner. This creates a positive externality because a user may purchase their phone without intending to create value for other users, but does so in any case.”
I think the following part could also apply to CoPs that have too many members, that is, alot of the content is becoming noise (ie my posts are noise to you, and vice versa, so why are we in the same community). I guess I’ve been posting about the possibility of Community Congestion of late:
“The expression “network effect” is applied most commonly to positive network externalities as in the case of the telephone. Negative network externalities can also occur, where more users make a product less valuable, but are more commonly referred to as “congestion”
If you have a community of 5 members, this is all it may take to have a thriving place.
- I do believe you reach a momentum point where content being posted spurs others to do the same (find the rhythm)
- but this is more about the critical mass of content with existing people, rather than needing more people to reach that critical mass.
If a social network like LinkedIn or Facebook only had 5 members who didn’t know each other, it would die, as there would be no-one to connect with (and you don’t want to connect to existing people in the network who you are not interested in)
- a community is about a group identity, whereas a network is about me and my contacts
A sweet spot in between this is a social bookmarking site like delicious which has inherent value for the individual even though it’s a network…from wikipedia:
“A more natural strategy is to build a system that has enough value without network effects, at least to early adopters. Then, as the number of users increases, the system becomes even more valuable and is able to attract a wider user base. Joshua Schachter has explained that he built Del.icio.us along these lines - he built an online system where he could keep bookmarks for himself, such that even if no other user joined, it would still be valuable to him. It was relatively easy to build up a user base from zero because early adopters found enough value in the system outside of the network aspects.”
CoPs and Informal networks
[ADDED 11/10/09: Networks and Communities of Practice: What is the difference?]