I think we should be clear that authoring content is not the only work that users do on a community. One of the beautiful things about communities is how many little actions can improve them. We can tap into a number of different actions to build on the "cognitive surplus" (to use Clay Shirky's words) that exists among community members.
... View more
Everyone should go read Clay Shirky's keynote from Web 2.0.
He crystallizes in a way that others have not why there
remains tremendous upside in the potential for social knowledge creation
projects. Specifically, he argues that Wikipedia represent 100 million hours of
human thought. By contrast, Americans alone spent two billion hours -- 2,000
Wikipedias -- watching TV last year.
Shirky defines an interesting term: the cognitive surplus.
It's the amount of time society spends watching TV or engaging in other
non-participatory, anesthetic pursuits because we haven't figured out how to
use the time that social change has left us with.
The cognitive surplus is the answer to the question we get a
lot about super-users in a community: "Where do they find the time?"
The answer, at a high level, is that they're using free cycles
in their brains in participatory areas rather than passively.
Shirky's other big
point, although he doesn't put it quite this way, is that you if you can
lower the bar on participation, you'll tap more of the cognitive surplus. Digg
is a great example of this. So are some of the new features we've built around
social promotion of content.
If a person spends five minute on your site, and in the end
contributes one quantum of human thought
-- I liked this article, for example -- then you've tapped into a bit of
the cognitive surplus.
To build a useful customer community, you only need a small
fraction of a slice of the thousands of unwritten Wikipedias waiting to emerge
from our torpid minds every year.
That doesn't sound so hard.
... View more
Fred Wilson, one of the smartest and most provocative
bloggers writing about social software, has a provocative post about enterprise
social software. He questions whether anything an enterprise does can be
considered social software, given enterprise requirements for security and
control. He writes:
But to me, the heart of social software is the community of
users that forms around the software/service. The community provides much of,
if not all of, the value of social software. What would twitter or facebook be
without users? Nothing. Same with blogger, flickr, friendfeed, etc, etc. And most enterprises don't want their employees to be active
members of a community that it can't control, monitor, and moderate. So the
software that tends to be adopted by the enterprise is usually hobbled by the
needs of the enterprise and cannot get that magical lift that an unbounded
It's a question well worth asking, and I think that in
focusing on user adoption, Fred is asking it in the right way.
A few observations….
First, we shouldn't assume that employees are always the
most important constituency of the enterprise. If enterprises are going to
learn one thing from the Web 2.0 phenomenon, it's that enabling large scale
participation by their customers can generate tremendous value.
If we accept that, the prospects for large scale, if not
"unbounded," participation in enterprise social software become a lot
better. There are many enterprises with enough customers for a thriving
But this is also where a lot of enterprises mess up: they
think about customer communities as though they were employee collaboration
tools extended out to more people. Let's call this the Employee Fallacy. We've
learned that customers, who have weak ties to one another and to the
enterprise, have a different set of needs from employees who use tools to get
their jobs done then go home. If the software doesn't reflect those needs; if
it's not more like "play" than "work," it has less of a
chance of building a community around it.
The Employee Fallacy doesn't just impact what tools
enterprises choose and how those tools work.
To an even greater extent, it affects the deployment process. One reason
many enterprise community deployments fail is that companies extrapolate from
their deployments of employee-facing tools to customer-facing tools. Common
symptoms of the Employee Fallacy during a deployment include obsessive focus on
mirroring organizational charts in the software, an "if you build it they
will come" attitude toward marketing, and skewed expectations about how
many people will participate.
If customers are the most important constituency, the
question arises, "Don't customers have the whole Internet to play around
in? Why should they participate in a community sponsored by a company?"
This, I think, gets to the heart of Fred's question. There
is a tremendous competition for users' attention, and an enterprise's customers
may also use Facebook, or Flickr, or other Web 2.0 services. How should
enterprises think about that?
The first answer is, "You need to be part of the
conversation." You don't need to corner the market on conversation about
your company, but you need to give your customers some kind of space to participate,
or your market share in that conversation will be zero. And zero isn't good. If
your customers can generate interesting, high-quality content, your market
share will be quite good.
The second answer is,
"Don't get greedy." An enterprise community doesn't have to be the
next Facebook to drive tremendous value for your company. In general,
communities that engage customers have more meaningful and quantifiable ROI
than employee-facing applications. So you can ground your expectations in hard
numbers, which is fairly refreshing for a software project.
The third answer is that in the future, we will see
intermingling social graphs between enterprise communities, Facebook, LinkedIn,
etc. Forward-thinking companies -- the ones that have shaken the Employee
Fallacy -- are already moving in this direction today. At the end of the day, if enterprises don't become more participatory toward their customers, competitors will beat them to it. That's what's driving the trend toward greater openness, and it's a positive direction for consumers. Message Edited by JoeCo on 04-30-2008 05:14 PM
... View more
Back in September, Aaron Swartz had a fascinating post on who actually writes Wikipedia.
downloaded the entire Wikipedia database and did some analysis not only
on who edits, but on how many characters people actually contribute.
His findings upend some of what many have assumed about how Wikipedia
In summary, he found: When you put it all
together, the story become clear: an outsider makes one edit to add a
chunk of information, then insiders make several edits tweaking and
reformatting it. In addition, insiders rack up thousands of edits doing
things like changing the name of a category across the entire site --
the kind of thing only insiders deeply care about. As a result,
insiders account for the vast majority of the edits. But it's the
outsiders who provide nearly all of the content.
some level, this contradicts what we know from hosting online
enterprise communities, where VIPs really do contribute most of the
Is this instructive for other online communities? Or, to put it another way, how unusual is Wikipedia?
thing that's clearly different about Wikipedia is the diversity of
topics that it covers. Most online support communities, for example,
deal with a relatively small number of products. Wikipedia, on the
other hand, deals with hundreds of thousands of distinct topics, each
of which requires highly specialized expertise.
be willing to bet that if Lithium did the kind of research that Aaron
has done, we'd find a greater diversity of contributors on
media-oriented communities than we do on support communities.
I'll hand that one off to our research arm. Meanwhile, I think Aaron has earned a vote in the Wikipedia Foundation board elections. Message Edited by Phil on 11-15-2006 08:34 PM
... View more
John Udell has an interesting article on Amazon's Mechanical Turk, which the company describes as a "web services API for computers to integrate 'artificial artificial intelligence' directly into their processing by making requests of humans." I'm fascinated by Amazon's Mechanical Turk for several reasons.
First, I'm fascinated by any phenomenon that harnesses the power of distributed intelligence. Commodity markets, open source software, the Manhattan Project, Google's PageRank, Amazon's collaborative filtering, the Mechnical Turk, and online communities all, in various ways, sum the efforts of individual agents toward a larger collective goal.
Second, a friend of mine from graduate school has an interesting chapter about the original Mechanical Turk in his book. I thought this was something obscure that he'd dug up, and was surprised when the people at Amazon used it as the name for their human-powered Web service.
Third, I'm interested in motivation. Specifically, what causes people to contribute to a collective endeavor? And in this case, the Mechanical Turk seems almost the opposite of the communities we're used to.
Mechanical Turk is an online piecework system, where individuals are paid for atomic units of work that they perform online. Unlike, say, yesterday's sweatshops, people are not working in the same physical or even virtual environment. There need be no connection between one Turk worker and another -- no heads-ups, no hat-tips, no water cooler. It is a level of human exploitation almost as grim as the Matrix: people sitting isolated in individual cells, using some minute portion of their marvelous brains, being paid next to nothing, with no recourse if their "employer" rejects their work and refuses to pay them. Surely this is as a twenty-first century dystopia, a Brave New World without all the good looking people and cool drugs.
Or is it?
As one might have predicted, online communities and blogs have sprung up for Turk Workers. People performing Turk Work are getting together online, swapping tips, and blacklisting companies that don't treat them fairly. As Salon's Katharine Mieszkowski reports, when UCLA art student Aaron Koblin solicited drawings of sheep for $0.02 a piece, he received thousands of them. Some people were angry when he sold the drawings for a 50x mark-up, but others wanted to contribute sheep drawings even without pay.
Even in an environment that is deliberately set up to isolate people, there's a hunger for community. I wonder how well Mechanical Turk would work if Amazon itself hosted a community and gave people recognition for performing work efficiently or for helping other workers. Support communities are effectively volunteer organizations, but people seem to be motivated by some combination of altruism and a desire to be recognized by their peers. The ideal formula for Turk Work may involve some combination of individual financial incentives and that community flavor.
... View more