flowing motion

5 questions to ask when we initiate an online community

Posted on: June 22, 2008

A woman reading SMS messages on her mobile phone while standing on a bike in traffic.

Image via Wikipedia

Wise Web Developers from High Wycombe

I am delighted again by the wisdom that flows from High Wycombe. Paul Imre commented on my post about SwarmTeams and the exercise we did comparing soccer and work.

An online community as a rope

This time Paul used the analogy of a rope to think about a “social media community”. The rope becomes stronger the more we add strands. The rope has a past (so easy to forget) and the rope has a future when it begins to “think” for itself.

I think the first two points are useful to remind clients.

  • Ties with a community require constant participation – social media is a “hands-on” business.
  • A community has come from somewhere and is going somewhere.

How does the rope think? In two ways.

  • In a swarm – which for people not from UK is a social media community built up around an SMS system similar to Twitter – we communicate peer-to-peer – this is not unlike birds flying in a flock. P2P messaging allows us to follow the general direction of the flock, keep up, and not bash in to each other.
    • So we “think” by keeping in position by bouncing messages off the people immediately around us.
    • We also think, when gradual changes in what we do make the flock sweep and swoop across the sky.
    • This is what the pundits call low-level emergence. The flock looks as if it is intelligently following a leader. They are just following each other! And they are doing it without bashing into each other.
    • This kind of coordination would be particularly useful in a fleet of taxis for example, who could communicate where passengers are during rush hour.
  • The message board on an SMS system, that we can see by logging on to a computer, gives us the second level of thinking. The message board allows us to scan the overall pattern of the messages and make higher level changes – and any member of the swarm can do that. It is the equivalent of one of the birds in the flock saying “guys we passed that church half an hour ago – can we check our bearings”. My fleet of taxi drivers might scan the message board at the end of the day and observe, say, that it could be worthwhile having one person in a location to alert other taxis. For so many purposes, we don’t need a specialist to do this – we just need the message board and some motivated people.

Using Swarms at Conference

I also thought Paul’s question about when the “rope starts to think” takes us to something I commented about on the NLabNetworks blog – why didn’t we use social media more at the conference? It struck me that DMU had brought together a wide range of people from Leicester and wasn’t energetically linking the strands or developing a group that was “thinking”. After Bucks08, Paul came up with the analogy of a “dam” which stores potential. Toby Moores of Sleepy Dog wasn’t so taken with the image of “blocking”. But a “dam” is what we made when we put 150 people in a university building for a day. It is a pity that at the end of the day, we just let the water out. We should have at least used the water to turn a turbine or two.

The Swarm technology can be used to that effect. By capturing the tweeting for that group, we might be able to move up to another level of emergence where we see patterns, generate other contacts, etc.

So what are the five questions?

1. What will we do to add more “strands to the rope”?

2. Where did the community come from and where is it going?

3. What peer-to-peer decisions is the group making to “stay in position”and how are we going to join in?

4. How can we form an overall picture of the conversation and reflect it to the community so everyone can contribute to the group thinking?

5. How have we enhanced our future by joining and supporting the conversation (or did we just let the water run out – changing the metaphor, I know!)

Thanks Paul. Great heuristic.

Added this a few days later: What voices do you hear?

Social Media, HR and Member-driven Communities

Social Media is dominated in a fair degree by marketing. I am particularly interested in HR and communities like universities where customers and suppliers are the same people. If you would like to collaborate with me, or work with me commercially, please drop me comment. It would be good to expand the network of people interested in HR and social media in the UK.

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1 Response to "5 questions to ask when we initiate an online community"

[…] Studying an imaginative approach to life is new for many psychologists and I am learning from poets, philosophers and social media. […]

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