Jul 31 2006

Designing community boundaries

Published by at 4:12 pm under Communities of practice,Technology

The other day, I was rushing to follow up on a planning session with Susan Nyrop, where we preparing for the next session with Steve Denning. I had agreed to send an email to people who were involved in the discussion. But who were they? I had the choice of either sending a message to all CPsquare members (some of whom weren’t involved or interested in this event) or use my “member directory” program which lists members who had posted in one of the several discussions that are part of the event. But some people only show up in one discussion, say, that’s discussing one chapter of Denning’s book, or looking at one facet of what he’s presenting. They come early or late in the event. I thought that this “member directory” program in Web Crossing, has some useful, standardized information about each individual as well as providing a handy list of email addresses, so it was worth making an effort to modify, if only I had the time.

CWToolkit member directory

For several weeks I had been thinking that I wanted to have the program look at all the discussions in a folder, producing a directory of everyone who’d posted in any of the discussions contained in the folder. I avoided looking into it, thinking it would take too long. It turned out to only take me about an hour and a half to modify the program to do what I wanted, and a good bit of that was attending to the aesthetics, navigation and titling. It’s nice to have a specific situation where the reason for investing the time in an enhancement is really clear but you also have the extra half hour to play with the tool and make it do what you want.
It seems to me that our brains are very subtle about forming groups of people that we want to address as a group, compared to the tools we use online. Face-to-face communities have so many different places or times that set up different social formations (like the coffee shop, the locker room, during kitchen clean-up, in the classroom, etc.) so we can wait for the right time for an audience to form. Online tools, on the other hand, force you to think in terms of on or off, in or out. I think there’s a lot of work to be done in creating tools that let us address different degrees of involvement within a given community. Although having many different tools available in a community makes participation more complicated (which is especially hard on new people), more tool choices can also mean you can have more nuance in addressing the people you want to speak with.

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