There is more to social collaboration than providing the tools

Last post on MyCMDB: I want to share with you the comment I left over on a really great post on CIO Weblog, because it leads in to a couple of posts I will be making about the Folly of the Crowd.

Scott Wilson on CIO Weblog said

this sort of software [MyCMDB] depends primarily on the implementation and culture at the business which installs it. You can't buy a social network in a box; you can put software in place which may facilitate it, but you can't expect it to grow up magically around it

IT has an appalling track record for cultural change. We are bad enough at addressing Process with the technology, let alone People too. Managed Objects are to be commended for giving people the tools to try, but the tools are not the problem. In other words they are trying to solve an IT culture problem with yet more technology - a typical IT software vendor response.

The other telling point Scott made is that people don't need more networks. I already ignore my Naymes and Plaxo and MySpace and Facebook profiles and focus on LinkedIn.

Wikis and other social collaborations attract the attention of an anally obsessive tiny minority. When the watershed population is enormous, as in Wikipedia, this works. When the pool is a few hundred people you get one or two do all the work just as they would have anyway. It buys you nothing and throws out all the security and quality controls at the same time.


Look to OpenSource Communities

You may have realised from some comments, but my job has transitioned from ITIL to Open Source software services in the last couple of years.

If you want to see success and failure in building social networks, then look no further than Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS) industry. They sit somewhere in between structure "Change Acceptance Process" organizational change and the chaotic world of consumer social networks (eg. a bit of creative use of the word "social", but I think we can substitute "community" in this discussion).

You still have a very small percentage of people humping the largest load of the goal of the community, but if successful, you get a diverse range of people playing contributing roles as code contributors, evangelists, testers, documenter, support providers etc.. etc.. A active community is quite a dynamic place. The tools support this evolution in the software development process are poor, and better ones come out regularly.

Having been involved in building a couple of these I can tell you it is hard work. As with all successful "things" a quality product is the core. Whether this be content or code, you cannot succeed without a good quality product. Then focusing on doing things that help adoption (guerilla marketing, ease of deployment focus etc..) is critical, in parallel ensuring adopters are well supported. Then as adoption increases, contributors increase in a every increasing wave. There is alot more to it, but enough for this rant.

I would just say that Skep, success of communities can be measured in numerous ways, and it is not necessarily the number of contributors at the highest level. Social networks are multi-level, multi-faceted things. The guy who chairs the football club meetings and arranges all the events, needs the people who just show up and pay the fee to have a good time.

Brad Vaughan

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