Monday, March 03, 2008

State of the Art

I've been blogging in this space since the first week of 2002. It's been quite a ride. The web has gone from a static, page-turning experience to a more dynamic and participatory experience. At least it does for those with inclination and means to join and participate in the conversation.

Online environments require connections. As obvious as this is, it bears noting, and remembering, that the initial stages for new computers users can be daunting. Once connected, it's hard to know where to go from there. We spend our lives learning to navigate our world, and the "virtual" one has a cadence and characteristic all its own.

This space began as a repository for my rantings while an online Master of Education student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto. The state of the art in 2008--at least on the software, and social connections, sides of the house--hasn't changed much at all. One could say that while the text-prominent approach we see today is different from that of six years ago, in the way it's being used.

Synchronous--or "quasi synchronous" interfaces ala Twitter --connections betray more of the personality behind the "avatar" in online interactions, thus making "interpersonal" connections more likely. Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is another synchronous tool for making connections, and especially valuable for those for whom text-chatting is not possible.

Therein lies the rub. While being connected synchronously is the best way to make connections between and among "distributed" members of a community. The "getting them connected to the community" piece is many times insurmountable. Technology itself only plays a supporting role. The ebb and flow, the cadence of communication will vary considerably across communities.

Learning the rhythm of a particular space can take a while and that's why many will "lurk" (look with out contributing to the chat itself) upon approaching a new community to gain a handle on what constitutes the "culture" and the "rules of engagement" for the group.

That said, there are a number of common features I'd identify for successful online communities:
  • Members share a set of values
  • There is a common goal -- most typically associated with a problem or task -- that is being worked toward
  • Meritocracy in which individual contributors and producers distinguish themselves by their contributions to the community
  • The community is inclusive and asks itself, "How can we reach out and include those on the periphery?"[--in all senses of the term--]

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