17th level Hacker

Spontaneous Collaboration

I’ve been thinking a bunch about what makes people contribute to shared online systems. I mean both public systems like wikis or shared blogs, and private systems like a corporate mailing list or intranet site. CommunityWiki has lots of great information about this topic in general. There are a bunch of issues with long standing projects that seem to be pretty difficult to tackle. How do new members get acquainted and start contributing without demanding too much of their time for startup? With some open online projects, you actually want this “barrier to entry” for new members. You want them to self select by requiring that they dedicate some time to at least understand the norms and conventions. If they don’t understand the norms they are easier to ignore. So this is one of the potential filters, keeping out people who aren’t genuinely interested in the topic by way of making them easy to spot and ignore.

But what if you aren’t running an open project? What if the system you’re setting up is meant to be used within a corporation. Normally you want to remove that barrier to entry. You just want to get everyone up and running quickly, and rely on everyones membership in the same organization to to ensure that they aren’t there to just be disruptive. If you end up with everyone working together without them going through an acclimation procedure things tend to devolve into chaos more quickly. The joining procedure for newbies serves to provide the set of spontaneous process.

The answer would seem to be to provide process for the corporate version. But what that ends up doing is designating a smaller group who are then perceived to own the wiki. The other members tend to be less involved, less creative, and more resistant to the process. What we would like is an evolved shared process for the corporate case. But providing a mechanism for that when you want everyone assigned to contribute can’t involve much forced overhead. People will just get frusterated and walk away.

I don’t think that designating a central manager (or management group) is the only way to do it. There must be some other way to get people working together when they have a shared goal.