Kyle Mathews, while commenting on a recent post of mine, reminded me of an old Joel Spolsky post on building communities with software.Â I remember being very taken with the post when it came out all those years ago, particularly what Joel called “the primary axiom of online communities”:
Small software implementation details result in big differences in the way the community develops, behaves, and feels.
I think that there’s one huge difference between the context in which Joel wrote this and the context in which we live today, a difference that is material to many of the discussions we have.
As a result of the ways we can build software now, we can lower the barriers to entry; at the same time, it is possible for us to keep the cost of change low as well.
Where Web 2.0 meets social software, we’re still at a relatively early stage. A stage where we’re still experimenting. One where we have ardent admirers and passionate critics of everything that’s going on. And it’s too easy to make the mistake of thinking that the message we hear in the media reflects what’s really going on. Because it doesn’t.
There are a lot of people playing in earnest with the software available, be it Facebook or Netvibes or Plaxo or Myspace or Twitter or whatever. And while they play, they learn. What works. What doesn’t work. These people have an answer to the Ugly Question, their observations and criticisms are based on real use. And they provide real feedback.
What occurs to me is that in the past, Joel’s “primary axiom” had some very painful consequences. When people got the “small software implementation details” wrong, the cost of change was immense, and the community suffered as a result. Sometimes the suffering was terminal.
Today things are different. Competitors can enter more quickly and more easily. There is an adaptive feel to what’s going on, and much of that feel is driven by conscious and demonstrable reduction in the cost of change.
More on this later, I suggest you read the Spolsky post for yourself, I’ve provided you with the links above. Also, it looks as if it may well be worth following what Kyle is planning to write about, so do bear that in mind. Kyle also refers to a Clay Shirky post (on communities, audiences and scale) that’s well worth reading again. I particularly like the way Clay distinguishes between audiences and communities. Incidentally, Kyle’s post gives me a new perspective about why I dislike the word “content”; something went a-ha in my head when I saw this:
what is the difference between audiences and communities? Audiences primarily consume content, communities primarily communicate with one another.
Also incidentally, you may have noticed Stephen Smoliar make one of his rare comments yesterday, one that I am still thinking through. I had been revisiting the concept of wasted time, and Stephen reminded me of the prior threads related to this subject, where his noun-verb arguments and some of the product-service arguments had been continuing. This time around, he went on to say:
Thus, there is a deeper problem that arises from this whole shift from a production economy to a service economy. It is not so much a question of wasting time. It may not even be a question of â€œproductivity,â€ if â€œproductionâ€ is not the primary goal of the work. Rather, it is the need for a new model of compensation that is commensurate with both how services are rendered and with what service providers do during their â€œdown timeâ€ in order to be better at rendering those services. Are the corporate bean-counters ready to get their heads around that question? :-)
Lots of stuff to mull over. Which I shall be doing over the next few weeks. With your comments and your help.