“Community” in the information age

Several posts and other info I’ve come across over the last week or so reference various aspects of on-line communities. The ones that stand out in my mind include Denham’s lament on the state of KM on-line, Joe Firestone’s description of recent events on the ActKM group on Yahoo! groups, and an excellent paper by Lee Bryant entitled Smarter, Simpler Social: An introduction to online social software methodology (which I was first tipped to on David Gurteen’s K-Log).

Over the years I’ve noticed many of the same things these items mention. Along with recent discussions in various places concerning personal KM and KM in general, the role of community in the KM arena seems to be increasingly prominent, if not increasingly important. Some comments on the three items I mentioned above:

The Fall of Communities

In his post, Denham describes the “fall” of some communities, the growth of some, and the rise of a new community, the KM blogging community. I see in this a pattern that is prominent in many types of social or organizational environments:

  • at the beginning of a trend or problem, many fairly large groups of people may get together to discuss the issue and exchange ideas;
  • within the groups, individuals establish their own personal network of contacts from the group and attack the trend or problem based on their priorities;
  • once the trend or problem is in hand, the bulk of continued connection between members of a community will be a one-on-one connection for the most part;
  • the large number of separate groups will diminish and leave a few strong groups to maintain a presence;
  • when another trend/problem arises, the community of individuals will once again rally to address it.

Though it may seem strange to say, I see the trend as Denham describes it as a sign of the health of the KM community.

A similar process in the physical world is the human immune system. When an antigen is detected in the body, the lymphocytes start pumping out antibodies to try to find the right one. The lymphocyte(s) that find the right antibody then grow, solve the problem, and then withdraw a little bit. They stick around forever to address the next time that antigen, or a similar one, come around. The lymphocytes that don’t find the right one don’t grow and in fact may eventually just die out if they never find an antibody that protects against an new antigen.

A Time and a Place

Reading Joe Firestone’s account of his banishment from the ActKM group (this is in fact the only account I’ve read), my first thought was, “There is a time and a place for everything. As much sense as what Joe and Mark (McElroy) say makes, they are obviously not in the right place to be saying it. And at this stage in where KM is, perhaps it’s just not the right time.”

It’s like being at a SuperBowl party. You really want to talk about the new G5 you got, but everyone else is much more interested in watching the game. The more you try to get people to talk about your new G5, the more you will anger them and the more likely they are to kick you out. If you don’t want to join the party you’re at, sometimes you need to just find another party.

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Battery’s dying, so I’ll finish up with Smarter, Simpler Social: An introduction to online social software methodologyin another post