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At SAPPHIRE Dan Woods ran into Mark Finnern, SDN community advocate and general gadfly, and had an interesting conversation that also included Gail Moody-Byrd, Senior Director of Communities of Innovation Marketing, about the way we are creating the BPX book. The discussion brought up some fascination questions about the limits and benefits of emergent processes versus more structured forms of working. 

The BPX book is being created on a wiki so that the community can contribute. So far the project has attracted comments from several BPXers and it is likely that many more will weigh in before the comment period ends at the end of May.

The goal of the book is to take a snapshot of the emerging definition of the BPX role and attemp to understand why the role is gaining in popularity and harvest the experience of those who have made the role work for their companies.

But the book is also a part of a continuing experiment in community created content. Other wiki books on SDN include SAP Business One To Go, which has been updated by users since it was published as a wiki on SDN in late 2006. The Enterprise Services Wiki, which documents the enterprise services being released as part the enhancement packages, is one of the largest public wikis dedicated to documenting technology. As people start using these services they are adding use cases and other tips to the wiki.

The question that Dan, Mark, and Gail discussed related to the seeding of the wiki and the ability of a community to create something from nothing. Dan and Gail were of the position that structure was needed to get any benefit from a community when creating content, especially large projects. In the BPX Book project, for example, the first chapter, covering the definition of the role of the BPXer, was published as a complete, edited chapter based on interviews with experts. The second two chapters on the technology used by BPXers and the challenges of organization adoption, were written in a much less complete draft form, and the last chapter on patterns of success was created just as an outline.

Dan and Gail argue that to get a community involved in a content creation project you must have some structure in which people can provide their thoughts. Dan believes that the more content created at the outset, the more the community will participate by commenting and adding their ideas. Gail’s family is full of jazz musicians and she suggestes that a community needs a structure the same way an ensemble of muscians needs to understand the chord changes on which they are basing their improvisations.

Mark says p’shaw to all that. His view is that the more community involvement the better and that good content can be created out of an emergent process in which community members offer content and then interact with each other to improve it.

Dan’s view is that the evidence is that communities seem to react better as curators rather than creators of content. On Wikipedia, usually someone gets the ball rolling on an article by writing some sort of content, and then others may add to it or improve it. Small changes are much more common than complete rewrites. For the BPX book, the hope is that community will add their comments to the book and then the writing and editing team will take all those comments and create a new version.

So far, the BPX Book is making Dan and Gail’s point for them. Most of the comments have been made to the content that is most complete. The content that is waiting for users to fill in the blanks is still waiting.

Dan doesn’t deny that the more community involvement their is the better. And that if someone wants to rewrite a chapter, they should just go a head and do it. But a community content creation process should recognize that most people need something to disagree with or to agree with and improve. A blank page that it is intended to be something is what Dan calls a “Tom Sawyer” wiki. A task that someone ones done that he is hoping someone else will do. That’s not a community.

The question is: are there any significant counter examples?  Dan doesn’t think Wikipedia counts because all the articles are short and most are kicked off by a relatively complete version. The LA times wikitorial experiment, in which shared editorials quickly turned nasty, shows the worst side of community created content, although content was created. There are experiments in novels being created by groups of authors, but usually the number of authors is small and the results are not distinquished. If communities can create large coherent content, where are the examples?

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5 Comments

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  1. Richard Hirsch
    Hi,

    I think it is tough to say which model (“curators or creators of content) is correct / more applicable. Different people have different tastes and skills as well as collaboration patterns. If you tried this in a different setting / community, you would probably get different results as well.

    In its current form in the wiki, the BPX book is more a “book” than a wiki. There is one wiki page with the contents of an entire chapter. Usually in a wiki, there is a hierarchy of pages that allows individuals to pick certain chunks of information that can be corrected / edited. The placement of everything in one page makes editing a real pain. This also could be a reason that more users comment than edit.

    Creating is also more difficult than curating which might be another reason that there are more comments.

    Dick

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  2. Moya Watson
    hi dan;
    interesting project!  i’ll be looking forward to watching it closely.  reminds me of a discussion we had last september…
    -m
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  3. Mark Finnern
    Hi Dan,
    You picked a good week to post this, just when I took a couple of days off 😉 So sorry, that I only now find the time to answer you.

    Even though you dismiss it, I think Wikipedia is an excellent example for collaboration. Revisit the Heavy Metal Umlaut Movie from Jon Udell http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/gems/umlaut.html

    You will see that the page is not started with a whole structure. There is a little paragraph that then others built upon.

    Your model of involving the community is for me like Intelligent Design, it can’t evolve, there needs to be a guiding all knowing hand in the back ground, that lays down the structure for others to  comment on.

    What a Jazz band is doing, is agreeing on the outset about a framework to play in, for me that is like agreeing on the wiki as the tool to improvise in. What you did with writing out the full first chapter is like a soloist playing the first verse and only then letting the other players in, to only modify your theme on the fringes, if you deem it to be worth it.

    What I am missing is the discussion with the community from the beginning. Where is the collection of topics to cover, table of content discussion, … ? Give the community more say from the beginning.

    I think you missed an opportunity for the BPX community to make this book their own, by inviting them too late to the game.

    Also it is not obvious enough how my name gets into the book. This is why I added Chapter 0: Contributing BPX Community Members and put Richard Hirsch on top of the list. (Please someone else fill in the other names.)

    There is more, but I am getting tired, Mark.

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  4. Rodrigo Coutinho
    Adding to the previous points of other contributors, the expected end result is quite clear (a “Book”) and the main point of discussion should be the “path” to be taken by the community to achieve that end product. By the proactive intelligent design I mean the “active” guidance on the path selection. While the process can be severely biased towards a particular school of thought the interesting aspect is the selection of members and their likely patterns of contribution based on interest, skill and availability.
    Having said all that, ifthe overall system can converge the end result will be as diverse and valuable as initially expected. However, if the system or community participation diverges then the end result is be only an extension of the main author (just as a normal book this days) and the community will contribute no more than just a regular opnion group as in movies and product releases.
    Since this is my first post I can not evaluate how this particular community will behave to put together this book but I’ve seen both convergence and divergence in action on different environments.

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