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?