Mapping online community management practices: can I have a little help with my thesis?

I know: I am quite old to be a student (I am 52, if you like numbers). Still, learning is a lifetime thing, and in this period of my life I am doing part of my learning as a Ph.D. student at University of Alicante.

My thesis concerns online communities. I view them in a network perspective; I model them as networks of interactions, and study the network topology in search of the signs of collective intelligence. My real interest, however, are societies at large: I view online communities as “toy societies”, complex enough to be interesting but simple enough for rigorous empirical analysis. In the end, I would like to be part of the adventure of modelling social dynamics. I think that is important, because, if we figure it out, we can use the knowledge to build better online communities, and, in the end, better societies.

It is a fantastic journey: along the way, I learned Python, NetLogo, some R, and quite a lot of network math. I also brushed up on my statistics and econometrics. I also took brilliant courses and wrote neat stuff. But now it is time for this journey to end, and for me to move to the next phase. The good news is that my thesis is almost finished. The bad news is that it is not quite finished. For that, I need your help.

I have been reading up on the literature on online community management, in search of what I am calling policies. These are simple rules of the type “to obtain x, do y“. Which policies does the literature on online communities recommend? I ended up with the following list:

  1. Invite users to join.
  2. Welcome new users when they sign up.
  3. Engage with users, to encourage them to be more active and make them feel welcome.
  4. Mediate conflict.
  5. Tweak and optimize the user experience (if you consider this to be part of community management).
  6. Encourage interaction between members.
  7. Organize real-world meetings.
  8. Acknowledge members for their contribution.
  9. Support volunteers.
  10. Other?

So, here’s how you can help.

  • If you are yourself stewarding an online community, no matter how large or small, please fill in the survey below.
  • If you know someone that does, please send him/her my way.
  • Reshare this link on your Facebook/Twitter: (redirects back to this page).

You will earn the gratitude of an aging student that really wants to grow up to be a scholar!

Salzburg Global Seminar: a social network of session 593

Folks at the Salzburg Global Seminar were kind enough to show interest in (or at least tolerate) my obsession for social networks and semantic social networks. So, I made a social network of our session, called “session 593” (a nice prime number, as Martin Bohle pointed out).

It works like this. There are five types of nodes: fellows (brown), staff (yellow), plenary panels (green), focus groups (blue) and impromptu breakout sessions (red). Staff and fellows “vote” participating in focus groups and breakout sessions. Additionally, SGS assigned many of us to plenary panels with others. Edges in the network are interpreted as “fellow X participated to event Y”.

The data are wildly incomplete. I compiled the lists of fellows, staff, and plenary panels from the program; the list of focus groups I made on the fly on the last day. The program also has data about who participated in which panel, so that’s there. Kiley’s latest two recaps count as panels, because she involved others in them (Katindi, Brenda, Zhouying…). As for the focus group compositions, I obviously knew the one I participated in, thought to action; I also was able to add two more (being human and global lab), based on the tables on the final session. I had started to map the arts and creative practice , but then the facilitator asked us to stand up and move the table, and there went my data integrity 🙂 I also do not know who participated into which session, except for a few (Martin’s, Eichi’s, my own…).

If the data were complete, you could start looking through which sessions connected who, which people spent lots of time together (this is done through a technique called projection), and even, with some reflection, who should have spent time together but did not – the missing edges in the network. With the incomplete data, it turns out that the global lab focus group had the highest eigenvector centrality (a measure of centrality that reflects the centrality of connecting nodes, like Google’s PageRank algorithm). It is also the session with the most participants.

If you were at SGS session 593, and are curious as to what this might look like, I am happy to try to complete it. I also vow to beautify it a bit – makes for a cool pic to put on your blog. I will need:

  1. From everyone, which focus group they participated to.
  2. From people who held breakout sessions, who came to their session.

I will update it as I receive data from you. I predict that the complete data would see a high centrality of Claire (Nelson) and her Moonshot session. 🙂

This network has no semantics, it’s just a social network. But still, networks speak to many people, myself included, and anyway doing something like this is easy.

If you are in the network, and prefer not to be included in the network, let me know and I will remove you at once.

The Black Briefing. Why well-intentioned policies fail so often, and what you can do about it

The Salzburg Global Seminar turned out to be a starter for many interesting conversations. We will follow up on them in the months to follow.

Halfway through the seminar, I realized that many people assumed that their main problem was to have the ear of the policy maker. If they could do that, policy makers could just effect change in the desired way. I find that to be a dangerous oversimplification.

Therefore, my contribution to the Salzburg deep dive was the Black Briefing. It was a rather bleak talk on what government really is (an agent, subject to evolutionary pressure to survive and grow). I also briefly covered what would-be reformers and change makers can do to factor the nature of government into their plans.

You can download the Black Briefing slides and text. Credit for the title goes to the mighty Vinay Gupta.