Tag Archives: EVOKE

The apprentice crowdsorcerer: learning to hatch online communities

I am working on the construction of a new online community, that will be called Edgeryders. This is still a relatively new activity, that deploys a knowledge not entirely coded down yet. There is no instruction manual that, when adhered to, guarantees good results: some things work but not every time, others work more or less every time but we don’t know why.

It is not the first time I do this, and I am discovering that, even in such a wonderfully complex and unpredictable field, one can learn from experience. A lot. Some Edgeryders stuff we imported from the Kublai experience, like logo crowdsourcing and recruiting staff from the fledgling community. Other design decisions are inspired from projects of people I admire, projects like Evoke or CriticalCity Upload; and many are inspired by mistakes, both my own and other people’s.

It is a strange experience, both exhalting and humiliating. You are the crowdsorcerer, the expert, the person that can evoke order and meaning from the Great Net’s social magma. You try: you say your incantations, wave your magic wand and… something happens. Or not. Sometimes everything works just fine, and it’s hard to resist the temptation of claiming credit for it; other times everything you do backfires or fizzles out, and you can’t figure out what you are doing wrong to save your life. Maybe there is no mistake – and no credit to claim when things go well. Social dynamics is not deterministic, and even our best efforts can not guarantee good results in every case.

As far as I can see, the skill I am trying to develop – let’s call it crowdsorcery – requires:

  1. thinking in probability (with high variance) rather than deterministically. An effective action is not the one that is sure to recruit ten good-level contributors, but the one that reaches out to one thousand random strangers. Nine hundred will ignore you, ninety will contribute really lame stuff, nine will give you good-level contibutions and one will have a stroke of genius that will turn the project on its head and influence the remaining ninety-nine (the nine hundred are probably a lost cause in every scenario). The trick is that no one, not even him- or herself, knows in advance who that random genius is: you just need to move in that general direction, and hope he or she will find you.
  2. monitoring and reacting rather than planning and controlling (adaptive stance). It is cheaper and more effective: if a community displays a natural tropism, it makes more sense to encourage it and trying to figure out how to use it for your purposes than trying to fight it. In the online world, monitoring is practically free (even “deep monitoring” à la Dragon Trainer), so don’t be stingy with web analytics.
  3. build a redundant theoretical arsenal instead of going pragmatic (“I do this because it works”). Theory asks interesting questions, and I find that trying to read your own work in the light of theory helps crowdsorcerers and -sorceresses to build themselves better tools and encourages their awareness of what they do. I am thinking a lot along a complexity science approach and using a little run-of-the-mill network math. For now.

These general principles translate into design choices. I have decided to devote a series of posts to the choices my team and I are making in the building of Edgeryders. You can find them here (for now, only the first one is online). If you find errors or have suggestions, we are listening.

Lisa vs. Bart: why wiki policies are NOT necessarily undemocratic

David Osimo went to Forum PA to hold a keynote on e-government 2.0. He had perhaps the highest profile slot to address Italian public administrations, short of a cabinet appointment. Despite the success of his presentation, he is ot happy: everyone seems to agree that wiki government is a good idea, but there is very little action in the matter. Furthermore, he feels that the existing e-gov 2 initiatives are too elitist: designed, he says quoting the New York Times, for Lisa Simpson, not for Bart. David is somewhat disappointed.

Maybe he is right on European public administrations being too conservatives, his viewpoint is certainly more panoramic than mine. As for the elitism of wiki goverment, I think that’s a feature, not a bug. It works like this: in an oriented environment (i.e. where the values of rational open discussion and of meritocracy are shared and continuously reinforced: this makes all the difference) Internet-based tools filter the best contributions and bring them to the forefront. Lisa Simpson quickly becomes a star in the community. Bart finds it hard to produce quality content, so his contributions are normally ignored. The difference in quality is amplified by the continuous quoting and liking of Lisa’s contributions, so that the Internet-based community enhances the difference in prestige between brother and sister, leaving the former way behind. Peer-to-Patent, Evoke and Kublai are networks in which almost all the action is in the top one or two percent contributors. I explain this far better in Chapter 9 (of my forthcoming book: btw, you are very welcome to collaborate to it, click here for an English explanation).

Why do I like it? Because, if access to the system is open and encouraged (and this makes all the difference too: I discuss this in Chapter 11) and if the system is merit-based, e-government 2.0 is both more effective and more fair than old-style participation. For the same reason: namely, that it selects an élite which is not the usual old boys network, but rather a merit-based, emergent élite in which Lisa is gong to be a leader – as she deserves to be – rather than watch from the sidelines as Mr. Burns runs things in Springfield. As for Bart, the door has to stay open for him; but in the meantime, having Lisa rather than Burns in charge is a hell of an improvement, if you ask me.

Lisa vs. Bart: perché le politiche wiki NON sono necessariamente antidemocratiche

David Osimo è andato al Forum PA per tenere una lectio magistralis sull’e-government 2.0. Ha avuto forse il podio in assoluto più prestigioso per parlare alla pubblica amministrazione italiana, a meno di diventare ministro della funzione pubblica. Nonostante il successo della sua presentazione, non è soddisfatto: tutti sembrano essere d’accordo che le politiche wiki sono una strada promettente, ma poi nessuno si muove per realizzarle davvero. Inoltre, ha sensazione che le iniziative wiki esistenti (più o meno quelle che io racconto nel mio libro) siano troppo elitarie: progettate, dice lui riprendendo il New York Times, per Lisa Simpson invece che per Bart. David è un po’ deluso.

Forse ha ragione sull’immobilismo cronico delle pubbliche amministrazioni europee, il suo punto di osservazione è migliore del mio. Quanto al carattere elitario della Wikicrazia beh, ha ragione, ma secondo me questo è positivo. Funziona così: in ambienti orientati in modo appropriato (cioè dove vengono condivisi e rinforzati i valori della discussione razionale allargata e della meritocrazia: questo è decisivo), gli strumenti Internet filtrano i contributi migliori e li portano all’attenzione generale. Lisa Simpson diventa rapidamente una star della comunità. A Bart la produzione di contenuti di qualità riesce difficile, quindi i suoi contributi vengono normalmente ignorati. La differenza di qualità risulta amplificata molto dal continuo riprendere e rilinkare i contributi di Lisa, per cui l’ambiente Internet non tende ad avvicinare il prestigio del fratello a quello della sorella; al contrario, lo lascia ancora più indietro. Peer-to-Patent, Evoke o Kublai sono reti in cui quasi tutta l’azione sta in quell’uno o due per cento di nodi fortemente connessi. Lo spiego meglio  nel capitolo 9.

Perché lo trovo positivo? Perché, se l’accesso al sistema è libero e agevolato (e anche questo è decisivo: ne parlo nel capitolo 11), e se il sistema è meritocratico, gli strumenti e-government 2.0 sono sia più efficaci che più equi della partecipazione “vecchio stile”. E per la stessa ragione: e cioè che l’élite che selezionano non è la solita cricca di notabili, ma è emergente: un’élite basata sul merito, in cui Lisa assume il ruolo guida che le spetta di diritto, invece di essere condannata alle crociate solitarie mentre Mr. Burns gestisce Springfield a modo suo. Quanto a Bart, la porta deve restare aperta anche per lui; ma intanto che sia Lisa, invece che Mr. Burns, a guidare il sistema è un bel miglioramento.