Tag Archives: online

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.

Teaching online collaboration for social enterprise

The fine folks at Istituto Europeo di Design proposed me to join the faculty of a new Master course called Design for Social Business (D4SB) (info). It’s quite a visionary idea: they selected eight students from all over the world, found them scholarships and put them to work. The course is taught in English, and it includes two field trips to see social business in action, one in Bangla Desh and the other in Colombia. My contribution will be:

  1. teaching them to design and use online collaboration environment, an ever more important tool for social business and especially social innovators (they need it to compensate the competitivity deficit in other areas, like finance).
  2. dare loro un quadro su ciò che si muove nel loro ambiente competitivo, proprio nel momento in cui in Europa si stanno prendendo le decisioni strategiche sulle politiche per il welfare dei prossimi annigive them an overview on what’s cooking in their competitive environment, at a time when the strategic decisions are being made on redesigning the welfare state in Europe
  3. share methods for writing and evaluating business plans for social enterprise

I am grateful to course director Jürgen Faust, coordinator Massimo Randone and IED for the opportunity to structure my thinking around these issues in the forms of lectures and workshops, and run them in front of such a high level classroom.

Insegnare la collaborazione online per l’impresa sociale

L’Istituto Europeo di Design mi ha proposto di insegnare in un nuovo master che si chiama Design for social business (D4SB), organizzato in collaborazione con il premio Nobel Muhammad Yunus e il suo Grameen Creative Lab (info). L’idea è di quelle visionarie: hanno selezionato otto studenti provenienti da tutto il mondo, gli hanno trovato borse di studio e li hanno messi a studiare (in inglese) con un programma molto di frontiera che comprende anche visite sul campo in Bangla Desh e Colombia per vedere l’impresa sociale in azione. Il mio contributo consiste in:

  1. insegnare loro a progettare e usare ambienti di collaborazione online, strumento di lavoro sempre più importante soprattutto per gli innovatori sociali – che lo usano per compensare il deficit di competitività in altre aree, come quella finanziaria.
  2. dare loro un quadro su ciò che si muove nel loro ambiente competitivo, proprio nel momento in cui in Europa si stanno prendendo le decisioni strategiche sulle politiche per il welfare dei prossimi anni
  3. condividere metodi di scrittura e valutazione di business planning per l’impresa sociale

Sono grato al responsabile del corso Jürgen Faust, al coordinatore Massimo Randone e allo IED per l’opportunità di strutturare le mie riflessioni su questi argomenti in forma di lezioni o di seminari e collaudarli su una classe, per giunta di livello così alto.