Chapter 2. Spheres of Light
The Culture grew, and grew faster than you could follow. In less than a generation it had started to build cities, impossibly beautiful spheres of fire and hope; massive, and yet gentler than the breeze.
In “Magic Machines”, I described how the world has changed during recent decades. I explained how these changes threaten the economic and political structures that emerged from the Industrial Revolution and consolidated their hold over the world of the twentieth century. While society used to be based around cities built by steam and coal, it is now based around communities built by software and silicon. These communities are not passive. They are powerful and dynamic, and they challenge the economic and political structures of the old industrial world. We have witnessed Facebook and Twitter acting as platforms for real-world revolutions.
These on-line communities are largely self-organizing around problems of the day. They analyze information, share knowledge, debate strategies and tactics, and take decisions without explicit top-down leadership. They are "collective intelligences." It's not a new pattern in human society; indeed, the necessary instincts are deeply coded in our minds. Human society has always been a network of collective intelligences. It has never been so fluid, so large scale, so effective.
In this chapter, I'll explore how successful on-line communities work. More than that, I'll show how to build them, the shining digital cities of our future.
The Wisdom of Crowds
Niccolo Machiavelli observed, in "Discourses on the First Decade of Titus Livius" that:
"As for prudence and stability of purpose, I affirm that a people is more prudent, more stable, and of better judgment than a prince. Nor is it without reason that the voice of the people has been likened to the voice of God; for we see that wide-spread beliefs fulfill themselves, and bring about marvelous results."
In his book "The Wisdom of Crowds," James Surowiecki wrote, "under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them." He noted that a collective intelligence usually produces better outcomes than a small group of experts, even if members of the crowd do not know all the facts or choose, individually, to act irrationally.
To put it another way, a group of random people will on average be smarter than a few experts. It's a counterintuitive thesis that mocks centuries of received wisdom. Experts in the field of human intelligence (sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists) did not embrace Surowiecki's opinions. He went further: adding more experts to an expert group will make it stupider, while adding laymen could make a stupid group smarter again. Like any recipe, it only works in specific circumstances.
I discovered Surowiecki when I started working on a reproducible recipe for building communities. His work immediately resonated with what I'd experienced, and it seemed testable. I had both the opportunity to apply it, and to experiment with enough communities to try to disprove it: the basis, thus, for real science.
Out of that work came a process for building smart, self-guiding, successful on-line communities that could beat expert groups every time. It is a discipline I named Social Architecture, which for a while let me call myself a "Social Architect." (Today, I'm a struggling writer, which sounds more romantic.)
Social Architecture, by analogy with conventional architecture, is the process and the product of planning, designing, and growing an on-line community. Social Architectures in the form of on-line communities are the cultural and political symbols and works of art of digital society. The twenty-first century will be identified with its surviving Social Architectures.
As Social Architects, we participate in communities, we identify successful naturally occurring patterns or develop new patterns (which I call "tools"), and we apply these deliberately to our own projects. We apply psychology (our social instincts), economics (how we create common wealth through specialization and trade), politics (how we collect and share power), and technology (how we communicate). We continually adapt our toolkit based on new knowledge and experience. Our goal is to create on-line communities that can and do accurately solve the problems we identify, grow healthily, and survive on their own.
Successful on-line communities tend to be based on the contract of mutual benefit, whether implicit or explicit. That is, it is possible to build a billion dollar business based on volunteer labor, with every participant contributing for selfish reasons. Often, participants do not realize or care that they are part of a community. However, every action we take is economic. "Crowd sourcing" is the exploitation for profit of volunteer labor. And it only works when the crowd really wants to solve the problems you throw at it, or the ones it discovers.
Wiser and More Constant than a Prince
Machiavelli didn't explain or provide evidence for his observation. However the understanding that the collective will is accurate and honest -- vox populi, vox Dei -- pervades modern culture. It underpins our sometimes skeptical appreciation of democracy, and it justifies our demands for transparency and access to information. It is the basis for modern economies, based on free choice and free markets. It's the basis for at least one Humanist "religion".
Surowiecki identified four elements necessary for a wise crowd: diversity of opinion, independence of members from one another, decentralization, and effective ways to aggregate opinions. He describes the ideal wise crowd as consisting of many independently minded individuals who are loosely connected, who are geographically and socially diverse, who are unemotional about their subject, who each have many sources of information, and who have some way to bring their individual judgments together into a collective decision.
According to Surowiecki, the wise crowd makes fast and accurate judgments, organizes itself to make the best use of resources, and cooperates without central authority. Some examples of wise crowds, such as Wikipedia, are extraordinarily successful despite intense and repeated criticism from naysayers and attacks from vandals and infiltrators. It's such a compelling proposition that we might wonder why we don't see more wise crowds. Indeed, why is the world filled with so much stupidity if it's so easy to be smart?
There are good explanations for the stupidity of many crowds, and I'll explore this later, in “Faceless Societies”. Few people have tried to explain group stupidity in terms of collective wisdom. And without a clear understanding of function, how can we hope to understand dysfunction?
So the apparent failure of collective intelligence convinces many that this is just a fancy theory that fails in practice. And yet if we look at on-line communities, for example those that form around popular open source software projects like my company ZeroMQ, we see groups that look a lot like Surowiecki's wise crowds. While it may be hard to spot wise crowds in the physical world, they seem to be the dominant model on line. Through trial and error, digital society has rediscovered the principles of wise crowds and adopted them as its core operating principles.
Digital society's solution to the ancient problem of corrupt authority is elegant and successful. There are literally millions of communities, each backed by the authority of its founders. Citizens of digital society choose freely which authorities to respect and which to ignore. The core trick is to accept authority without giving it the "right to command."
Thus there is intense competition to develop fair authority that does not command, and instead enforces necessary rules. It is a deeply subversive truth. Generations that learn this model will refuse -- to the point of death -- to respect industrial society's model -- enforced by iron curtains and armed border guards if needed -- where the citizen literally belongs to the State.
Origins of Social Architecture
I've bet a lot of money on Social Architecture, and have made good profits. It comes close to hard social science, proven by years of reproducible experiments on living cases and studies of existing communities. It mixes psychology, economics, politics, technology, humanism, and optimism into something that I've found can make a lot of people pretty happy.
My journey into Social Architecture began in the late 1990's, when I began researching a book about how cults exploit our social instincts. Cults are not happy places, of course. However, humans are drawn to them because we're social animals who, over the last million years, have developed instincts for joining and conforming to groups in order to survive. It has become second nature for us to readily respect authority, conform, learn common languages, and adopt shared behavior. Cult groups brainwash their members by exploiting these instincts. They separate members from their families, eliminate privacy, flood them with jargon, create arbitrary rules, and punish and reward randomly.
In this way, cults can turn most ordinary people into unthinking followers who willingly empty their bank accounts, steal from their families, and work for years without pay. As a student watching the occasional friend disappear into the caverns of Scientology and other cults, this struck me as malignant and confusing. Later, when my closest cousin dropped out and lost five years of his life to Scientology, it got personal.
Studying the Cult Information Centre (CIC) website, it struck me that these brainwashing techniques all have several things in common. First, they were all clearly focused on attacking individual thought and action, and destroying that which makes us strong. Second, they were reminiscent of environments in which I'd worked (big business often functions like a cult). Third, they all seemed reversible in that they could be flipped around to become positive patterns.
The last aspect is surprising. If a hammer breaks a window, you can hardly make a window stronger by reversing the hammer. Some examples make it clear. Take this technique from the CIC site: "Peer Group Pressure -- Suppressing doubt and resistance to new ideas by exploiting the need to belong." The reverse is, by lowering the cost of joining and leaving the group, we encourage new ideas and criticism. Or, consider "Removal of Privacy -- Achieving loss of ability to evaluate logically by preventing private contemplation." Its reverse is: give people private space and time to think, and they'll become better at thinking logically.
My conclusions persist. We survive by attaching to groups, following others, and trying to make sense of the world. Some groups work by domesticating and brutalizing us. Other groups work by giving us freedom and allowing us to be stronger, smarter, and more independent.
In 2000, the Internet had not yet become cheap enough for mass-market use, and open source communities were small and often regional, frequently focused around universities. Open source communities such as the Debian Foundation still operated as classic not-for-profit organizations, as legal entities with boards, treasurers, and the like.
In 2005, I joined a number of collaborative projects. On the one hand, I was involved with the FFII, working to stop software patents in Europe. We (the good guys) spoke in the European Parliament, debated with the European Patent Office (the bad guys), organized seminars, tabled amendments, got votes, and broadly, took part in the largest lobbying effort ever to hit Brussels.
On the other hand, I was developing open standards, starting with the Advanced Message Queuing Protocol (AMQP). The contrast between the cultures of these organizations was sharp. The FFII was a group of crazy volunteers, creative beyond belief, and filled with hard cold determination to stop SAP, Siemens, Microsoft, and Nokia (more bad guys) from changing European law to legalize the gray market in patents on software. The AMQP workgroup included banks and large software firms, who turned out to be crazy in a different and less enjoyable way.
With insanity surrounding me on all sides, research on social instincts and cult techniques suddenly seemed relevant again. With my friends in the FFII, we launched campaign after campaign. Websites, petitions, email lists, conferences ... it never stopped. Most of our campaigns failed to get any real scale though a few did. Above all, for about three years, we experimented, and we collected results.
We learned two broad things. First, a cult is the flipside of a wise crowd. The cult patterns seemed accurate, and I watched people applying the cult model to others over and over. Any intense group, family, business, or team starts to resemble a cult, in little or larger ways. It's a matter of degree. However, as soon as you spend your free time on someone else's project, you are essentially starting to slide down that slope. I watched as entire groups went off the rails, unable to think straight or produce accurate results. There was a straight causal effect: as the group became more cult-like, they became more useless.
The second thing is that just reversing the cult techniques isn't enough. It does make a good start to promote individual strength and creativity, yet that is not the same as building a solid community. For that, you need more explicit patterns. Define a powerful mission to attract newcomers. Make it really easy for people to get involved. Embrace argument and conflict; it's where good ideas come from. Delegate systematically, and create competition. Work with volunteers more than employees. Get diversity and scale. Make people own the work; don't let the work own the people.
It is of course much cheaper and faster to do large-scale experiments with people on line than in the real world. To prove or disprove a recipe for building a community, all you have to do is create a space, define some rules for play, announce it to the world, and sit back and watch.
My largest and most successful experiment to date, which I'll refer to often in this chapter, is the ZeroMQ software community. It has grown from a team in a Slovak cellar to a global community, and is used by thousands of organizations. Above all, ZeroMQ is entirely built and steered by its community: over a hundred contributors to the core library, and a hundred other projects around that.
In my Social Architect's toolbox, I have 20 tools, each covering one aspect of a community or group. These tools work in two ways. First, you can use them to measure an existing community, giving a rating of zero or more. Second, you can use them when you design a community, to help you focus your effort on where it will be most useful.
- Strong mission -- the stated reason for the group's existence
- Free entry -- how easy it is for people to join the group
- Transparency -- how openly and publicly decisions are made
- Free contributors -- how far people are paid to contribute
- Full remixability -- how far contributors can remix each others' work
- Strong protocols -- how well the rules are written
- Fair authority -- how well the rules are enforced
- Non-tribalism -- how far the group claims to own its participants
- Self-organization -- how far individuals can assign their own tasks
- Tolerance -- how the group embraces conflicts
- Measurable success -- how well the group can measure its progress
- High scoring -- how the group rewards its participants
- Decentralization -- how widely the group is spread out
- Free workspaces -- how easy it is to create new projects
- Smooth learning -- how easy it is to get started and keep learning
- Regular structure -- how regular and predictable the overall structure is
- Positivity -- how far the group is driven by positive goals
- Sense of humor -- how seriously the group takes itself
- Minimalism -- how much excess work the group does
- Sane funding -- how the group survives economically
We will look at these tools one by one and see how they work in various communities. First, some general advice about building a community. Be brutally honest with yourself and with others. Your biggest challenge is overcoming your own prejudices and biases, and then those of everyone you work with.
Whatever toolkit I can provide you with, you'll want to adapt and extend it for your own needs. Social Architecture is still a very young science and many of my tools will be too complex, or incomplete. Here's the best way I know to do that:
Consume your own product. If you are not a fanatical user of whatever your group is making, you are half-blind. I learned this when working for Nigerian Breweries in the 1990's: by enjoying beer, I learned to appreciate the business of selling beer so much better.
Practice and repeat. It is cheap to experiment, and failure is healthy. By definition, if you start a project and it fails, no one notices. So start many projects and change or fix your tools if they don't work.
Do first-line support. All communities have a place where newcomers arrive and ask questions. Be there, observe how new visitors get lost, what mistakes they make, and improve your designs accordingly. Perhaps the mission confuses them. Or maybe the structures are confusing. A good designer sympathizes with his users, feels their pain, and works to relieve it.
Release early, release often. This is a mantra from free software communities. It's accurate. You want to do your design work in the open, and get critical feedback as early as possible. In ZeroMQ, we release every patch as it happens.
Learn and teach all the time. Teaching gives you perspective, and learning lets you pick up new tools over time. Social Architecture is a young craft, and though the basics are solidly anchored in human psychology, there are still many unknowns.
The starting point for any community is a stated mission. The mission defines the goals that we can all agree on in advance, before we join the project. It's like the title of a website or the slogan for a movie. For instance, Reddit's title is: "the front page of the Internet," an ambitious mission that it nonetheless achieved. Facebook's slogan is: "helps you connect and share with the people in your life."
TIP: Use your mission as a slogan, on your website, marketing, presentations, and so on. If you are investing money in your community, you may want to trademark the mission statement.
Without a clear mission, an on-line community won't grow. A group of friends who start a project may agree what they want to do, yet anyone new coming on board has to guess what they had in mind. People will guess wrong, and will change their minds over time. This leads to confusion, disagreement, and disappointment as people find that their hard work was wasted because the rest of the group headed off in a different direction.
A good mission saunters past "sane" and steps into "you cannot be serious!" Wikipedia's mission, "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit" is a good example. It was, initially, a goal that everyone, except a few idealists, found impossible and crazy. Those idealists were precisely who Wikipedia needed to get on board on day one. Impossible missions attract the right kind of people for a young project.
TIP: Change your mission as your community matures. At first, you will want to attract idealists and pioneers, then the leading edge, and then early adopters, the mass market, and finally, the late adopters. Each of these groups wants different things. Understand that, and tune your mission to suit.
To formulate a good mission, think in terms of the single main problem your project is solving. Reddit, for instance, is solving the problem of how to get the news off an Internet with far too many interesting sources of information. Its "front page" represents the digital newspaper of the twenty-first century. Wikipedia is solving the problem of how to collect knowledge from the minds of billions. "Anyone can edit" represents vox populi, vox Dei, the understanding that truth, if it exists, comes only from the minds of many.
TIP: When proposing action, small or large, try always to start by identifying the problems you want to solve. Only when you have a clear and real problem on which everyone can agree, move to discussing solutions. A solution for an assumed problem is like a group without a clear mission.
You may have multiple missions, by accident or deliberately. This can be traumatic if the missions pull in different directions. For example, growing a group larger may require subsidies, which conflicts with making profits. If Wikipedia became a for-profit entity with advertising and an expensive tranche of managers, do you think its community would grow or shrink?
For ZeroMQ, our stated mission was "Fastest. Messaging. Ever." This is a nice, and nearly impossible answer to a problem we could all agree on: namely, the slow, bloated technology available at that time. However, my co-founder Martin and I had conflicting goals. He wanted to build the best software possible, while I wanted to build the largest community possible. As the user base grew, his dramatic changes, which broke existing applications, caused increasing pain.
In that case, we were able to make everyone happy (Martin went off to build a new library called "Nano"). However if you cannot resolve mission conflicts, it can damage the project severely. Projects can survive a lot of arguments, however fights between founders are traumatic.
TIP: If the founders agree that "success" is defined as "having the most participants possible," it can help in keeping your focus over the years. It also makes it easy to measure your success as you grow.
Once you have agreed on your mission, you need to test this against the real world. That is, you have to make a minimal yet plausible answer to the problem you identified. I call this a "seed." With the seed, you have two main goals. First, to start to collect idealists and pioneers (basically, anyone mad enough to trust you) into a community. Second, to prove or disprove your mission.
Projects fail for many reasons. A major cause of failure is that the original idea or mission wasn't as amazing as people felt. Failure is fine, even excellent, unless it costs years of your life. Making a seed and showing it to a few people isn't enough because most people won't be really critical. They feel it's hurtful. However, ask people to invest even a few hours of their time in making it better, and if they don't say "yes," you know how they really feel.
TIP: Build a "seed" product in public view and encourage others to get involved from the start. If people do get involved, promote them rapidly. If they don't, treat that as a sign your mission may be wrong. Use the seed product to build the community.
Once people agree to help you, they need somewhere to work together. You need a "collaboration platform." My two favorites are Wikidot for knowledge communities, and GitHub for software projects. The platform has to be free to use. It has to be easy to learn and work with. Your seed project has to be visible to anonymous visitors. It has to work for anyone no matter his or her age, gender, education, or physical location.
All this makes it possible for interesting strangers to walk up and look at your work and, if they like it and feel challenged by it, get involved little by little. You want to be working on your seed in public view, and talking about your new project, from the very start. This means people can make suggestions, and feel involved, from day one.
If we, as founders of a group, choose those we work with, we're building in "selection bias." It is much easier to work with those nice, smart people who agree with us, than the idiots and critics who disagree. And when you agree with me, you just confirm all of my biases and assumptions and I know from experience that those can be wrong in the most amazing ways.
Over time, collecting people who share the same broken assumptions and biases can kill a project. For example, when making software protocols, the requirements for large firms can be very different from those for small open source teams. So if a protocol committee is built entirely out of large firms, what they make will be indigestible by the mass of the market.
The answer is free entry to anyone who is interested, no matter how different or apparently crazy their perspectives. This gives us, potentially, that broad and diverse community which is the raw material for a wise crowd. In ZeroMQ, we never turn away anyone who wants to contribute. I pull people in, even if their contributions are poor or incorrect. The community is more important than the product.
When the community has matured around the seed product, they will want to build a second generation of it. As Social Architect, your goal is to time and guide this properly so that you can use the wise crowd to help design the "real" product. It's possible that around this point you will want to find a good domain name and make a "proper" website.
TIP: If people are not joining in your seed, don't continue working on it. Instead, discover what's stopping them from joining and fix that. Start again from scratch if necessary. Don't prematurely kill seeds; it can take time for people to appreciate what you are trying to do.
Transparency is very important to get rapid criticism of ideas and work in progress. If a few people in a team go off and work on something together for some time -- a few days seems harmless, a few weeks is not -- then what they make can be presented to the group as a fait accompli. When one person does that, the group can just shrug it off. When two or more people do that, it becomes much harder to back off from bad ideas. Secrecy and incompetence seem bound together. Groups that work in secret do not achieve wisdom.
TIP: When one person does something in a dark corner, that's an experiment. When two or more people do something in a dark corner, that's a conspiracy.
With ZeroMQ, it took us some years to come to a really open and transparent situation. Before that, the core contributors mostly worked in secret, publishing their work when they felt it was ready for public view. By the time they did that, it was very hard for the rest of the community to say "no." And often the work was off course, a brilliant solution to a problem no one really cared about. In the end, we explicitly banned this kind of thing.
It is ironic that secrets seem essential to certain business models. Profits often come from the ignorance of customers. Most profit-making businesses, even large communities like Twitter, depend on a strict division between "them" and "us." However, digital society grows best by putting scale before profits, and by treating all ignorance as a problem to solve. If your clients are ignorant of your internal thought processes, then you will be ignorant of where those processes are wrong.
Money is a funny thing. Too little, and the community starves (I'll return to this later). Too much, and it rots. It is important to understand why each contributor is there at all. What are their economic motives? Even in a volunteer community, every person is there for self-interested reasons.
In ZeroMQ, we originally started with a small paid team and moved after two years to a community of volunteers through the pragmatic -- if not very gentle -- tactic of running out of money and having to fire the developers. A few disappeared to other jobs, some came back as contributors, and the project became more exciting and fun than before. People contribute to ZeroMQ because they need it in their own projects, and if they spend a little time making it better, that can earn them or save them many times more.
When you work for someone else, you will make what he or she wants. When you work for yourself, you will make what you need. It is so very different. People with money yet no skill or taste are the riffraff of society. We despise paid contributors to Wikipedia, paid bloggers, and paid moderators on Reddit, because we know that the opinions they express are almost by definition false. Would a blogger paid by Hollywood criticize the new summer blockbuster?
I've nothing against employees. However, if you are aiming for the largest, most successful community, you want contributors who are there for honest, transparent reasons. If a filmmaker comes to Reddit to discuss his work, that is fantastic. If his marketing staff come to downvote critical comments, that is despicable.
TIP: One free contributor is worth 10 paid contributors.
A group needs a lot of agreements for working together. I call these "protocols." Perhaps the most important one for any creative community is remixability. Whether it's music, art, images, video, comments, software, or wiki pages, the following question will arise: "What is the copyright license on this work, and how does that affect the community?"
Broadly, there are three types of agreement for copyright:
A "locked down" license that does not allow remixing. This is the old way of working, and still the dominant model in for-profit work.
A "free to take" license that allows one-way remixing. This is the dominant model for many open source software communities.
A "share-alike" license that enforces two-way remixing. This is the dominant model for free software communities like ZeroMQ, and for many artistic communities (though it may be an unwritten agreement).
Users prefer the "free to take" model because it lets them use the content in any way they like without reciprocity. Imagine a DJ who releases a popular track under the "free to take" model. Then a company makes a remix and uses that for an advert. And that remix will be locked down. Now, the DJ cannot remix that new work, and may find himself unable even to play the remix.
Communities, however, work better with the third model because it converts users into contributors. With a share-alike license, the DJ would be able to take the remix, mix that further, and turn it into a dance club success. Knowledge and ideas flow in all directions, rather than leaking out of the community into closed dead-ends. The shift is powerful, especially for those of us building communities with a minimal budget. If you're a large firm putting a lot of money into a community, the "free to take" model can work better.
TIP: If every contributor owns their specific contributions, and you use a share-alike license, you don't need copyright assignments or re-licensing from contributors.
Good protocols let strangers collaborate without up-front agreement. They resolve destructive conflict, and turn it into valuable competition. The insight that lets anarchists join wise crowds as happily as anyone is that the crowd can develop its own rules. Typically, these rules govern remixing, identity, ranking, and so on. No matter what their form, good rules are simple, clear, explicitly written down, and agreed upon by all.
If you're building a software project, you might take an existing rulebook, like the C4.1 protocol we built for ZeroMQ. Otherwise, you can start with a minimal rulebook and grow it over time as you see what problems hit the community. This is, for example, how the Wikipedia rulebook grew up.
Some rules must be established very early (such as licenses for contributions). Others can be developed when needed (such as processes for resolving conflicts). Complex, pointless, or unwritten rules are toxic to groups. They create space for argument, confuse people, and make it expensive to join or leave a group.
TIP: Write your rules very carefully, starting with choosing a license for content, and measure how much they help people. Change them over time as you need to.
Without authority, rules have no strength. The community founders and main contributors are its de facto authority. If they abuse this position, they lose contributors and the project dies or gets forked under different rules. Authority needs to be scalable (that is, work with any size of group) and transferable as the group grows and changes over time.
While we need authority to build a flat playing field, many groups use authority as a way of controlling members, keeping them in the group, and making them conform. A favorite cult technique is to randomly punish and reward people so they become confused and stop questioning authority.
TIP: Promote the most active contributors into positions of authority, and do this rapidly. You have a short window for promoting new contributors before they disappear to other projects.
You have to be a part of your community, and you must follow your own rules. If you find yourself breaking, or wanting to break, your own rules, they are faulty and need fixing.
In the ZeroMQ community, we've had fights over who had the right to define the rules, and in the end it came to the trademark and domain name. The person or company who owns the project name is the ultimate authority for the rules. If they're nuts, the project will die.
TIP: If you are investing money in the community, then consider taking a US trademark so that you can stop people from making similarly-named imitations that don't follow your processes. It costs about $750.
Membership must be a badge to collect, not an identity. As Mr. Spock so often observed, emotions are not logical. Some groups are driven by logical purpose, and others by more emotional factors such as peer pressure, the herd instinct, and even collective hysteria. The main factor seems to be the relationship between the group and its members. We can quantify this: Do members "belong exclusively" to the group? Exclusive membership means putting the group's existence above its work. Exclusive membership ends in conflict with other groups.
TIP: Stay away from formal membership models, especially those that try to convert people to belonging to the group. Allow anonymous or unidentified participation. Encourage people to create their own competing projects as spaces to experiment and learn.
Industrial-age groups, like cults, specialize in owning their members. An employee belongs to his or her company. In some cases, even ideas you have in the shower are property of your employer. And when a group owns its members, it motivates them with emotions like fear, hate, jealousy, and anger, instead of purposeful logic. The threat of expulsion is widely used to get people to conform. "Do what I say or I'll fire you!"
TIP: To measure how tribal a group is, just start a competing project. If the response is negative and emotional, the group is tribal. A sane group will applaud its new competitors.
Some people like to be told what to do. The best contributors and teams choose their own tasks. A successful community recognizes problems and organizes itself to solve them. Further, it does that faster and more accurately than any top-down management structure. This means the community should accept contributions in any area, without limit.
Top-down task assignment is an anti-pattern with many weaknesses. It makes it impossible for individuals to act when they recognize new problems. It creates fiefdoms where work and the necessary resources belong to specific people. It creates long communication chains that can't react rapidly. It requires layers of managers just to connect decision-makers with those doing the work.
TIP: Write rules to raise the quality of work and to explicitly allow anyone to work on anything they find interesting.
In ZeroMQ, we removed all assigned tasks from the community. For example, we don't accept feature requests. If someone wants a feature, they either send us a patch, or offer someone money to make the change, or they wait. This means people only make changes they really need to make.
TIP: Communities need power hierarchies. However, they should be fluid and heavily delegated. That is, choose the people you work with, and let them choose the people they work with. Power structures are like liquid cement; they harden and stop people from moving around as they need to. Any structure defends itself.
A diverse group has conflicting opinions, and a healthy group has to embrace and digest these conflicts. Critics, iconoclasts, vandals, spies, and trolls keep a group on its toes. They can be a catalyst for others to stay involved. Wikipedia thrives thanks to, not in spite of, those who click Edit to make a mess of articles.
It's a classic anti-pattern to suppress minority ideas and views on the basis that they are "dangerous." This inevitably means suppressing new ideas as well. The logic is usually that group coherence is more important than diversity. What then happens is that mistakes aren't challenged, and get solidified into policy. In fact, the group can be more important than the results, if it is diverse and open to arguments. This is a difficult lesson that applies to broad society as well: there are no dangerous opinions, only dangerous responses.
The way communities deal with trolls and vandals is one thing. To deal with fundamental differences in viewpoint is something else. I've said before that conflicting missions can be a problem. The best answer I know is to turn the conflict into competition.
In software, we do this by making standards that teams can build on. Take for example the HTTP standard that powers the web. Any team can build a web server or a web browser. This lets teams compete. So Google's Chrome browser emerged as a lightweight, faster alternative to Firefox, which was getting bloated and slow. Then, the Firefox team took performance seriously, and now Firefox is faster than Chrome.
TIP: When there is an interesting problem, try to get multiple teams competing to solve it. Competition is great fun and can produce better answers than monopolized problems. You can even explicitly create competitions with prizes for the best solutions.
It's all very well to try to turn conflict into competition. However, you also need to provide teams with a way to know how well they are doing. The best tools, like GitHub, show you precisely how many people are watching or have "starred" or "forked" a particular project (revealing different levels of interest and commitment).
The Web, of course, has always been obsessed with "hits" and traffic analysis, which show exactly how popular a specific site or page is. This makes it very easy to measure success of on-line projects. In the old industrial-era business, teams get their feedback from their bosses. This turns into an exercise in power: you'll be scored higher for compliance than for accuracy. Making your bosses happy so they give you a pay raise is not healthy.
TIP: If your platform does not support it directly, find ways to tell contributors how well their projects are doing.
There are many reasons why people contribute to communities. An overriding motivation is to be admired for success. That can be as an individual, or as part of a team. Success is relative so we need metrics, some high score that people can see and track.
In the ZeroMQ community, we don't emphasize high scoring much, though contributors do get more love when they contribute more. It goes on their permanent record. Contributing to ZeroMQ can land you a good job.
Reddit, like many sites, uses "karma" that shows how many votes a profile got for its posts and submissions. It works pretty well. Some sites don't show all karma in order to stop people playing the system to just get a higher score. Some sites, like StackOverflow, have taken "gamification" to an extreme level, with badges, high scores, achievements, and so on. I think this is manipulative and distorts the mission of the community. People should be contributing because they need the project to succeed, not to earn toy points.
Having said that, social credit -- making groups of strangers happy -- is enormously satisfying and does not pollute the planet. Industrial society focuses on material rewards (higher salary, larger house, nicer car) tied into a hierarchical structure. It is effective because we all like wealth, or we have a daddy complex; whatever the reason, wanting to make the boss happy means taking fewer risks.
TIP: When there is something that people are asking for, and you don't know how to do it yourself, announce publicly that it is "impossible." Or, propose a solution that is so awkward and hopeless that it annoys real experts into stepping up.
In his book, Surowiecki explained how the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster was caused by a hierarchical NASA management bureaucracy that ignored the knowledge of low-level engineers. If a group is decentralized, its members are more independent, they receive more diverse inputs, and they are also likely to be more diverse from the start.
If a group is geographically concentrated, it becomes homogenized, where all members get pretty much the same inputs and triggers. Close proximity also lets a minority dominate the mindset of the group and quash unorthodox ideas. It lets them literally bully or bluff the majority into compliance. Insisting that all members of a group sit in the same office, department, or building is an old anti-pattern that is hard to break. There's a reason cults have compounds.
TIP: Do you need meetings to get work done as a group? This is a sign that you have deeper problems in how you work together. You are excluding people who are not physically close by.
It can be hard to move away from the old discuss-then-execute model of working together. Certainly it's easier if you are building groups from scratch than if you are trying to change existing groups.
A community needs space in which to grow. In Internet terms, this is typically a website or collection of sites, and related structures like email lists, blogs, and so on. We've seen that it's become very cheap, or free, to create "space" in digital society. The question is, can individuals create their own spaces within the community? If so, they will invest more in the collective project.
The freedom to create structure annoys people who feel that it creates chaos and disorder. However, if you use regular structures (see the next section), there's no real cost to participants. What is toxic is speculatively creating structure based on the assumption that people might need it. When I took charge of the FFII association in 2005, the previous president had created several hundred email lists, representing all the projects he felt people should be working on. It didn't fit how people wanted to organize, and it was very hard to delete these lists and create the ones we actually needed.
Of course, industrial-era groups do assign work, and assign the resources to carry it out. Any new infrastructure -- such as a website, email list, or wiki -- requires approval and a decision. It might even need legal review due to copyright and patent concerns. The cost is high, so people are reluctant to take the risk. Thus, they don't experiment and often work with one hand tied behind their backs.
In the ZeroMQ software community, it takes a single click to create a new project. In Wikipedia, you can create a new page simply by clicking "create this page." Both projects have mechanisms to stop random garbage from accumulating. Wikipedia purges new pages quite aggressively. ZeroMQ has an extra manual step to bring a new project into the official community organization.
TIP: Make it absolutely simple for logged-in users to create new projects. If projects are organized per user, you don't need to worry about junk. If they're in a shared space, you may need tools to purge junk and abandoned projects.
As a community grows larger, it can become harder to navigate. If you make a single, ever-growing project, this becomes more and more complex over time, consisting mainly of special cases. Think of a medieval castle. This problem is particularly bad in projects built by larger firms that seem to lack a sense of cost.
Complexity turns people away because it's so difficult to learn. The solution is to use very regular structures that you can learn once and then predict many times. Not any structure will do. We seem bad at learning structures deeper than three or four levels. However, we're happy to explore very wide structures with thousands or millions of boxes if those boxes correspond to separate units of work, or projects. Think of a city.
The successful on-line communities are cities, not castles. Wikipedia consists of a few language-specific wikis, each broken into millions of pages (the projects), each structured into sections, discussion, history, footnotes, and so on. Several people may be working on a page at once, and one person may be slowly editing or caring for dozens or hundreds of pages.
GitHub manages millions of software repositories or "repos," grouped under user profiles or organizations, and each broken into some further structure (source files, documentation, etc.) that usually depends on the language (Java repos use one style, C repos use another, and so on). One repo may have a handful of contributors, and people will work on a few to a dozen repos. The ZeroMQ community consists of an organization that contains a growing number of projects.
TIP: Design your community as a searchable city of projects, where anyone can start a new project, projects represent perhaps a dozen people's work, and all have familiar structure, as much as possible.
Businesses love their castles, which inevitably describe Important People, not projects, and certainly not the major business problems. Their organizations are huge and irregular. There's no way to understand them except by memorizing them in detail. Then again, you can't simply move around the castle, so there's little benefit in learning its layout.
When ZeroMQ started, it was one project with a single "README" page. Today, it's a hundred or so smaller projects, each with its own documentation, community, and process. To get into a mature project can be painful. As I've said, regular structures are essential. More than that, you need a fairly specific learning curve that goes from simple to hard as people progress from idle passer-by to expert contributor.
Think of your community as a video game with levels that become increasingly difficult, and have bigger and bigger payoffs. People will play "up to their level." If you can do this right, you attract the most people. If you do this wrong, you'll bore experts by making it too easy, or you'll turn off others by making it too hard to get started.
TIP: Use classic training tools -- presentations, videos, answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), tutorials -- to get people started. It helps if you are part of the community so you can see what kinds of questions people ask when they start.
Many existing organizations make no effort to create a smooth curve. Everything starts complex and stays there. To participate, you might need weeks of training. It's inefficient, frustrating, and expensive to scale.
It's tempting to try to provoke people into joining a group by being aggressive. After all, many people enjoy a good heated argument, especially when they feel they're right. Some groups thrive on being quite hostile and negative towards other groups, particularly if there is some history involved. The tone you set as founder will last a long time. If you promote your community by attacking competitors, you will attract people of a certain mindset, and the culture will spread. Sooner or later, the negativity will turn inwards and can be very damaging for the community.
TIP: When you talk about people, products, or organizations, be polite and stay balanced. When you promote your product or community, talk about the problems you solve, not how you are better than your competitors.
It's better in my experience to set a positive tone from the start. Competitors are good because they give you resistance. Copycats are good, because they prove your market is a real one. Trolls and vandals are good, because they give sincere people an extra chance to prove their value. And so on. It seems like hard work to look for a positive outcome for every event. However, it's really just a mindset.
TIP: Welcome everyone, and only intervene when there are irredeemable troublemakers. It's a small minority that really can't find a place in an open, diverse community. You can ask such people to leave and, if necessary, ban them.
A positive culture is more tolerant and reduces emotions and arguments. It also makes it easier to experiment, make mistakes, and self-criticize, and all these help a community think through difficult problems.
Sense of Humor
Have you ever wondered why humans have an instinct for humor, and why people who never laugh seem odd or unfriendly? My theory is that we evolved humor as a way of defusing conflict (which has obvious survival value). People don't punch the joker unless the joke is old or badly told. More subtly, humor defuses tribalism and emotion, and lets people work together even when they have huge differences. A shared joke creates strong bonds because it proves the intersection of minds. Humor is an essential part of a community and reduces stress.
TIP: The more serious your message, the more you need humor. In my ZeroMQ book, I wrote a lot of silly nonsense mixed with the heavy technical explanations. Most people enjoyed and appreciated this.
If it weren't for alcohol, the grim-faced industrial economy would barely ever laugh. It takes itself so seriously. The lack of humor in an organization is a sure sign that everyone there is fundamentally miserable. Worse, it makes the group vulnerable to conflict and fracture.
You make a racing car faster by removing weight, not by adding power. You can make your community lighter, faster, and more agile by being dogmatically minimalist about the work you do. Though it sounds lazy, it's often harder to not do something that seems fun than to just go ahead and do it.
The general rule is do the absolute minimum that probably works. Then invest more only as people start to use your work and complain. Never invest more than the absolute minimum you need to get a "bite" from users. This applies to your seed product as well as every change you make. User feedback -- more than your own vision -- is the best guide for where to make further investments.
TIP: Perfection precludes participation. Releasing buggy, half-finished work is an excellent way to provoke people into contributing. Though it can be hard for big egos to accept, flaws are usually more attractive to contributors than perfection, which attracts users.
The culture of minimalism can, and should, extend to your community itself. In the past, we used to make legal entities for serious projects so there would be a place to hold copyrights, trademarks, and money. However, legal entities are expensive and time-consuming to manage. Tax reporting by itself can be an unbearable burden.
One of my communities, Digistan, was designed, grown, and did its work (building a new generation of legal templates and political arguments for open standards) in about six months. All of our ZeroMQ protocols are based on the Digistan work. The Open Web Foundation -- solving the same problem -- spent two years simply building a legal entity, defining bylaws, and electing officers.
If there's not enough money, a community will starve. If there's too much, it will, as I've said, rot. It is a delicate balance. We can motivate people with money up to a certain degree. After that, only sociopaths respond proportionally. This is a flaw in the naive "more money is always good" theory of capitalism. In my business, it's always been those I paid best who turned out to be the most treacherous.
The first thing is to reduce your costs by not setting up legal entities, offices, and staff unless you really need them. Not only will these eat any funding you might have, they will work against you as you try to build a pure on-line community. Secondly, invest your time and money in the community minimally when you see that there's no choice. It could be taking a trademark, paying for hosting services, or doing some particularly difficult work no one else is able to undertake. Finally, watch out for individuals who take on too much risk without adequate reward -- they can be vulnerable to burnout, something I'll talk about in the next section.
TIP: Every time you find it necessary to spend money on the community, ask if you could have found a way to get others to help instead.
In the previous section, I examined my toolbox for building on-line communities. Now I'll look at few other key ideas that are worth knowing about.
The Market Curve
The market curve is a well-known theory of marketing that is less known in engineering and community building. However it's important to understanding how communities develop over time. In the classic market curve, a new technology, idea, or product enters the market as a wave, starting with ice-breaking enthusiasts and pioneers, then the early adopters, then the mass market, then the late adopters, and finally the skeptics.
Each of these groups has different motivations for coming to a project, joining in, and eventually, leaving. If we take an exciting new technology like ZeroMQ, we can explore this and understand how it works:
When the project is young and experimental, it attracts pundits and researchers whose business is new stuff, in general. These people need to know why the project is different from what exists, what its goals are, and why it is exciting. They will never use it, nor will they become contributors. They are your evangelists. They often lose interest rapidly.
When you have a seed product, it attracts pioneers. These are hard-core hackers who want the latest stuff and don't care about documentation, marketing, or tutorials. They're very good at managing the risk of new things. These are your first wave of contributors. Often they are building frameworks for other developers.
When you have a real, usable product, it attracts early adopters. These are people making real products yet who are good at taking and managing risk. They still don't need much help, though they do expect some guarantee that things won't break randomly. This is the bulk of your community.
When you are in version two or three, you will start to attract the mass market. These are people who expect stability and reliability. They'll ask questions like, "Do you offer support?" Some of these will become contributors. Mostly, however, they are the target paying customers.
Finally, when you are in later versions, the laggards and skeptics will finally pick up older versions and try them.
It's more complex than this, as you can have multiple overlapping curves. You need to keep the whole market interested, or you lose valuable sections of your community. Each section sells to the next, so you should aim new versions at the evangelists so they can sell them to the pioneers, and so on.
Once you understand the market curve, you see why it's counterproductive to, for instance, write perfect tutorials for the early versions. You won't get the mass market regardless and it will feel patronizing to the pioneers.
I've emphasized the value of volunteer work as being more accurate, honest, and creative than paid work. There's a strong caveat here. Some of the Social Architecture tools can be dangerous. When you define a compelling mission, you can motivate people close to self-destruction. This was a major problem in the FFII before I took over, made worse by the highly emotional and tribal culture of the organization at that time. Many core members were in a state of deep exhaustion and burnout. It was familiar to me from my own past.
Research into burnout -- which you can read on Wikipedia -- doesn't seem to match what I've observed in the real world. Data trumps theory, however. Here's what I've seen many times about the specific type of burnout we see in volunteer communities:
It manifests as a deep disgust with a specific project. We push the project aside, stop answering emails, and might even leave the community. Other people observe that "he's acting strange... depressed, or tired..."
It is project-related. That is, we burn out on specific projects and not on others. In severe cases, we become dysfunctional for a few months, then begin working again by abandoning the project and starting something else.
It hits after a period of one to three years, depending on our character and the situation. Very stubborn, driven individuals may take longer to burn out, and when they do, it's worse.
It is curable. This is the weirdest aspect, which I proved by taking burned-out volunteers and finding money to pay them for what they had been doing for free. They came back happily and carried on successfully.
It is preventable. Paid staff don't suffer the same kind of burnout. They can definitely get depressed, yet they don't usually just switch off.
Which leads me to conclude that this is about the economics of professional investment. Here's my hypothesis of the mechanisms at play.
Many people invest heavily in their professions, taking great risks especially while young in the hope of reaping rewards later in life. We're able to postpone material rewards for a long time if we think we're on the right track. For example, a young writer or musician will tolerate being poor for many years if he thinks he's on the path to eventual fame and fortune.
No matter how subtle, the carrot at the end of the stick is always present in our subconscious. We are essentially economic animals. All of life is economic. We can lie to ourselves really well, yet beneath every act and decision is an economic motive. We invest in projects because we feel they will propel us to success, even if it takes years. We compete with others, trying to find niches where our particular talents can shine.
So it happens that the young mind striving to invest in the right places finds itself in a situation where the weight of lies accumulates and reaches a tipping point. The path suddenly proves itself to be a dead end. The people it was following are manipulative liars. The mission was a fraud. The praise of others is emotional blackmail. The years of investment were a waste, and even a further minute would be wasted.
This type of burnout is like a reckoning. We abandon the project as though it were suddenly toxic, with much the same feeling as if we had eaten something spoiled. Here are some ways to reduce the risk of this happening:
We cannot work alone on projects. The concentration of all of the responsibility on one person who does not set limits often leads to burnout.
Projects need a business plan. As long as there is an eventual prospect of economic reward, the mind can survive hard work without material reward for some time.
Preventative education on burnout can help. When we explain to people what burnout is, they recognize it faster and call for help before it is too late.
Good tools and processes let us work with less stress and with less dependence on any one person.
The Myth of Individual Intelligence
You will have gathered by now that I'm not a great fan of the brilliance of individuals. Mostly this is because despite being a Mensa member, I've seen myself make such amazingly clever mistakes. Over time I've come to think that the very notion of individual intelligence is a dangerously simplified myth.
In this myth, brilliant individuals think about important problems, and then by hard work and labor, they create solutions and refine those until they are perfect. Sometimes they will have "eureka" moments where they "get" brilliantly simple answers to large problems. The inventor, and the process of invention are rare, precious, and can command a monopoly. History is full of such heroic individuals. We owe them our modern world.
Look more closely, however, and one discovers that this story does not match the facts. History doesn't show lone inventors. It shows lucky people who steal or claim ownership of ideas that are being worked on by many. It shows brilliant people striking lucky, and then spending decades on fruitless and pointless quests. The best-known large-scale inventors like Thomas Edison were good at systematic broad research done by large teams. It's like claiming that Steve Jobs invented every tool made by Apple. It is a nice myth, good for marketing, and utterly untrue.
Recent history, better recorded and less easy to manipulate, shows this well. The Internet is surely one of the most innovative and fast-moving areas of technology, and one of the best documented. It has no inventor. Instead, it has a massive economy of people who have carefully and progressively solved a long series of immediate problems, documented their answers, and made those available to all.
The innovative nature of the Internet comes not from a small, select band of Einsteins. It comes from RFCs anyone can use and improve, made by hundreds and thousands of smart, though not uniquely smart, individuals. It comes from open source software that anyone can use and improve. It comes from sharing, remixing, and scale of community. It comes from the continuous accretion of good solutions, and the disposal of bad ones.
Here thus is an alternative theory of innovation:
- There is an infinite problem/solution terrain. It is like a landscape of hills and valleys that we are trying to climb. The solutions to interesting problems are at the tops of the hills.
- This terrain changes over time according to external conditions. Mountains can become flat, and new mountains appear, over time.
- We can only accurately perceive problems to which we are close. We do not have very long-range vision, only guesses. Our metaphorical landscape is very misty.
- We can rank the cost/benefit economics of problems using a market for solutions. That is, we can measure how high we are on any given peak.
- There is an optimal solution to any solvable problem. That is, every slope has a top.
- We can approach this optimal solution mechanically, by applying the method of taking a step in some approximately good direction, and seeing whether we are now higher or lower than before.
- Our intelligence can make this process faster, yet does not replace it. Being smarter maybe lets us step faster, or see a little further into the mist, and that's it.
There are a few corollaries to this:
Individual creativity matters less than process. Smarter people may work faster, and they may also work in the wrong direction. It's the collective vision of reality that keeps us honest and relevant.
We don't need road maps if we have a good process. Functionality will emerge and evolve over time as solutions compete for market shares.
We don't invent solutions so much as discover them. All sympathies to the creative soul: it is just an information processing machine that likes to polish its own ego and collect karma.
Intelligence is a social effect, though it feels personal. A person cut off from others eventually stops thinking. We can neither collect problems nor measure solutions without other people.
The size and diversity of the community is a key factor. Larger, more diverse communities collect more relevant problems, solve them more accurately, and do this faster than a small expert group.
So when we trust the solitary experts, they make classic mistakes. They focus on ideas, not problems. They focus on the wrong problems. They make misjudgments about the value of solving problems. And they don't use their own work.
The Collective Intelligence Index, or CII
I'm going to propose a tool to measure the intelligence of a community, in other words, how accurately and efficiently the community is working at any given time. It also measures how enjoyable it will be to participate in the community.
To demonstrate, I'm going to rank a few networks, organizations, websites, and on-line communities. It's not science; it's more like creative abuse of numbers. As everyone knows, 87% of statistics are invented on the spot and 91% of people accept them without question. I've chosen the following victims:
- The fashion industry
- The Nigerian movie industry, aka Nollywood
- The military (in some random western nation)
- The Fox News network
- Lawyers, as a profession
- The Hollywood movie industry
I'm not going to make any judgment about the value of any specific community. It's impossible, and would be deceptive. Twitter's implied mission is "collect the most followers," which sounds weak when compared to Wikipedia's "assemble the world's knowledge." Once formed, a smart and agile crowd can just as easily create new missions like "bring down the dictator." Arguably, the value (to society) of an on-line community is not their products, rather it is the community itself. With Wikipedia or ZeroMQ, it's hard to separate the crowd from the content. With Twitter, it's really obvious. The content is transient and mostly worthless, the crowd is not.
Here's the scorecard I came up with:
| Criteria | Wk | Tw | Rd | Fb | Fa | Nw | Lw | Hw | FN | Ml | | Strong mission | 5 | 3 | 2 | 1 | 2 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 2 | | Free entry | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 0 | 1 | 2 | 2 | | Transparency | 5 | 3 | 5 | 1 | 2 | 1 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 0 | | Free contributors | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 2 | 3 | 3 | 2 | 1 | 0 | | Full remixability | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 4 | 3 | 3 | 1 | 1 | 0 | | Strong protocols | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 3 | 1 | 4 | | Fair authority | 5 | 4 | 5 | 3 | 4 | 3 | 1 | 1 | 0 | 1 | | Non-tribalism | 4 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 3 | 3 | 0 | 2 | 0 | 0 | | Self-organization | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 4 | 2 | 2 | 0 | 0 | | Tolerance | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 3 | 0 | 0 | | Measurable success | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 5 | 5 | 2 | | High scoring | 3 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 3 | 2 | 1 | 1 | | Decentralization | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 1 | 1 | 1 | 0 | 1 | | Free workspaces | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 3 | 2 | 0 | 0 | 0 | 0 | | Smooth learning | 4 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 3 | 3 | 0 | 1 | 0 | 0 | | Regular structure | 5 | 5 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 3 | 3 | 1 | 5 | | Positivity | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 3 | 0 | 2 | 0 | 0 | | Sense of humor | 5 | 5 | 5 | 5 | 2 | 3 | 0 | 1 | 1 | 0 | | Minimalism | 5 | 5 | 4 | 4 | 3 | 4 | 1 | 1 | 3 | 0 | | Sane funding | 5 | 4 | 3 | 3 | 5 | 3 | 3 | 3 | 2 | 2 | | Final score | 96 | 94 | 94 | 84 | 71 | 56 | 28 | 34 | 18 | 20 |
Once we can measure the CII of a community or organization, we can increase it by looking at the tools that score low. In theory, this should make the organization smarter, and its participants happier. Of course it's quite likely that a military organization can only work with a low CII. A smart army would quite likely all go home and switch to Reddit.
This chapter was a handbook for building on-line communities out of little more than insane ambition, using the pop science of Social Architecture. If there's one thing we learned, it's that how we organize matters much more than who we are.
We looked at 20 tools that I've learned are helpful in designing and growing large, healthy wise crowds. These tools came from years of work in politics and free software development.
The overall message of this chapter was essentially humanistic and optimistic. It holds that people are generally good, and will naturally work together to do great things and fix the world. In the next chapter, we'll dig into the dark side of crowds in order to understand why good people can do terrible things when put in the wrong situations.