Friday, April 10, 2009

Virtual Community - Accumulating Knowledge?

Virtual or not, communities can achieve both good and bad things. Community is not just a sum of its members but rules and code of conduct govern interactions in the community. As any enterprise, communities ought to base their rules to basic principles of human psyche. “No rules” is a fitting basis for a cage fight and a fight it will cause, sooner or later.

Community needs a structure and rules to enable members to pursue their agendas and in the process forward goals of the community. Members work for a common goal according to the code of conduct and they are rewarded according to the community rules. Be the reward elevation in community hierarchy (affiliation and power), visibility in press (fame), advantage to their business (money) or advancement of their cause (fulfillment). Without clear rule set the community can soon degenerate to a power game where original goals fall victims to ego and shortsightedness.

Communities need leadership in one form or another. As any living organisms they need coordination. The rules of a community ought to elevate those persons to coordinators who have agenda close to that of community, required knowledge to evaluate decisions, high moral standards and good people skills.

It is important that individuals are respected for their strengths. Typical underachievement of a community is a situation where new members are not valued. Informal community can become fearful of new candidates as the social structures in place are too weak to handle possible destructive individuals. It is also not unheard of that existing members are jealous of their influence and try to discourage new members to protect their status. Rules and code of conduct can effectively discourage such behavior by placing new comers to status of apprentice and under guidance of experienced members. Thus new members become assets instead of potential threats. The code of conduct ought to encourage supportive approach to new members and underline their value.

Members have different skills and knowledge. To accumulate knowledge, solving differences should be logical process based on facts. Accumulating knowledge in a community requires strict logical approach to argumentation and it should be underlined in the code of conduct. Members should be encouraged to argument, listen and learn to enable themselves and the community to gain knowledge. Instead of taking the easy way out the community should acknowledge that in science and engineering one of two sides of an argument is usually more correct. It should also be noted that the right side is not necessarily that of majority. Correct solution can be deduced only by applying the entire thought chain from question to answer. Corruption, hypocrisy and egoism are the evils that lurk in every human soul and threat to blur the process of logical deduction.

Contributing to a community should be enjoyable. The challenge with online communities is the lack of empathic attachment. As it is not possible to exchange expressions, gestures, touch and tone of voice the entire world of subconscious communication is ruled out of the equation. Subconscious communication is basis of trust and friendship. Therefore every member is collaborating with strangers. How much loyalty does anyone feel for a stranger? Hence relationships between members can change daily and the social backbone does not emerge. Strength of the community is not measured by weakest or strongest individual but by the loyalty and friendship between pairs of individuals. Video conferencing, voice chat and live meetings are crucial part of daily routines of a successful online community.

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