07 December 2010

Here Comes Clay Shirky

Another entry in my irregular "What I highlighted and why while reading Here Comes Everybody" series.
To understand the creation of something like a Wikipedia article, you can't look for a representative contributor, because none exists. Instead, you have to change your focus, to concentrate not on the individual users but on the behavior of the collective.

Shirky, chapter 5, pg. 128.
This quote also puts me in mind of Seth Kahan's article in the November issue of Associations Now on building performance communities (actually, I would call them Communities of Practice, but you get the point).

Particularly in the US, it's part of our national mythology to revere the lone hero. But that's rarely reality - people are enmeshed with each other. Most of the time, accomplishing anything meaningful requires the cooperation of other people. Even if one person is the visionary who has the great idea, she almost always needs others to help her make it happen.

The interesting thing that Shirky points up with regards to Wikipedia is that there's room at the table for everyone. Some editors have extremely minimal participation - they get an account to fix a few typos in a particular article and never contribute again. They're not quite lurkers, but almost. And of course, there's a core group of really engaged editors without which the site would not function. But the system itself needs and can accommodate them all.

How does your organization accommodate all levels of contribution? Does a member have to be willing to commit to board or committee service to be involved, or do you make space for all kinds of contributions? What about nonmembers who might want to help? What could you do to broaden the ways people can contribute, engaging larger and larger portions of your audiences?

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