While putting together the list of "Twenty Something and Gen Y Social Change and Nonprofit Bloggers" I couldn't help but reflect back on when I was a twenty something. I wanted to be a professional classical flutist. I was lucky to study with Marcel Moyse, a famous French flutist who was living twenty miles down the road from me in Vermont.
His house/studio was on the top of a small mountain. I climbed the mountain, knocked on his door and asked if he would take me on as student. He turned me down three times before he said yes. (He was in his 80's and retired) For my first lesson, he asked me to prepare a solo Bach sonata.
For my first lesson, I played the piece for him. After about two minutes, he waved his hand and yelled "Stop!"
In a thick French accent, he said,"You cannot play Bach well unless you make yourself like a baby - approach this piece with fresh eyes, like you are playing it for the first time."
That's also an important principle for working wikily. Let me try to explain.
Vicky Davis (CoolCat Teacher) wrote a post two years ago called "Power of the Newbie" (Nancy White had us reflect on it for one of her online community workshops) The term newbie is slang for a newcomer to an Internet activity. It can have derogatory connotations, but is also often used for descriptive purposes only, without a value judgment. Vicky says:
When you are a newbie, you have something that tech-experts do not have: the perspective of a new user.
Finding the project confusing; not sure what I am looking at or where to begin--can you point me the way; not sure what I am looking at?
I had thought about the newcomer experience when we started the project and had created some orientation screencasts using JingProject. However, that was at the beginning of the project when there was less content and fewer people on the expertise map -- so the screencast was confusing because it didn't match the reality of what was there. And, to make matters worse, the screencast, created with the JingProject is in a flash format and the user didn't have the flash plugin installed on their browser!
The subject-matter on the wiki is changing as Qui Diaz points out. But the user support items need to change as the community changes too! As the "wiki gardener," that is an something that should be part of the regular maintenance -- putting on your newbie glasses and revising the support documents.
Seth Godin asks, Should You Ignore the Noobs? I like how he frames confusion in a positive way and I think Seth's suggestion here is also very important. But I don't think we should ignore noobs.
Why not consider making it easy for the confused to ask for help? And treat them with respect when they do. If you don't create a little confusion, it's unlikely you've built something remarkable.
That leads me to questions about how to make it easy for people to jump in mid-stream once there has already been content added. How to make newcomers and others who may be lurking feel comfortable enough to contribute.
I wrote a reflection on the use of incentives for the community engagement module and asked participants to reflect on why they participated. This yielded some excellent insights about wiki participation over time.
- People are really busy. "I am constantly bombarded with to-do's: things I have to do for my job, blog posts I want to read and comment on, new tools I want to try out and research, etc. What the book incentive did for me was to spur me to immediate action, rather than making a mental note to contribute later. Sometimes "later" becomes "never" when the list gets too long."
- Keeping the format open and messy. "The open registration implied that you would be cleaning up the formatting at a later date which for me at least, helped overcome the concern that I was adding content where it didn't belong, toying with the structure in a way different than what you'd requested."
- Desire to belong to community. "Contribution was made out of sense of wanting to belong to community and desire to contribute to work that benefits me/my work. Potential prize was only a bonus"
Amy Sample Ward wrote an entire blog post about the challenges of the facilitating a collaborative project and offering some excellent guidance on facilitation techniques. She writes about the challenges:
If you have ever worked on a collaborative project, especially in a wiki, you may have noticed participants that only lurk in the shadows, contributors who burn out, conversations that get abandoned, or even just an overall loss of momentum as people revert to sending individual emails or not participating at all.
Amy's comment connects with something I happen to stumble upon Gartner's virtual community behavior matrix. They describe participation segments as:
- Up to 3% will be creators, providing original content. They can be advocates that promote products and services.
- Between 3% and 10% will be contributors who add to the conversation, but don’t initiate it. They can recommend products and services as customers move through a buying process, looking for purchasing advice.
- Between 10% and 20% will be opportunists, who can further contributions regarding purchasing decisions. Opportunists can add value to a conversation that’s taking place while walking through a considered purchase.
- Approximately 80% will be lurkers, essentially spectators, who reap the rewards of online community input but absorb only what is being communicated. They can still implicitly contribute and indirectly validate value from the rest of the community. All users start out as lurkers.
This might be an interesting benchmark to gauge participation - or at least give you some realistic expectations for participation.
Amy points out the challenges from the point of view of the organizer or facilitator:
- Managing participation of topic-related experts as the list of participants grows over time (and perhaps after the most applicable topic for him or her passes): As more attention is given to the project across the blogosphere and elsewhere, more people who want to contribute sign on to the wiki. It’s great to get more people involved, but it can be difficult for an organizer to be managing so many different areas of interest and expertise once the project modules are underway.
- Maintaining a natural flow or progression of topics within the wiki: Working wikily can sometimes mean that too many side conversations and tangents turn into stranded pages or that pages get started for a topic that seems important but folks lose track of it. Maintaining an orderly flow of information has really kept this project wiki to a manageable and navigable resource.
- Making it easy for very busy people to contribute beneficial information and knowledge efficiently: If you create it, they won’t necessarily come. Or, if they do, they may not hang out long and contribute. People, even if they are the ‘experts’ in the topic, are busy. A very effective approach is to send an email or Twitter message (or any other tool you are using to ping the participants) that asks a specific question and links to the exact area where you want the information entered. Basically, think of ways to make it hard for your participants to NOT contribute!
The early idea for the project included just two tracks - strategic and tactical, with the latter including a lot of information about specific social media tools. I separated the tools from tactical, but wonder now about combining them. (I'm thinking about something like this and wonder if it would lend itself to what Michelle Martin suggests here?) When we started the idea was the roll out a module at a time and work on it for a week. This is has been good for the first six - but I wonder how to sustain it.
All this to end with some reflection questions:
- How to harness the power of the newbie as a community?
- How to balance quantity with quality of participation?
- How to deepen the level of community participation - moving adding small snippets or points to collaborative writing. Dave Cormier touches on the issue of community responsibility.
- How to sustain collaborative participation over time?