In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams
, a baseball-obsessed Iowa farmer (played by Kevin Costner) has repeated auditory hallucinations consisting of the single sentence, "If you build it, they will come."
He acts on the hallucination by creating a baseball diamond in his corn fields, complete with bleachers and stadium lighting, to the consternation of his neighbors and family. After the diamond is complete, however, ghostly baseball players (the uneasy spirits of the disgraced 1919 Black Sox team) emerge at night to play on the field. The same neighbors and friends who discounted the idea as crazy come to watch the games. Eventually, everyone -- ghosts, farmer, family, friends -- learns valuable lessons about life, love, baseball, and other sentimental subjects.
IYBITWC is a phenomenon of online communities, too.
- A community founder's SeedPosting is much like the leap of faith that the farmer makes. With no guarantee of success, reward, or sometimes even a definite goal, the founder puts work into creating a tool or space.
- There's the almost preternatural way that a public space created on the Internet will attract participation. For the founder or creator of the space, participants seem to emerge from the corn fields of the Internet without obvious cause, and contribute to the space for no apparent reason.
- On the negative side, there's the idea that once founders have created a space or tool, the community will "just happen". This is often the cause of the AbsentLeader syndrome -- the expectation that a founder's participation isn't necessary after FirstRelease?. Sometimes, a founder will give up on the community entirely -- "Nobody cares enough" -- and become embittered and angry. Their field of dreams never happened, and it proves that the phenomenon doesn't exist.
IYBITWC is more of a myth than anything else. Why does this myth arise?
- Most of the things a founder has to do, outside of creating the space in the first place, are relatively invisible. Promoting the community, making allies among other communities, recruiting members, etc., are background tasks that don't often show up on the radar of the site.
- Many founders are modest and don't want to appear as a GodKing.
- Many founders are immodest, but want their achievement to be remembered as having created a community that was needed and wanted, and not as having done the social grunt work necessary to get that community off the ground. In an economy of ideas, having recognized and filled the need is considered more of a virtue than having put in time or hard work.
- Many founders come from geek backgrounds, where technical skills are honored and social skills are deemphasized. The skill of creating a community is a social one, associated with marketing geeks and CEO types. If the founder is a geek, he or she may credit the initial programming, system administration, or other skills necessary to create the community, and ignore or downplay the more nebulous social ones.
- Community participation depends on community ownership. If the founder overemphasizes his participation, he can stifle that feeling of ownership, and stifle its growth. Founders have to balance their effort with a disclaimer of making any effort, instead giving credit to the ghostly community for whatever occurs in the space.
There's an interesting parallel with FreeSoftware projects. The myth of Free Software posits the hero working in obscurity and creating a fabulous product, then springing it on the world to universal acclaim and acceptance. The reality -- that projects don't just become miraculous successes the day after the first release, and that most free software project creators have to spend years fine-tuning, fixing, and enhancing a program before it becomes an Apache, a Linux, or a perl.
Summary of Perspectives
- LionKimbro: If you make a wiki that is "needed," people and content are likely to follow. You can bring traffic sooner by seeding the wiki (ContentAndCommunity,SeedPosting,) inviting people to come, implementing rapid-response technologies, and integrating into the local WikiNodes:WikiNodesNetwork?.
The conventional wisdom is that "If you Build It, They Will Come" is bad thinking.
I disagree strongly, and it's been a recent theme lately, hence the new page.
Meatball already has such a page, but it doesn't represent my ideas and/or thinking.
Once we have a bunch of perspectives in here, we can integrate them together, and make a final perspective.
A wiki is "needed" if:
- The subject is suited for wiki. See: WhenToUseWiki.
- The subject isn't already covered by a similar perpective on an existing wiki. (This includes Wikipedia.) That is, if WikiCannonicalization? hasn't already taken root for the subject.
I posit that if a wiki is needed, and you build it, then they will come. Eventually.
This is InternetConcentration in motion.
You can speed along the development of a community by:
However, I don't think you have to do many of these things. If the wiki is needed, people are likely to eventually find it, and connect with it.
I believe we should encourage people to build wiki. There are still TooFewWiki. There are many cases where IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome is true.
Oh, look. I type "robotics wiki" into google. And I find one! On February 5th, somebody made the robotics wiki. DavidCary and I were talking on the phone the other day about wanting to see a robotics wiki.
Some context might help. For instance, I believe that if a group of people can be called a "team", and 1 person would find it helpful to have a space to document his own work, then he should have a wiki.
- OK, a counter-example: if there are similar-enough tools already widely used in the group, where adding yet another medium will just piss people off. In this environment a wiki might be superior, but you'll really need to sell people on it before you even put it up.
- but this isn't that common a case: more often there is email and nothing else.
it can be very difficult to get people to switch from tools with which they are familiar, even if the tools don't do the job all that well. lots of people seem to need special incentives, and for those just "building it" won't be enough, they need to have balloons and ice cream and clowns before they'll even look at it. HeatherJames
just relayed such an experience on IRC. oh, and MurrayAltheim
was talking about that too; he couldn't manage to get a group of people online, even though the in-person meetings they had were not doing the job well enough -- there was clearly a need, but no action resulted from presentation of other options. IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome
might only work (without extra effort) with people who're already ready and eager to involve themselves in something new.
I agree it's hard. My point is that fewer people need "To Come" than might be "ideal" and you can still get some benefit. One practice is to answer a question with "it's on the wiki" (if you want to be nice you can tell them the specific page-name). A WikiWithOneUserIsBetterThanNoWikiAtAll?.
-heh-. oh yeah; i am infatuated with wikis right now, so of course i think a wiki with one user is better than no wiki at all. i was just contemplating that one might need to come up with extra incentives to get people involved in using a new tool, beyond just building it and pointing them at it. sorry for being unclear.
Yep, we agree on that. My further point is that having a wiki already-in-operation can be a stronger method of pulling people in than doing a generic demo and abstract discussion.
So, I think I'm the "conventional wisdom" here. I just want to defend it for a second.
It's really easy to think that setting up a space is enough to build a community. I don't think it is. I think it takes effort to promote the space, to attract a community, and to make it happen. I've seen this in meatspace and cyberspace too many times to think it untrue.
It's pretty magical, the way people will drift in from the Internet and make a community for you. But there's a point at which you have to make some effort, nurture the community, find fellow travelers in netspace, and kickstart things.
Would it help saying that the builder's metaphor does not work here?
I mean ....: to achieve a community - in building metaphor terms - would imply that a subset of all types of (possible) dwellers of what is going to be built are allowed to mess around the construction site from the (T zero?) very beginning, would it not?
I would also challenge the community achievement purpose of this page ... by suggesting something like, e.g.: ... if you want to achieve (say ..) cross-platform/cultural interoperability .... you've got to be (a member of) a (multilingual) community ....
but ... the community should be assembled by the sharing of the objective ... not by the availability of a community building platform ....
which turns everything upside down : IfWeGetTogetherWeWillBuildIt? ??
maybe the ... neutral territory ... mentioned in FracturedDemocracyBuilding could help achieving the upside down turning effect ?? Can we share a perception of a .... neutral territory ... ?? I am still believing something like it may shape up (also) from a TranslationGateway type of work in progress ..
Maybe this is just a difference in degrees of emphasis.
I want to say, "Great! You've set up your space. Now call up your friends, and tell them about it. Post a note to mailing lists where people might be interested, and post a note to usenet. Write about it in your blog. Then engage people as they come in."
Everywhere I go, I see people making communities. It just seems to be a thing that people do. I would like to preserve a feeling of naturalness in our write-up.
Actually, I think the main thing I wanted to say with the Meatball article was that the magic really does happen. I can't express how blessed I feel that people from all over the world have taken my and Maj's idea of having a free, user-edited travel guide and breathed life into it. Yet at the same time, it's not magic -- it's the outcome of some real legwork. There's an opportunity on the Internet for making communities that can change the world, but you have to take that opportunity and make it work.
Anyhow, I copied over the Meatball article, since I wrote it, and removed the See also.
I think we want to say:
- The Internet provides near-mystical opportunity for creating communities.
- But you have to take that opportunity and run with it.
- We encourage the creation of new wiki.
- A wiki with one user is better than no wiki at all.
- Once you've made a wiki, get the word out there. Don't be shy.
- Perform SeedPosting.
If we're talking about promoting wiki in a project space, I would make that it's own page.