The idea that pre-Internet/off-line organizations (“CommunityOnline”) will experience difficulties as they inevitably move into the public space of the online world (“OnlineCommunity.”)

Organizations that do not interact substantially with the public will become irrelevant, because people will only really respect those organizations that do so. (Meanwhile, the public is struggling to learn to organize itself online.) Organizations that do interact substantially with the public will lose part of their identity, because a large portion of it will belong to and be sustained by an amorphous “public.”

The boundaries and concept of “membership” is likely to change. Work is likely to move towards public visibility and public accountability. Redundant organizations will likely start working in the same space in the public, and co-mingling may be largely unavoidable. People will belong to many organizations.

The dilemma for the organization is figuring out how to respond to these things that are simultenously threats and fulfilments of dreams.


Just a discussion for now.

And just a casual observation at that.

It seems like large organizations that consider themselves liberal-ish and for-the-public now face a dilemma of sorts.

“Do we put our content in wiki, and make it so people can edit it, or do we close everything off- members only?”

If they make everything closed off and members only, then they will quickly become irrelevant, as something that is open to the public will be perceived as such, and embraced. People can tell.

But if the large organization opens up things to the public, with a PublicRefineryProcess, and various ScratchWiki, CommunalWiki, and ManagedWiki, then there is an interesting question: Who are our members?

It used to be easy:

People have limited time. There are brick buildings people go into, and discuss around a table what to do. You organize people to make pamphlets and booklets and stuff. You sell the booklets, and you hand out the pamphlets. You need to pay someone to coordinate this stuff full time.

But now people want to participate. They want to see what’s going around inside. They want to add to pages.

They don’t necessarily want to join some membership. If you do that, they’ll just join the existing open ship, or start it if it isn’t there. And it’ll be effective, too.

So there are two struggles.

The organizations are figuring out how to open themselves up with a process that the public calls “fair,” and the non-organizations are figuring out how to organize themselves and how to make fair process.

There are sweeping generalizations being made here, of course, and that’s going to throw people off. But get the feeling of what I’m saying.

There are organizations, right now, on the web, trying to set up wiki. They want to participate with the public. They just don’t know what this means. They don’t know how to do it. And they’re wondering, “Gee, can people really use a wiki? Do people really want to?” And they’re wondering, “Can wiki possibly work?” I sense that it’s making people nervous, too.

Obviously, I’m for the process. But this is no comfortable thing we’re doing. It’s a struggle. Not as in a fight, but more like as in sex; There is definitely a part of sex that is like struggle. Beg pardon of those who’ve never had sex before.

I think ultimately, these large organizations will be of types:

  • Those that figure it out.
  • Those that don’t.

The ones that figure it out will be transformed.

They will still be organizations. There will be members that make payments, because they, ultimately, care about the organization that they’re working for.

These organizations, however, will be much more engaged with the public. They’ll be much more transparent.

There will be clear means of communication to and from the organization, and there will be explicit steps of membership.

They will probably start using OpenSpace when they meet. The meetings will be larger- perhaps vastly larger.

Memberships will rise, not decline. Membership will be a way of promoting your post, and a security mechanism as well. Everyone’ll be able to rework the wiki, but the fair process that evolves will likely include recognition (and justification for!) the seperation.

I know this, because I can name 30 memberships I’d like to belong to and work with, but I am excluded from because they’re still on the brick & morter ball and chain. “Uh,… we need to ask you for $1,000 a year, so that we can have our newsletter..”

Also, another part of this dilemma large organizations face is that they’re going to be finding that they’re redundant.

Fortunately, as we see restructuring, they’ll become more liquid, and so it’s going to be easy to merge them together.

Organizations that don’t figure it out: Oh, well. Who cares about them. Everyone’s just going to forget about them. “Oh, that’s cute- they want us to send them our physical mail address, and $15, so that they can mail the newsletter to us! Well, I’m off to edit such-and-such page…”

Does anyone else perceive this? Am I alone in noting this?

Here are some specific ways that an organization can open itself up:

  • See if there are any existing wiki on the topics that they are interested in. If so, make themselves and their intentions in wiki space known. Start a dialog to work out the community interactions. Nobody in the world knows how this is going to work out in the end.
  • Start a few ScratchWiki / CommunalWiki.
  • Start a few ManagedWiki.
  • (According to the pattern of HubAndSpokeWikis.) (Eventually, we’ll just have all this stuff automated in software.)
  • Copyleft the wiki. There is a coming expectation of fairness, and copylefting (or just plain putting into the public domain) is part of that expectation.
  • Invite public participation on the principle wiki. Members should start using the wiki to post papers and materials- works in progress, finished products- doesn’t matter. Turn the public medium(s) into the principle communications systems, as much as possible. For stuff that must be in HiddenSpace?, for tactical purposes (like GlobalFlashMob organizing), have in HiddenSpace?. Everything else, public.

For example, suppose you’re an organization dedicated to- I don’t know- US Civil War history.

What you do is you start putting little notes at the bottom of your static web pages telling how to edit what’s there. Have those static pages link back to a wiki, with the text portions of the page on it. Let people in the public rework the pages behind the static pages.

Maybe you have 3 Internet sites (hereafter referred to as “publications.”) Have the three wiki behind the sites cross-reference one another, and have a central coordination wiki, linked to your existing mailing list(s). Encourage people to go from the mailing list to the wiki. This will be a learning process- you want to get the sympathetic elements onto the wiki first, seeding it up. Then you want to invite people to participate more, as the technology develops, and people become more comfortable with what is there.

There will probably be some conflicts. Perhaps the public thinks a page should be dramatically different, and some old historical problem comes to light, or something like that. Be fair. That is the critical thing. If you aren’t fair, then what you end up with is another organization. People will come to join the organizations that are fair, rather than the organizations that are not. They will not be interested in contributing their work to an organization that will control it in a way that they cannot influence.

What is interesting is that if two organizations do this on the exact same subject, with very few differences between them, then they are likely to turn into just one thing. (I think this will happen.) Or, if they don’t turn into just one thing, they will start to directly mirror one another, as participants move information from one and put it onto the other, and from the the other onto the first. The structures, which are now hard rock, will become more of a goo, and then finally water, and they will mix.

It any large organization wants some help in opening up, I’d like to help. Call me at 206.440.0247; I don’t seem to get around to reading my e-mail any more.

Lion, if they do … could we put up a CW demo of some services that would help them to take off ?
I can see clusters of delocalized Operations Departments about to crop up, manned by translators .. for instance …
What i can see would be very exciting … even if does not look “feasible” :(

”…Does anyone else perceive this? Am I alone in noting this?…”

I’m perceiving this exactly the way you do and I name this situation CommunityOnline. OnlineCommunity and CommunityOnline seem like two large movements with different problems and cultures that are somehow bound to converge. A CommunityOnline largely neglects the experiences and necessities that have been found obvious for frutiful communication and development online. A OnlineCommunity largely neglects the experiences and necessities that have been found obvious in the human history of offline communities. Still these two movements are bound to one public “physical” space where people, energy and ideas are free to move. That means they must come into an equilibrium and converge over time, which seems to become a painful process that will change a lot of organizations and institutions fundamentally. – HelmutLeitner

Those are a great pair of names. I think those are just the names we should use.


Define external redirect: HiddenSpace

EditNearLinks: CommunityOnline OnlineCommunity