Talk:AOC Introduction

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The introduction entices the reader by talking about benefits that well-known projects have achieved through community, but it would be nice also to convey some of the urgency that companies and groups feel about pulling off the same feat themselves. O'Reilly has companies asking us how they can create community. A little bit of "This is what community-building can do for you" wouldn't hurt, if it's gracefully done.

Another typical task of the opening chapter of a book is to set all the other chapters in context.

We should introduce the risks of community as well its benefits. A colleague told me that he bought a Saturn and was impressed that the company invited him to a barbecue held for Saturn owners; there were a couple hundred Saturn owners from his area there. I pointed out that Saturn had better be damn sure the owners like their product and service--what could be worse than holding a barbecue where people did nothing but bad-mouth the company? In short, creating community says something about your impression of yourself and your ability to withstand public scrutiny.

Another risk is that once you set up a community, you have to manage it. It can quickly become a dupming ground or battleground (remember the LA Times's first experience with user comments?).

I'm an orderly thinker, which sometimes is good for writing and sometimes is not. But I think it might be useful to describe different levels of participation in a list. These range at the bottom to providing a comment form or rating system (as hotel and restaurant sites do) up to completely community-controlled projects.

Related to this hierarchy of contribution are the different ways that contributions are combined, which you cover later in the sections "User Generated Content Community Collaboration" and "Online Content Collaboration." These may be just one aspect of the hierarchy. These sections could go earlier, and for good measure you could fold in the related material that you now have as a separate section, "Building on the ideas of others."

There are other stages between user-contributed content and collaboration. For instance, rating systems let people filter each other's contributions. Citizen journalism involves people picking up other people's comments, adding their own spin, and propagating the mix further through the blogosphere. You show examples of these various levels of integrated content, but I would like different levels to be clearly delineated. Somewhere in here come mash-ups as another level: sites offering easy interfaces that let other sites manipulate their content.

If you organize contributions into a hierarchy as I suggest, you can find better places to put the sections that are currently scattered rather arbitrarily (another example is "Comment Discussion Collaboration"). The hierarchy won't be perfect and will have some arbitrarily elements of its own, but an organized chapter can provide provide lessons through the organization that enhance the lessons of each section.

The current organization also takes the reader by surprise a couple times. You use open source collaboration several times for examples early in the chapter, than introduce it suddenly again, as if it were a new topic, after the "User-Centered Innovation Communities" section. Putting "User-Centered Innovation Communities" first makes sense; open source is an example of such communities. But you should organize the chapter so that you introduce a concept before referring to it in detail.

The bee analogy is nice, but a fairer contrast would be not a small dog, but a porcupine. A porcupine with wings. I'm not saying you should stretch the metaphor past the breaking point, but just that bees have certain obvious advantages besides swarming behavior that you didn't cite.

Peer review of academic papers: this is a natural precedent to cite, but there are two important differences between it and open source. First, the referees are to some extent in conflict with the author; it's unavoidable although everybody recognizes the necessity of the review. Second, the paper remains the sole work of the author no matter how much advice he/she takes from the referees. Open source pools all contributions, and it tends to be seen as a group effort even if 75% of the code was written by one person.

Instead of titling a section "Public source code," I'd stay more general. Title a section "The importance of transparency." Then use open source code as a prime example of its necessity. You could then explain that transparency is achieved in other ways on other projects. For instance, if contributors are rated, the system used to rate them should be clearly described. Also, people on such communities are often asked to carry on all discussions in the community, and not to use back channels for topics that pertain to the community.

The "Social and Event Collaboration" section is very short and should say a lot more about the relation between online and face-to-face community-building (the topic Kaliya Hamlin will cover). The Well is a famous early example of a community spanning both worlds, and Facebook began as a way to tie campus life together. Effective long-term political action seems to demand face-to-face work.

There are probably more aspects of communities that can be added at the end (in addition to global reach, diversity, and anonymity), and I'll think about them later.Andyo 14:39, 12 November 2007 (PST)

You make a lot of great points, and I agree that the intro still needs a ton of work. When I wrote the initial content, I thought it would be the second chapter focused on benefits of a community. As we talked about the intro, I realized that this chapter had about 50-75% of what we needed in the intro. The real work now is re-purposing it to include the other elements of an intro. Feel free to take a shot at the organization if you get a chance. If not, I can probably spend some quality time on it this weekend. I'll also start working on some of the other changes you suggested. Foster 12:27, 12 November 2007 (PST)

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