Communication, Collaboration and Community


A placeholder for some areas where I want to refresh my knowledge of current thinking

  • Communication, collaboration and community in online networks – what builds social capital? And what else?
  • Gamification as a tool for motivating productive behaviour in online networks
  • The factors that balance individual skill / knowledge with social capital within organisations and professions


Can paragogy help technology production?

A sticky idea…

Howard Rheingold has thrown up a new idea – Peeragogy – which has found a sticky resting place in my brain.

In a blog post written as a pre-cursor to his 2011 Regents’ Lecture at the University of California, Berkeley he reflects on his experience to date with collaborative learning, and sets out the stall for his next project – to collaboratively create a guide to collaborative peer-to-peer learning:

I’m calling it “peeragogy.” While “paragogy” is more etymologically correct, “peeragogy” is self-explanatory. In my lecture, I’ll explain the evolution of my own pedagogy and reveal some of what I’ve discovered in the world of online self-organized learning. Then I will invite volunteers to join me in a two week hybrid of face-to-face seminars and online discussion. Can we self-organize our research, discover, summarize, and prioritize what is known through theory and practice, then propose, argue, and share a tentative resource guide for peeragogical groups? In theory, those who use our guide to pursue their own explorations can edit the guide to reflect new learning.

This idea has definitely struck a chord with me – and slightly tongue in cheek I tweeted:

Is it me, or is #peeragogy about doing learning in the way a lot of “real” work is done?

More going on

As is so often the way, I then read further to discover that someone else had not only spotted the connection but grounded it with references. Rheingold acknowledges the work of Joe Corneli and Charles Danoff, who have termed this area of study Paragogy, have co-authored a paper on it, and are writing a book. In their paper Corneli and Danoff make an explicit link between Paragogy and Peer Production.

Relating this to technology production

When I tweeted, what I had in mind were the complex loops of idea exchange implicit in any kind of technical product development (either for external customers or internal company users):


Most, if not all, of these conversations imply some sort of mutual learning:

  • what sorts of things might surprise, delight or downright disappoint the customer/user
  • what sort of product and business model might work
  • what are the technical options
  • what does the industry provide
  • how can we adapt the current technology to meet the needs
  • what would we like the industry to develop next
  • and so on…..

If the future of work is learning, or more bluntly work is learning- so what, how can we exploit the developments in paragogical theory and practice to make such work work better?

My questions

it’s turtles all the way down, but a few starter questions that spring to mind are:

  • does treating these processes as learning exercises lead to better performance? (and how might we measure that?)
  • what support do teams need to surface learning goals around their work?
  • what team and organisation culture will best support rapid learning?
  • how beneficial is it to make the learning explicit?

Right now this is mostly a “lightbulb” – I need to do more thinking and have some dialogue to explore further.

if any of this strikes a chord with you, please comment.

Web-based Mindmapping

Until now, mind-mapping has been one of the key aspects of information-management that has not been well-supported on the web.

Granted, Freemind has been platform-neutral since the beginning (through its use of Java), and somewhat-integrated with WikkaWiki, but this still very much relies on an individual providing their own server-based architecture. Other tools such as word-processing, calendaring and spreadsheets have had web-based incarnations for a while, but my frustration has been the lack of a truly web-enabled mind-mapping tool: on the desktop I now use MindManager as my core tool for organising and creating information, dropping out to other applications only when a specific treatment of information is required.

At last, companies are rising to the opportunity of this gap in the market – the two best known being Mindomo and MindMeister (still in private beta – subscribe to newsletter to get invitation). Chuck Frey has just published a first feature-comparison of these plus and Thinkature (although as Chuck points out, the latter two are not really mind-mapping in the traditional sense).

Chuck’s initial conclusions show that the two main products are taking different approaches to development – Mindomo seems to be focusing on UI features whereas MindMeister is providing a basic feature set coupled with good ability to import and export from/to other applications and websites. The collaboration model seems to be different too, with MindMeister offering real–time shared editing.

It will be interesting to see what happens to these products – my guess at the moment is that they will appeal to slightly different groups for whom the differing feature sets create a value distinction. Extrapolating from the sorts of things that people do already, both on- and off-line, I think there are two main sorts of workflows for which these online maps wil be suited:

  1. Long-term collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst a group, where the Mindmap becomes the primary repository; and
  2. Dynamic brainstorming, possibly primed with information prepared offline, and where the results of the collaboration are taken away for further work.

On the face of it, although both tools could do either, Mindomo seems to be heading in a direction best-suited to approach 1, whilst MindMeister looks to be a good fit for approach 2 as well. Obviously these workflows are not decoupled, rather they are places on a continuum, but it will be interesting to see which gains most traction first.

One of my main concerns about using an online service such as these is the stability and security of the offering – none of us wants to invest time in creating information only to find that the platform we have used for storing and sharing it has evaporated overnight. (Nick Duffill makes a related point) For that reason I suspect that workflows nearer to (2) will be the better initial match for these online mindmapping tools, which in theory should give MindMeister an advantage. Let’s see!


Eric Blue has issued a call for action for a common mind-mapping file format, and Kayuda is another online product that looks worthy of investigation…

Dream weblog / wiki tool

“Lilia Efimova”: is writing about her “dream weblog / wiki tool”: Some really interesting ideas about how to combine the tools to support her “favoured approach”: of blog to capture inital thoughts and wiki to refactor into output documents. I think the only factor I would add would be good support for an integrated drawing tool in both the blog and wiki – many systems-related ideas are much easier to convey in pictures than words…

Collaboration Pattern: Lightning Conductor

When I “blogged”: “Sam Ruby’s”: “slides”: from his “presentation”: at “ETCon”: on lessons learned from running the “!Echo wiki”: I noted that I thought he had hit on the basics of several collaboration patterns.

I’ve put together the first draft of “LightningConductor”: (named in honour of the metaphor “Sam uses”:


Lightning Conductor


Group of people working collaboratively on a project or problem, especially if they are from diverse backgrounds or interest groups.


Discussions become emotionally-charged, often in a negative way. Some people may deliberately act in ways that impede or disrupt the group effort. The “HiddenAgenda”: “antipattern”: may be apparent.


* Perceived historical slights
* Vested interests
* Unwillingness to negotiate over desired local outcomes in interest of better overal lresult
* Lack of training / experience with collaborative working
* Malicious intent from some


One or more members of the group adopt the role of Lightning Conductor – allowing themselves to be seen as representative of the overall effort, allowing themselves to be made a target for emotional attacks and choosing their responses carefully to avoid escalation.

*Resulting Context*

The negative emotional energy of the collaboration is discharged and diffused, allowing work to proceed more effectively. Many participants find it possible to work constructively together once they have expressed their negative feelings or concerns. Others, who perhaps had malicious intent, will become frustrated at the lack of a matching emotional response and drift away in search of more responsive prey.

Wiki Lessons Learned

“Sam Ruby”: has posted the “slides”: from his “presentation”: at “ETCon”: on lessons learned from running the “!Echo wiki”: He notes:

bq.: If you have a coherently aligned and focused community, a wiki can be a very powerful thing, allowing collaboration to proceed at an astounding pace.
If you have a community in imperfect alignment, a wiki will accurately reflect this state. Given a group with a genuine desire to align, a wiki can provide a powerful and positive feedback loop.
But what happens when you have an unbounded community with divergent goals?

He also mentions the enormous energy that has gone in to the project, resulting in over 1000 pages on the Wiki – some of that energy is deliberately disruptive or destructive – resulting in the need for a role he describes:

bq.: In addition to host, a role that I have played is one of lightning rod. A number of hurtful and untrue things have been said about me, and the company I work for.
“A grounded metal rod placed high on a structure to prevent damage by conducting lightning to the ground.”
Note the recurring theme of energy production, absorption, and dissipation…

He compares the characteristics of “mailing lists”: and “blogs”: with the wiki; flags the importance of “snapshots”: ;and concludes with the following lessons:

# “Time counts”:
# “Cultivate contributors”:
# “Use a mix of strategies”:

It strikes me that there are some good candidate “collaboration patterns”: here – I’ll play around on the “Synesthesia wiki”: and blog when I have some drafts…