Presentation: Architectures for Conversation at IA Summit

This is the version I eventually ended up with after a couple of iterations. See the original post about the talk & my plans for it down below the presentation box.
This was made before Slideshare got better with PDF slides that included notes, so you may need to bring it up in full screen or download the original.

Original (outdated) announcement post with some links to research and stuff below:
iasummit2007 badge

I haven’t officially posted about this yet, so I may as well. At this year’s IA Summit, I’m going to be giving a presentation called
Architectures of Participation: What Communities of Practice Can Mean for IA

Here’s the description:

“Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” – Cory Doctorow

How can Information Architecture address the increasing demand for collaborative work, meaningful conversation and social connection? We’ll explore how “Community of Practice” is more than just a 90s knowledge-management buzz-phrase. It’s an important model for understanding group behavior – and one that’s becoming crucial to designing in the age of Wikipedia, MySpace and YouTube.

Understanding communities of practice as a phenomenon can lend a great deal of clarity to designing frameworks for participation: creating the right conditions for particular kinds of collective effort.

We’ll gain an essential understanding of “communities of practice,” looking at “IA” as a handy example. We’ll then examine how the concept helps us design for a variety of collaborative environments – from intranets and medical forums to multiplayer games.

Any new information, notes, files, etc, I’ll be keeping in this post, using it as the presentation’s “home” on my blog.

Lots of goodies below the fold …


How To Design for a Community of Practice?

One of the main goals of my presentation is to give a useful summary of the best thinking on how to design for the CoPs; there’s not much out there that addresses this specifically, but since (as I contend) CoPs are a species that’s part of the “Organic Social Network” genus, I think we can use much of what’s being written about best practices for managing emergent social systems in general (social “Web 2.0” environments).

EDITED TO ADD: However, it turned out that in order to do a good job of explaining CoPs and the context that makes them important, plus what it means for IA to be one, there wasn’t time to dig much into all of this amazing information. I ended up having to summarize it at a very very high level. But you should check out all this great info anyway.

One thing that happened while at the conference was that I attended a session on “Social IA” … and it was terrific. It managed to cover a ton of the best practices that are mentioned in all the research below.

Gene Smith: Social IA Workshop Slides
Tom Vander Wal: Tagging/Folksonomy and InfoCloud Presentations
Rashmi Sinha: Design for Social IA Workshop Presentation


IBM:Evolving Communities of Practice
Good whitepaper/case study from IBM.

Earlier link for this next one broke — here’s the ‘official’ link citation site, but it’d be nice if there were a working link to the pdf.
Communities of Practice: Going Virtual

Where is the Action in Virtual CoPs?

These papers discuss the challenges of virtual CoPs

Moderation Strategies Wiki
Most recently updated in January 2007. Clay Shirky’s project that he announced in an excellent talk at E-Tech last year. (See notes at O’Reilly Radar.)
Also supported for a couple of months last year in the Moderation_Strategies yahoo group.

WikiPatterns Wiki

A great resource, with more activity than Shirky’s patterns wiki. It’s focused more specifically on Wiki patterns, but it has a lot of great discussion on what works best in a wiki-like environment. Amazing how many things are still up for debate — it seems many design choices are dependent on context. (So what else is new?)

Tim O’Reilly’s “Architecture of Participation” Post from 2004

This architectural insight may actually be more central to the success of open source than the more frequently cited appeal to volunteerism. The architecture of Linux, the Internet, and the World Wide Web are such that users pursuing their own “selfish” interests build collective value as an automatic byproduct. In other words, these technologies demonstrate some of the same network effect as eBay and Napster, simply through the way that they have been designed.

These projects can be seen to have a natural architecture of participation. But as Amazon demonstrates, by consistent effort (as well as economic incentives such as the Associates program), it is possible to overlay such an architecture on a system that would not normally seem to possess it.

O’Reilly’s Definition of Web 2.0 – The Concise Version

Here, TO’R mentions a number of ‘rules’ that one can think of as foundational to designing for organic networks:

[The main rule that the rest, to a degree, follow from:]
Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them. (This is what I’ve elsewhere called “harnessing collective intelligence.”) [or as Eric Schmidt as said, “Don’t fight the Internet.”]
[The rest …]
1. Don’t treat software as an artifact, but as a process of engagement with your users. (“The perpetual beta”)

2. Open your data and services for re-use by others, and re-use the data and services of others whenever possible. (“Small pieces loosely joined”)

3. Don’t think of applications that reside on either client or server, but build applications that reside in the space between devices. (“Software above the level of a single device”)

4. Remember that in a network environment, open APIs and standard protocols win, but this doesn’t mean that the idea of competitive advantage goes away. (Clayton Christensen: “The law of conservation of attractive profits”)

5. Chief among the future sources of lock-in and competitive advantage will be data, whether through increasing returns from user-generated data (eBay, Amazon reviews, audioscrobbler info in, email/IM/phone traffic data as soon as someone who owns a lot of that data figures out that’s how to use it to enable social networking apps, GPS and other location data), through owning a namespace (Gracenote/CDDB, Network Solutions), or through proprietary file formats (Microsoft Office, iTunes). (“Data is the Intel Inside”)

Andrew McAfee’s Work on Enterprise 2.0
That’s just one link from him, but it does the basic job of defining “Enterprise 2.0” which, to my mind, has a lot of overlap with how social software works for communities of practice. With a key difference that CoPs can happen outside of the enterprise; and when they do happen in the enterprise, it’s not according to enterprise structures or boundaries.
He distinguishes between general social software (Flickr, MySpace, etc which aren’t for particular companies) and more particular business/enterprise-related software spaces. I think CoP software can live inbetween these (I can easily see a CoP using the ‘group’ feature on Flickr to share and improve their knowledge collectively.) But this description below is pretty good for any ‘organic network’ software environment.

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities. (Wikipedia’s definition).

Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.

Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contans mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time.

Freeform means that the software is most or all of the following:

* Optional
* Free of up-front workflow
* Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
* Accepting of many types of data

In another post later (this year) he further refines these points:

* Build platforms, not channels
* Make sure they’re initially freeform
* Build in mechanisms for emergence. These mechanisms include links, tags, powerful search, and in the case of prediction markets prices and bid/ask spreads.

He then paraphrases some of O’Reilly’s thoughts with this:

Tim’s emphasis on network effects highlights the importance of common platforms rather than fragmented and mutually inaccessible ones, and also reveals a ‘secret ingredient’ for platform designers: make sure your offerings get better as more people use them. This will turn people from mere users into evangelists, and from fragmenters into unifiers.

And in another post on to what degree IT should structure these environments within a corporation, McAfee says:

Large groups of strangers are coming together on the Web, interacting productively, and generating some very valuable outputs without encountering a lot of obvious workflow, gatekeeping, credentialing, or oversight when they try to join in and start contributing.

So here’s the obvious question: why should employees of the same organization require or benefit from more of these constraints than a large bunch of strangers scattered across the Web?

It seems to me that collaboration within companies should be more freeform than Internet-wide collaboration. After all, employees share a common culture, and can be easily identified and brought back into line if they violate norms behind the firewall. These facts imply to me that employees can usually be trusted to work well together better than an Internet full of strangers, some of whom are clearly not people of good will.

FastForward Conference Blog on Enterprise 2.0
This blog has some excellent conversation happening between some of the smartest people thinking about this stuff.

Henry Jenkins on Participatory Cultures

He has a series of posts dealing with participatory cultures, and how to instantiate them online.

For the moment, let’s define participatory culture as one:
1. With relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement
2. With strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations with others
3. With some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices
4. Where members believe that their contributions matter
5. Where members feel some degree of social connection with one another (at the least they care what other people think about what they have created).

Not every member must contribute, but all must believe they are free to contribute when ready and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.

The Escasy of Influence and the Power of Networks

Henry Jenkins discusses the power of networks in remixing ideas (as opposed to conventional thinking about intellectual property), as a reflection on Jonathan Lethem’s essay “The Ecstasy of Influence.”
He also mentions a video webcast of John Seely Brown discussing participatory culture & collective intelligence.

Joi Ito on Collaborating in World of Warcraft at 23C3

Peter Kollock’s Framework for Designing Virtual Communities

From Wikipedia (there’s more great general stuff on the entry page there):

Peter Kollock (1999) researched motivations for contributing to online communities. In “The Economies of Online Cooperation: Gifts and Public Goods in Cyberspace”, he outlines three motivations (Kollock:227) that do not rely on altruistic behavior on the part of the contributor:

* Anticipated Reciprocity
* Increased Recognition
* Sense of efficacy

Author: Andrew Hinton

I use information to architect better places for humans. More at

9 thoughts on “Presentation: Architectures for Conversation at IA Summit”

  1. Thank you for the wonderful presentation. It was one of my favorites at the Summit! I am from West Chester, PA near Vangaurd but am now living on the west coast. I would like to learn more from you and perhaps meet someday.

  2. Had fun attending your talk Andrew. The arguments were nicely built up and made a lot of sense. Now lets hope next year’s summit will embrace the concept of infospaces in all its broadness and allow for some talks that take stabs at it from novel angles.

  3. Pingback: Linkosophy

Comments are closed.