Community architectures for good or ill

Austin Govella puts a question to me in his post here: Does Comcast have the DNA to compete in a 2.0 world? at Thinking and Making

Context of the post: Austin is wondering about this story from WSJ, “Cable Giant Comcast Tries to Channel Web TV” — specifically Jeremy Allaire’s comments doubting Comcast’s ability to compete in a “Web 2.0” environment.

At the end of his post, Austin says:

And the more important question, for every organization, how do you best change your DNA to adapt to new ages? Is it as simple as adjusting your organization’s architecture to enable more participation from good DNA? What happens if your internal conversations propagate bad DNA?
This is my question for Andrew: how do you architect community spaces to engender good DNA and fight infections of bad DNA?

My answer: I don’t know. I think this is something everybody is trying to figure out at once. It’s why Clay Shirky is obsessing over it. It’s why Tim O’Reilly and others are talking about Codes of Conduct.

So, when it comes to specifics, I don’t know that we have a lot of templates that we can say work most of the time… it’s so dependent on the kind of community, culture, etc.

However, in general, I think moderation tools that allow the organism to tend to itself are the best way to go. By that I mean “karma” functions that allow users to rate, comment, and police one another to a degree.

That, plus giving users the opportunity to create rich profiles that they come to identify with. Any geeks out there like me know what it’s like to create a quickie D&D character just to play with for the day — you can do whatever you want with it and it doesn’t matter. But one that you’ve invested time in, and developed over many sessions of gaming, is much more important to you. I think people invest themselves in their online ‘avatars’ (if you consider, for example, a MySpace profile to be an avatar — I do), and they’re generally careful about them, if they can be tied to the identity in a real way (i.e. it isn’t just an anonymous ‘alt’).

In short, a few simple rules can create the right structure for healthy complexity.

As for Comcast, I suspect that the company’s image is generally perceived to be a lumbering last-century-media leviathan. So it’s easy for people like Allaire to make these assumptions. I think I might have made similar assumptions, if I didn’t personally know some of the talented people who work at Comcast now!

What Allaire doesn’t come right out and say (maybe he doesn’t understand it?) is that the Web 2.0 video space isn’t so much about delivering video as about providing the social platform for people to engage one another around the content. Like Cory Doctorow said (and yes, I’m quoting it for like the 100th time), content isn’t king, “conversation is king; content is just something to talk about.”

Having the content isn’t good enough. Having the pipes and the captive audience isn’t good enough either. From what I’ve seen, of Ziddio and the like, Comcast is aware of this.

But it’s weird that the story in WSJ only mentions the social web as a kind of afterthought: “Competitors also are adding social networking and other features to their sites to distinguish them from traditional television.” As if social networking is just an added feature, like cup holders in cars. Obviously, WSJ isn’t quite clued in to where the generative power of Web 2.0 really lives. Maybe it’s because they’re stuck in an old-media mindset? Talk about DNA!

Author: Andrew Hinton

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

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