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Architectures for Conversation (ii) What Communities of Practice can mean for IA (and UX in general, for that matter) Andrew Hinton April 2007 This is a talk I put together for the Philly CHI group. It’s based mostly on a talk I did for the IA Summit earlier in the year, with some additional thoughts and refinements. I’m calling this the ‘o!cial’ version, since I think it explains things a little better, especially toward the end! (SlideShare Readers: if you’re reading this on, keep in mind that some of the graphics may be a little funky due to the conversion process. Also, my apologies for leaving in so many of the builds, but I think they’re helpful in constructing the arguments... at least I hope so. Also, sorry too that this basically has to be viewed at full screen in order to see both the text and slides, but it’s the only way to make sense of this presentation, which doesn’t have much text in the slides themselves.) This presentation ‘lives’ o!cially on my blog: (Note about photos: many are comp-quality photos from Corbis, some are stills I found online that didn’t seem to have any copyright statements on their respective sites (the old movie stills especially), and some are just flotsam from the web in general. If necessary I can track down sources, but I’m not making money on this presentation, so hopefully this is a non-issue...)

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3 Chapters: A Fine Mess Communities of Practice Describing the Damn Thing

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Chapter 1 A Fine Mess Before I get to Communities of Practice specifically, I want to cover the context that I think makes them so relevant. Basically, how we have gotten ourselves into a sort of mess. A beautiful, wondrous mess, but a mess nonetheless. (I’m pretty sure the film images come from

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Top-Down Command Hierarchy Emergent Organic Network Team/Management/Military Crowds/Friends/Incidental Networks Let’s start with two patterns. One extreme is very controlled, the other is pretty much anarchy. To illustrate some key di"erences between them, we’re going to talk about assault rifles.

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Here’s an object lesson in how design can catalyze change, and tap into latent emergence. Larry Kahaner explains how certain characteristics of the AK-47 make it more devastating than any other single weapon in the world, comparing it to the US standard military rifle, the M-16.

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Closed Expensive Complex Accurate M-16 AK-47 Open Inexpensive Simple Close Enough Both of these designed objects look very similar in all the ways that seem to matter. They both look like assault rifles, and they both work basically the same way. So how could they be much di"erent? >> The M-16 is designed with a particular philosophy in mind. - There will always be a proprietary infrastructure capable of manufacturing them and delivering parts; - There will always be money to pay for them; - Exactly the right ammunition will be available for it; - Soldiers will have and take the time to meticulously clean and maintain the weapon. (otherwise it is notorious for jamming) - Soldiers using them will be professional marksmen The design of the device comes with certain implications that it cannot escape -- >> you could say that these qualities are in its DNA. >> The AK47, although appearances is the same thing (an assault rifle), is almost completely di"erent in most of the ways that count. - It was designed for easy mass production, - parts that could more easily be repaired and remanufactured, and retrofitted, - it’s not fussy about ammunition, meaning it’s easier to get hold of bullets it can fire. - and while it’s not a marksman’s weapon, it’s close enough. >> That means its DNA is di"erent enough that it lends itself to latent emergence -- only in this case, unfortunately, that means political strife, insurgencies, and 3rd world armies. According to the UN the AK-47 kills more than a Quarter Million people every year. But the main lesson here is that a few design decisions can make a huge di"erence in the impact a designed thing can have on the world. It’s not terribly hard to draw a parallel with something less lethal, but still powerful.

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Closed Expensive Complex Accurate Open Inexpensive Simple Close Enough >> I don’t know if Jimmy Wales would want Wikipedia to be called the AK-47 of encyclopedias, but in many ways, that’s what it is.

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Instruction Conversation An essential di"erence between britannica and wikipedia is >>britannica is a one-way medium, handed down from authorities, >> While wikipedia is conversational. It fulfills more of what human beings want in their daily life. That’s not to say that wikipedia is better than britannica, or that the old way is evil or irrelevant. It’s just to say that technology has tapped into a latent need people have to be part of conversations.

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“If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that is people-to-people . . . . . . but that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.” First Web Server (A “side project”) Tim Berners- Lee This is the first ever web server. >> It was in Tim Berners-Lee’s o!ce, as a side project he was working on. I think it’s significant that the WWW was created as, basically, a side project. As we’ll come to see, side projects are something communities of practice thrive on. In fact, the Web was, to a large degree, created to support Berners-Lee’s own community of practice. There’s a lot of hype about Web 2.0, but the web was always meant to be “social.” Recently commenting on the “Web 2.0” trend, Berners Lee said >> “If Web 2.0 for you is blogs and wikis, then that IS people-to-people, but that was what the Web was supposed to be all along.” It’s taken us about 15 years or so to get to the Web TBL envisioned, but now we’re calling it Web 2.0. ------------- TBL Web 2.0 quote from: From the original proposal: “This phase allows collaborative authorship. It provides a place to put any piece of information such that it can later be found. Making it easy to change the web is thus the key to avoiding obsolete information. One should be able to trace the source of information, to circumvent and then to repair flaws in the web.”

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“Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” Cory Doctorow “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” It’s not that content is unimportant; it’s what conversations are *made* of! But focusing on the content -- or the “information” -- to the exclusion of its use is a mistake. ---- (cory said this on boingboing

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Conversation is the engine of knowledge. Conversation is the engine of knowledge. It’s the generative activity of civilization. But I don’t only mean just literal “talk” -- I mean conversation in the abstract sense of civic engagement. (photo mine)

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“Markets are Conversations ...” Money is Language Too “Money talks...” As the wisdom of the Cluetrain Manifesto reminds us, even markets are conversations -- If conversations are purposeful human communication, it’s hard to get more purposeful than how you spend your money. If eBay isn’t a conversation, I don’t know what is. Money is language too... there’s a reason why we say “money talks...” If I tip my bartender with a dollar bill, that dollar bill is saying something. But even if I buy something at WalMart, I’m saying something there too... I’m engaging in a larger conversation that’s happening with money.

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Group Creation Capabilities 1980 1990 2000 2007 People have gone conversation-happy on the web. Before the Internet, there were very few ways to create groups: newspapers, local associations, things like that. >> But even by 2000, there were only a few main places online, like E-Groups (Now Yahoo Groups) or USENET, and the venerable ListServ mailing lists hosted here and there, usually in universities. >> Suddenly, in the last 5-6 years, we’ve seen an incredible explosion -- almost any social software environment has an ability to create a “community” or “group”. I think that’s a big part of what has caused the Web 2.0 phenomenon.

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Everywhere you look, you can create a group. It’s become a sort of commodity: people are coming to just expect to be able to make a group at the click of a button. And this really is more than just more of the same; I think it represents a cultural shift that has some very significant implications.

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Phase Transition I think this is more significant than just “the same capability, only more of it.” I think it’s more like a “Phase Transition” -- the way H2O moves from ice, to water, to steam. For some things, a large enough di"erence in scale results in a di"erence in KIND. Not unlike the teakettle, a designed artifact somehow tapped into an enormous reservoir of latent emergence. How can it be that a simple technical design could catalyze such enormous change??? And this brings me to Groucho Marx

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“Time flies like an arrow ... ...but fruit flies like a banana.” Groucho Marx once said this, one of my favorite quotations... Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana..

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If you want to get fruit flies to show up, you just put out some bananas. Bananas are an excellent medium for growing lots of fruit flies.

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You’d think people would be so much more complex than fruit flies that a trick like that wouldn’t work for them. But even though people show up for a good spread and some wine, the truth is people are a little more complicated than fruit flies. To keep all this milling about e!cient, we’ve had to have stricter structures through much of human history. (photo mine)

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Traditional Institutions [Instruction & Production] Organic Networks [Learning & Innovation] ? >> In an industrial society where people are mostly paid to follow directions rather than talk about their work or innovate, hierarchies made a lot more sense. >> But the truth is, the looser organic network has always been where Knowledge & Innovation occur -- in the hidden, uno!cial connections and conversations between people. Just think of all the stories you hear about things like the Lockheed skunk works, or Bell Labs -- situations where innovation fermented in spite of organizational lines. >>The big di"erence is that the Web has given the organic networks the ability to make themselves explicit, to come out from the shadows. And it’s a perfect medium for growing them quickly. You might even say the web is like our banana. >> >> So, if I can oversimplify things a bit, it looks as if the more organic, semantic way of connecting things and people is on the ascendant; and that tends to draw away from the power and necessity of the command network. Of course it’s still needed for corporate structure and operational e!ciency; but it’s having to learn to share the wealth in a more o!cial way with the organic network. >> Is it possible for these two to ever play well together? How do we reconcile this tension?

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Chapter 2 Communities of Practice I think that’s a major value of the Community of Practice. So let’s dig in and figure out what one is ...

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Social Networks Communities Communities of Practice Just to be clear on one thing... Social networks are a very large category of emergent, organic networks in general. Communities of Practice are a subset -- though they do derive some of their qualities from the parent pattern.

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“Communities of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” “Domain” “Practice” “Community” Etienne Wenger Etienne Wenger, who coined the phrase, defines it like this. >> DOMAIN: A community of practice is not merely a club of friends or a network of connections between people. It has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people. (Wenger) >> PRACTICE: Members are practitioners, developing a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems. This takes time and sustained interaction. A good conversation with a stranger on an airplane may give you all sorts of interesting insights, but it does not in itself make for a community of practice. (Wenger) >> COMMUNITY: In pursuing joint interests in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other. A website in itself is not a community of practice. Having the same job or the same title does not make for a community of practice unless members interact and learn together. (Wenger) There are many qualities to a Community of Practice, but here are a few major points about them. (photo from etienne’s site)

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Many Communities of Practice Emergent Groups for Learning, Making & Improving Lots of CoPs >> The royal society is an old example from 1660 -- amateurs with time and passion about how the world worked, who got together and might dissect an animal one day and try to figure out how light works the next. >> Builders and carpenters learn from one another in groups and in person, in mentorships and practice among one another. >> The same goes for stone carvers and craftspeople all over the world >> This includes tailors -- for example, the area of London called Savile Row -- geographically colocated tailors for generations. >> even cheerleaders have a community of practice -- if you watch how they learn the craft, you see that even though they have a coach and a schedule, they still do much of their learning from one another, making their craft better as they go. >> So even in situations where the work is highly structured or even industrial, often we see CoPs crop up when they’re allowed to, because people have a vested interest in improving the work they do, and making better things with it. >> It applies to every kind of work, from the ridiculous to the sublime. >> A major distinguishing factor is that Communities of Practice are about Learning, Making & Improving.

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How are they different from teams? One way understand what something is, is to understand what it is not. For a moment, let’s focus in particular on the distinction between Communities of Practice and Work Teams, since that’s especially relevant in the workplace.

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Work “Team” Community of Practice Involuntary Voluntary Product Delivery Continual Evolution Defined by Mgmt Defined by Group So let’s look at just a few characteristics of both. >> Teams are Involuntary -- you’re assigned to them -- but Communities of Practice are very organic, and people get involved in them because of their interest, not to fulfill an obligation. >> A team’s purpose is to deliver products, on delivery dates. But a Community of Practice’s purpose is its own evolution -- Learning, Making & Improving -- the continual improvement of practice and knowledge among its members. There’s no delivery date -- even though the community often may set goals and work together on meeting them, it’s in the service of the ongoing evolution. >> And not only are a team’s members and goals assigned, it’s entirely defined by the organization’s management structure. Without an org chart, it wouldn’t exist. A Community of Practice is defined by the aggregate of its members, and whatever domain they happen to share in common. >> This means that management really doesn’t have much of an idea what to *do* with a CoP. It doesn’t fit the MBA concept of a managed organization. Even though, in almost any workplace, they exist in some form or another, and in many organizations they’re essential to the org’s success. Does this mean Teams and CoPs are mutually exclusive? No... in fact, sometimes the best teams have taken it upon themselves to become communities of practice >> They can work in a complementary fashion -- but often they end up blurring boundaries between other teams and branches in the organization. By the way this is something management often doesn’t understand: that when you put something organic down it tends to grow roots. If you’ve ever been in a team that you felt like you really grew with, and felt like a community, then were arbitrarily transferred to some other team ... you feel ripped out by the roots. That’s why. ---- based in part on

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Top-Down Command Hierarchy Emergent Organic Network Team/Management/Military Crowds/Friends/Incidental Networks Communities of Practice Here are our network patterns again. And the spectrum between them. >> And the particular species of network or pattern we’re focusing on is about here on that spectrum... Communities of practice could be seen as a sort of specialized organic network.

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Community of Practice Domain A community of practice is in a sense a hybrid pattern -- it’s informal, emergent, just like a general social network, >> but it has a center of gravity -- the domain -- that acts loosely as an organizing principle. >> Members may come in and out, it may shift over time, even its domain can sometimes migrate to a new focus. Notice the defining circle is dotted -- it’s a soft, permeable boundary. >> Sometimes it attracts outsiders who are loosely involved because they have an interest in the domain. >> These people are often part of other practices, and bring skills along with them. And this is all perfectly OK... in fact, it’s essential. This whole, roiling ecosystem of members and ideas is part of what helps these patterns thrive. Now let’s look at a quick case study that helps illustrate some of this.

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Xerox Domain Community of Practice John Seely Brown Eureka! >> John Seely Brown, in his terrific book “The Social Life of Information,” tells a great story about how, at Xerox, they were trying to figure out how to improve the technical service and support. Evidently the o!cial tech manual -- published from above -- wasn’t cutting it. So they did an ethnographic study and discovered >> that the tech reps were talking to each other more than using the manual -- the knowledge was in the people, and the manual didn’t have what they needed. >> They were behaving like a community of practice! Rather than forbidding them to converse, they decided to build a system to support their community. They called it Eureka. >> What’s happening *these days* though, is that the communities of practice aren’t waiting for management to create something for them... they now have the tools to create the infrastructure for themselves! --------

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Traditional Institutions [Instruction & Production] Organic Networks [Learning & Innovation] ? As we discussed, there’s a tension between Organic Networks and Traditional Institutions, and they seem in competition at the moment.

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Traditional Institutions [Instruction & Production] Organic Networks [Learning & Innovation] I suggest that the Community of Practice is one pattern for solving the problem of this tension -- because it could help reconcile their di"erences. It doesn’t replace either of the other patterns, but it does help make them more complementary. It means, however, that the traditional network is going to have to learn to let go of some of its control, and at least when it comes to learning and community, let the group guide the domain.

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They’re Cropping Up All Over And really, if you think about it, we don’t have any choice. Because the tools are there and they’re going to crop up all over whether we want them to or not. (not my photo; but can’t find where I got it)

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It doesn’t only happen in business. I’ve been working with, and one of the things we learned was that the discussion boards they put up that were supposed to be mainly for informal knowledge sharing and socializing have turned into a vital community of practice for women with breast cancer and survivors. >> It turns out that their forums follow a pattern that you can see in many other similar places -- that the community ends up being not the secondary resource for knowledge, but for the majority of regular users, it’s the *primary* resource. The o!cial structure and info on the site serve as a useful anchor point, a framework, for the community -- but the community is primary for them. Many of these women instead of going to the o!cial part of the site to read an article on something, will go to the forum and ask “have any of you seen anything on X?” This makes the medical establishment running the site kind of nervous... but Once we discovered this, we’re now trying to figure out how to redesign to support it...

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Even in multiplayer gaming circles, interesting things are happening. Joi Ito, the internet entrepreneur, has made a big deal out of his community of practice in World of Warcraft >>-- he’s written how in his professional geek circle, people are actually getting recruited and hired for real jobs based on the qualities of leadership and strategy they display in the game. He has a bunch of friends who play the game as a sort of team, but it functions more like a Community of Practice. In fact multiplayer games are a great place to look to see how people innovate around a practice -- partly because none of the traditional assumptions are in play culturally, and partly because they tend to be technically savvy problem-solving types. >> For example: Because Wow isn’t the best place for planning and strategy, they’ll sometimes dip into Second Life to map out attacks and raids, then execute them in World of Warcraft. -----------------

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So how do you design for them? So how on earth do you design for such a thing? Well let’s go back to our banana...

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As we discussed ... If you want to get fruit flies to show up, you just put out some bananas. Bananas are an excellent medium for growing lots of fruit flies. (image borrowed from

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I remember learning about fruit flies from Childcraft -- a children’s encyclopedia that my parents had in our house.

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It explained how you can create a jar with a particular structure that attracts more fruit flies, and allows them to thrive. Creating conditions to optimize for something that happens naturally. You can *design* for these conditions. (this image isn’t from childcraft, and now I can’t find where I got it, but it was through google image search before they changed the search method...)

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"I created the platform, and then I got out of the way. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the way.'’ Craig Newmark But what does Craig mean by “get out of the way?” The fact is, he’s extremely involved in Craigslist. He spends many many hours a day *cultivating* that environment, by being a “customer service representative.” --------- 6. "I created the platform, and then I got out of the way. Sometimes the best thing you can do is get out of the way.'' (photo from craiglist)

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Not really ... So you *just* get out of the way?

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“As part of my job, I put in at least 40 hours a week on customer service. I'm just a customer service rep. My two biggest projects are dealing with misbehaving apartment brokers in New York and lightly moderating our discussion boards.” Craig works hard to keep things moving well on this platform. But he doesn’t orchestrate everyone’s actions -- he cultivates. “As part of my job, I put in at least 40 hours a week on customer service. I'm just a customer service rep. My two biggest projects are dealing with misbehaving apartment brokers in New York and lightly moderating our discussion boards.”

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It’s all about Cultivation. It’s not about organizing things into static structures, but cultivating organic, natural activity toward some goal (even if the goal is healthy continuation of that activity). (photo from corbis)

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Motivation = Cultivation Moderation There are tons of great writings out there about the best practices for designing for participation and groups. But we don’t have a week to go into that -- so I’ve boiled it down to a nice formula. Basically, cultivating means finding the balance between encouraging activity (motivation) and shaping that activity toward healthy ends with moderation (‘dividing’ it, in a sense). Some research for this section came from these sources: Communities of Practice: Going Virtual Where is the Action in Virtual CoPs? Moderation Strategies Wiki Shirky on moderation: Tim O’Reilly’s “Architectures of Participation” post 2004 Andrew McAfee’s Enterprise 2.0 work: Joi Ito on collaborating through WoW: Evolving communities of practice (IBM study): Tons more here:

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Love What You’re Doing Get Your Hands Dirty Don’t Try to Fake It Motivation = Cultivation Moderation You have to love what you’re doing -- or you won’t be able to care enough to be involved. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty by getting into the mix with everyone else. And you can’t fake it -- you can’t assign someone who isn’t invested to be a cultivator. This is why, actually, it makes the most sense for a community of practice’s members to be the cultivators... even if there’s a pecking order of some kind (which is fine! hierarchies are helpful at times in the service of the practice & domain -- but they tend to be much more fluid and meritocracy-based in CoPs)

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Self-Interest over Altruism Remixability & Presence Shared Artifacts Motivation = Cultivation Moderation Self-Interest: It’d be nice if we could assume people will do things “for the good of the community.” But give it up. People don’t actually function that way on a continual basis. Besides, a community of practice is first and foremost PRACTICAL (hence the word ‘practice’ right there in the name!). People want to learn skills, get better at them, and get social cred for their chops and contributions. It’s this collective e"ort of enlightened self-interest that causes the community to emerge. So, think about how to best increase chances that people will get that feedback and practice improvement they so desire. Remixability: no community is an island. People have multivariate lives, and they’re increasingly expecting to be able to grab bits of one thing and have it mix into other things. If your community infrastructure doesn’t lend itself to syndication, mobile interaction, and the like -- it’s risking irrelevance. People want it to come to them. Presence: Essentially like remixability, but with emphasis on personal “thereness” -- people often want to be able to contribute to an ongoing conversation throughout the day, and be ‘in it’ whenever it’s convenient to them. (Of course they want to be able to hide from it when they want too ... and that’s ok.) Shared Artifacts: one study showed that having shared artifacts was important to CoPs in general, but especially important for virtual. Having something that everyone can work on together is very important -- which is one reason why wiki-like functions are exploding for collaboration online. ----- Communities of Practice: Going Virtual

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Body Language / Subtle Cues Tweak-able Architecture Rich Identity & Connection Motivation = Cultivation Moderation Most social software we’re familiar with is on the listserv/usenet model: threaded mail/post discussions. But there are limits to that model. For one thing, it arose in a very homogeneous community of engineers, academics, etc, who all knew one another professionally in one way or another, and who had a sort of cultural baseline they were communicating from. Any further etiquette emerged over time in the online culture (this is all pre-1994 or so). Anyone who was getting on the Internet in late 80s up to about 93 remembers the tons of stuff the community had you read before you felt like you should even post! (One origin of FAQs) Then the floodgates opened, and frankly broke the old model. But we’ve mostly been stuck with threaded discussions or real- time IRC-like chat for 15 years. Gradually the more forward-thinking sites started having more nuanced feedback mechanisms, so the community can police itself to a larger extent. This is just like in real-time conversation, where body language can mean so much. You don’t want to have to use the baseball bat, when a rolled eye or a crossed brow will do the trick. Software is getting to where it can do some of that body-language work for us. Also, the architecture needs to be tweakable -- again by arch, I don’t mean the labeling and taxonomy alone but how they service the structure and channeling of human activity on the site, as well as user permissions, what is surfaced and not surfaced by the system (do users see who made negative comments too or just the positive ones? is karma score made available for everyone to see or is it a private score for the user’s eyes only? if someone adds a friend do you let everyone see they were added or is it just between the users? what algorithm is in use for determining karma?) All these things need to be able to be adjusted as you get to know how your particular community works in it over time -- because they’re all different culturally and personality-wise, as well as the kind of work they do. Also, Rich Identity/Connection is important: the more invested someone is in their identity within the community, the less likely they will be to act like a jerk and lose credibility. Their ‘avatar’ (usually just a profile page!) needs to allow for enough rich connection and identity expression that they can invest deeply... and feel a connection to the avatar that they don’t want to disrupt.

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This is Clay Shirky’s moderation patterns wiki. It’s one example of how people are still trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t in what situations ... most of the discussions and disagreements here, it seems, are about how certain rules of thumb are only good in certain contexts. I think this needs to be a much wider conversation, though -- and he agrees. (or rather I guess I agree with him?) ....

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"We are literally encoding the principles of ... freedom of expression in our tools. We need to have conversations about the explicit goals of ... what we are trying to do, because that conversation matters." Clay Shirky Exceedingly important conversation!

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So, is Information Architecture a Community of Practice? This is where I get a little specific about IA -- I debated taking this out given our venue here, but the truth is everybody here engages in practicing Information Architecture at some point, and I think that looking at IA as a practice will help us understand all the various related practices. (this was the comment I gave to the more general PhillyCHI audience)

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Chapter 3 Defining Describing the Damn Thing

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IA Community of Practice Domain Graphic Design Computer-Human Interaction Library Science ? For years there’s been talk about how IA is or isn’t a “real discipline” because other disciplines do many of the same things we do. But if you get out of the mentality of “Disciplines” and back into the idea of “Practices” it helps assuage a lot of this anxiety about shared tools and methods. >> Just like in the previous diagram, we also have people here, in the room, who consider themselves primarily belonging to some other practice -- graphic design, computer/human interaction, or library science are just a few examples. This should be of no concern ... it’s actually a *GOOD* thing! There is a remaining question, though: if what makes us a community of practice is a shared domain -- and that domain is somehow distinct from the domains of other practices -- >> then what on earth is our domain? We’ll get to that in a bit. But first, I want to dig into what di"erentiates a discipline from a practice, and how they relate to one another.

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Tools Discrete tasks and methods and materials. Not necessarily exclusive to any particular Practice. Practice Socially shared domain (context of need). Emergent from the bottom up. Domain As we’ve established, a Practice organizes itself around a socially shared domain, and it’s an emergent, bottom-up entity. >> A practice, by its nature, has many tools at its disposal. And it’s VERY important to note, none of these tools is necessarily exclusive to this one practice.

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One Tool Many Practices A Practice is Not Defined by its Tools. To illustrate this, let’s look at the lowly shovel. >> Our flower-planting friends from earlier use a shovel for their practice. But it’s not an exclusive tool for gardening. >> This same tool is useful in many other practices. From farming to firefighting to sandcastles and shoveling snow. The kids gardening aren’t going to beat up the kid in the sand just because they think he shouldn’t be using a shovel too. >> A PRACTICE is not defined by its tools, only by its domain. But of course this is harder in user-experience design, because we all work together and our work overlaps so much. So the question for us shouldn’t be “who” does wireframes, but why. That is, what is it about our domain that wireframes as a tool helps us to figure out.

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Practice Socially shared domain (context of need). Emergent from the bottom up. Domain Tools Discrete tasks and methods and materials. Not necessarily exclusive to any particular Practice. Now back to our diagram. As a Practice sticks around a while, it may want to seek professional legitimacy in the marketplace. >> Business and Academia, being entities that are highly structured and standardized, look for those qualities in the professions it chooses to accept. But a Community of Practice is much more an organic network than a command network.

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Practice Socially shared domain (context of need). Emergent from the bottom up. Domain Tools Discrete tasks and methods and materials. Not necessarily exclusive to any particular Practice. Discipline Established standards, definitions & curricula Planned from the top down. { } So a practice that yearns for that acceptance tries to establish some kind of “discipline” to give it that structure. A discipline establishes standards and definitions, creates curricula, and plans things from the top down. Because of their di"erent natures, there’s always some tension between a practice and its discipline, but in the best circumstances it can be a productive tension. And the discipline then gives a sort of mantle of respectability to the practice; but also channels money, resources, attention and lots of other good things. IMPORTANT distinction: Definition vs. Description -- When we want to define ourselves, we’re really yearning for that legitimacy and structure. But you can’t Define yourself before you can really describe yourself. It takes time ... all disciplines emerged from practices. We only just got started with this stu" about 12-15 years ago. To be a traditional cheesemaker in France, you have to apprentice for anywhere from 10 to 12 years. And that’s making *cheese!* >> But even once the discipline provides a definition, it doesn’t replace the practice. The practice and the discipline continue influencing one another in a symbiotic relationship. In fact, the best thing the discipline can do is provide a nutritious medium for us to grow and thrive ... >>

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Practice Socially shared domain (context of need). Emergent from the bottom up. Domain Tools Discrete tasks and methods and materials. Not necessarily exclusive to any particular Practice. Discipline Established standards, definitions & curricula Planned from the top down. { } A discipline should be our banana. (Or better yet, the nicely designed jar for our banana -- but it doesn’t look or sound as fun as just ‘banana’.)

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A Discipline is something you follow. A Practice is something you do. Neither defines what you are.* *Especially these days. We tend to refer to IA and other UX practices as “disciplines” -- but I think it’s a tricky term. Personally, I think a Discipline is something you follow, and a practice is something you DO. Neither of them is something that you ARE. And that’s an important distinction.

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So what’s the Domain for IA? So the question remains, what is our domain? What shared concern caused our community to coalesce?

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I think it has to do with something new in the world that just didn’t exist before. Not long ago most information systems were isolated. >>

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But then they started being connected together. Still this was somewhat isolated; only certain people had access, and even fewer could change or write to the system. >>

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Graphic Design Computer-Human Interaction Library Science The practices and disciplines in existence emerged in this and prior paradigms, and they handled quite capably what most of what these systems did. Mainly specialized applications for trained users in operational environments, and some consumer devices and products. Here’s an important point: the structure of these spaces was mostly a given. It came with the infrastructure, administration rights, etc. These structures were essentially “designed” whether intentionally or not by sysadmins and TCP/IP engineers. But then something extraordinary happened. >>>> [Note: this, and other diagrams, are not meant to be taken literally, only figuratively. i.e. I’m not saying Library Science was only relevant to one and a half digital networks. I know I shouldn’t have to put this disclaimer here... but then again, I know I have to. :-) ]

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The Web happened. And it brought something new into the world. Anybody could link to anything they wanted. And over time, more people had access, and suddenly whole crowds of nontechnical people were structuring this space. You can look at this and say “my god what a horrible mess!” But if you think of each of these white lines as a conversation, it actually looks kind of beautiful. I think the IA community is full of folks who, in a very well-meaning way, want to take this mess and *fix* it. But we’re all having to learn now that our real work is in how best to *channel* this rich activity. To create the right structures for cultivation.

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Massively shared, persistent, digital-semantic space. Infospace. Massively shared, persistent, digital-semantic space. Massively shared means that, whereas in isolated systems what you did could only mean something to a few people, on the web it can mean something to everyone. It becomes a lot more like geography. Persistent means that the things you do there stay there. Digital-semantic meaning that it’s not made of atoms, it’s all made of language, and relevance. For the sake of brevity, >> I’ll call this InfoSpace. (I did not make this term up -- I’ve seen it around... it’s essentially cyberspace, but that term is so misused in a scifi kind of way that it’s become useless, although this is essentially how William Gibson now thinks of ‘cyberspace’ himself -- not so much like “second life” but more the digital- semantic massively-shared layer of reality that is the Web. 2007_03_01_archive.asp#8519138918500252617)

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Massively shared, persistent, digital-semantic space. Infospace. Global / Cultural Like Geography Made of Language, not Atoms Massively shared, persistent, digital-semantic space. Massively shared means that, whereas in isolated systems what you did could only mean something to a few people, on the web it can mean something to everyone. It becomes a lot more like geography. Persistent means that the things you do there stay there. Digital-semantic meaning that it’s not made of atoms, it’s all made of language, and relevance. For the sake of brevity, >> I’ll call this InfoSpace. (I did not make this term up -- I’ve seen it around... it’s essentially cyberspace, but that term is so misused in a scifi kind of way that it’s become useless, although this is essentially how William Gibson now thinks of ‘cyberspace’ himself -- not so much like “second life” but more the digital- semantic massively-shared layer of reality that is the Web. 2007_03_01_archive.asp#8519138918500252617)

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IA Community of Practice Graphic Design Computer-Human Interaction Library Science ? So what is the domain of our community of practice? I think that when the web happened, some of us in di"erent practices felt something was missing -- that something behind the interface and behind the surface interactions needed shape. That’s why we coalesced .. and that’s our domain.

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IA Community of Practice Graphic Design Computer-Human Interaction Library Science Infospace >> I think it’s about infospace. And I think it has a heck of a lot in common with “physical” architecture. Because architecture is about creating structures that enable people to better inhabit spaces. Now, am I saying that IA can’t be practiced anywhere but the ‘Web’ or in Digital environments? No... not really. We just have to realize that the skillsets, mindsets and culture we developed in this community of practice isn’t a panacea. In fact, a lot of what we think we can bring to the o#ine (and non-massively-shared webbish) world is already being covered by other practices.

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IA Community of Practice Infospace Architecture / Wayfinding Informatics Industrial Design Other stuff .... We need to keep in mind that it’s not just our community interested in these things. There’s nothing wrong with that of course!! It’s just important to keep perspective -- because IA isn’t about *everything* and can’t solve all the problems in the world. This practice has a lot of valuable stu" to add to the ongoing conversation, as do others. And the more converged the world becomes, the more we will all have to get used to not having such firm, “permanent” silo walls between our communities and what we do.

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DigitalSemantic Physical I think IA as well as other UX practices are becoming more and more relevant in physical spaces, though, with the advent of ubiquitous computing. >>

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DigitalSemantic Physical >> We are increasingly walking around not just in physical space, but in digital semantic space simultaneously. That’s a big design job! I find it a little odd that people feel this is somehow constrictive... it’s increasingly important pretty much everywhere.

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User Experience User Experience as Meta-Practice What are we to make of this, then? Here we are, in this weird cluster of practices that for some reason in the last 15 years have all had to start working together a lot more closely than perhaps we did in the past. I think that the advent of Infospace has done more than just emerge a need for a new practice on how to structure it. It has caused all of us to have to rethink how we work and why. Much like it’s done to corporations and organizations all over the world, it has forced previously siloed, insulated communities to collaborate in very new ways, and to question and adapt the boundaries of their disciplines to some degree. Now we’re struggling with this issue, in a really exciting period of foment. But rather than seeing these issues as negative, why not see them as positive? >> The way I see it, we’re smack dab in the middle of a Meta Practice that we’re calling User Experience. This doesn’t take the place of the related practices in any way. All of them are necessary -- and undoubtedly more of them will be in the future -- in order to support this highly complex, new-in- the-world activity. It’s not definable in a sense of “discipline” and it’s not going to hold still for that. In fact, all of us are going to have to get used to our previously neat and tidy “disciplines” being a lot messier. But also a lot more exciting. The world is changing too fast to do otherwise. Welcome to the User Experience MetaPractice. Let’s continue the conversation!

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Thank You Andrew Hinton [email protected]

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