A message I wrote to the //OpenKollab// list.

Hi all,

Let me try to summarize what's being said as I understand it and then try to put my shoulder to the wheel. I'm new to the list, so I guess this will be my self-introduction at the same time.


1. We are imagining a "hub", a kind of "third place" that supports collaborative processes at all scales.

2. The hub is not a project in the usual sense: It doesn't look easy to arrive at a very definite, agreed-upon goal and deadlines for the hub itself. Maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the right metaphor is more a lab or incubator.

3. This hub will be a substrate, a social space that incorporates a wide diversity of participants.

4. If I'm a participant, the hub:
a) enables me to connect to get new initiatives started (matchmaking function)
b) enables me to get help understanding the collaborative processes and tools I could benefit from using (learning function)

5. If I'm a participant, my contribution:
a) enriches the hub by adding diversity and new collaboration potential
b) helps the hub learn what it is that participants need
c) helps the strangers I will connect with to reach their goals

Now my two cents. Please bear with me: it's the first time I've written those ideas down, so it might be a little chaotic, but I hope it resonates with you. Also, I haven't read everything on OpenKollab so I might be repeating stuff that's already been said.

Conflict, conversation and shared language

I think it's very interesting that the starting point of this conversation is conflict. In my view, conflict is actually good when it arises, because it provides visible points of "creative friction" and lets participants each refine what exactly it is that they are after. In a way, by hashing out a disagreement, you define yourself. Only by showing yourself, what you are into, and what you value, can networking work appropriately for you - that is, bring the right people and projects towards you. In other words, good self-representation leads to good connections.

One key issue when working on self-representation is that of language. You may be using words with different meanings than others. This is why we need conversational spaces, to figure out e.g. if my idea of a "Pooled Fund" means exactly the same as *your* idea of "Pooled Fund".

Language is imperfect, but it's pretty much all we have, right? It can still roughly guide our explorations of one another. When ideas and goals are verified to line up among a number of people, you're on your way to collaboration. Actually you've collaborated already, on the task of clarifying that common goal.

One idea that keeps coming back to my mind is that of "knowledge territories". We each have a piece of turf we know about and a vocabulary to talk about it. It's great to have a space to each define our territories. Once that is done, though, if we adopt a collaborative stance, we will want ways of identifying overlap between those territories, ways of matching up concepts between us, and ways to agree on a shared language. I think that when this is achieved in a disciplined way, it becomes easier for individuals to adhere strongly to a shared vision or goal and move forward together with confidence.

Designing collaboration hubs

I've been thinking long and hard about what the characteristics of an "ideal space" that catalyzes new collaborations might be. I'm certainly biased by my own experiences, but here's my current thinking. The ideal space :

1- is publicly visible (so people can become aware of its existence)
2- is open (anyone can join)
3- is inviting (the general theme and ground rules for participation are easy to understand)
4- provides means of communicating with the whole group or with smaller subgroups
5- allows for unconstrained self-representation (facilitating matchmaking)
6- allows for group-forming
7- allows for the representation of new ideas and their connections
8- respects the freedom of participants to join or leave subgroups or the whole group

If you've taken part in a face-to-face "Open Space" meeting, you will probably recognize that they meet a lot of those criteria.

Now, what does the "ideal virtual collaboration hub" look like? My biases will probably show again, but let me write down what each point means for me in the present-day internet:

1- The hub is freely accessible on the Web and is indexed by major search engines. It is visibly linked to and from other similar hubs with related themes
2- Its openness is declared upfront
3- Its general theme and ground rules are summarized upfront
4- It has whole-group communication channels and easy ways for any participant to create subchannels ("rooms")
5- It has rich participant profiles, ideally visible even from the outside
6- It enables subgroups to form and define an identity of their own
7- It has a wiki-like space where new ideas can be described and connected
8- Nobody is required to stay right where they are at any time (pretty much a given on the net anyways!)

I would venture to say that there are already a few platforms that support almost all of these. Among those I know, Ning, Elgg, Livejournal, and wikis are perhaps the closest. In other words, I think a lot of the technology and processes are pretty much already there. What's left to do is to get a lot more people to use them. Honestly, that's probably the hard part.

The Fractal Factor

One last point, the "fractal/kaleidoscope factor". Right now I'm pretty sure there are tons of groups who are trying to create collaboration infrastructures just like we are. For each of those the umbrella sits above a different patch of land.

Let me name just two. I'm in contact with a local group here in Montreal, Preneuriat Durabiliste, who is trying to do it around sustainability. Also, there's a bunch of scientists out there who are thinking about Science 2.0 - a new, more collaborative way of doing science. Basically, it's the same problem.

I believe it is critical for OpenKollab to have connections to many of these initiatives, so that practices/tools developed in one can benefit the others. Some of these initiatives may discover OpenKollab by themselves, but I suspect most of them will actually be discovered by OpenKollab members.


P.S. are there still chats on Wednesdays?

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