Lurking-Implications on Social Capital

I have been thinking about the social capital implications of having a huge proportion of lurkers in a community. Lurking is increasingly been seen as legitimate Peripheral Participation.
Some of the arguments in favour of lurking are:

1. Being a part of a “double-knit” structure(described by R.McDermott)of both teams and communities,lurkers tend to take back learnings from the community into their teams.

2.”You can move from the periphery to the center safely asking a question—sometimes more safely virtually than physically, and then back out again. ” –John Seely Brown as reported by Wendy Atkin

3. Weaker ties are stronger and peripherality gives more opportunities for innovation to happen.

However most of the arguments focus predominantly on human capital issues. I agree that allowing different levels of participation is crucial in a community. However,if people at the periphery dont drift in and out of the core periodically and if they choose to remain at the periphery-What are the social capital costs ? If organizations roll out communities with a specific intention of improving social capital(trust+reciprocity+shared understanding) ,would the 10/90(active/lurkers) or 20/80 ratio have serious implications? Irrespective of the “fire” that is built at the core at any given point only 10-20% of the community is active. Will this offset the social capital costs that the community incurs ? Are the social capital dimensions of LPP like weak ties (and associated trust dimensions) more important and predictable compared to the typical social capital dimensions at the core of a community?
While lurking is a norm in many online communities ,it is a key issue that executive sponsors of communities in organizations have to think about.

Blogs & The Medici Effect

The Medici Effect argues that the chances of innovation happening at the intersections of seemingly unrelated disciplines is more. Blogs, serving as a tool for Personal KM and creating connections seems to have a key role in creating these intersections and making innovation happen in organizations . Lilia Efimova has written a paper on weblogs and the nature of knowledge work and goes beyond the obvious benefits of blogs. She speaks about how weblogs contribute to the creation of innovative ideas by creating cross disciplinary connections. She says “As personal interests of a blogger can vary a lot, these recommendations are not limited to one specific area. Compared to closed professional associations, publications or conferences, open nature of weblogs supports establishing cross-disciplinary connections (Aïmeur et al., 2003) that fuel development of innovative ideas.”
Dave Pollard speaks about Continuous Environmental Scan and the need for Serendipitous reading. He says ” Stop reading matter, start reading what matters”. Blogrolls of experts serves this purpose of being recommendations of content we could trust and also gives us the opportunity to do some serendipitous reading.

Super Bugs & Social Institutions

I was reading a great article in the Financial Times by John Kay.In “Rules that breed self conduct” he writes about antibiotics, superbugs ,”prisoner’s dilemma” and why self interest may not always be persuasive than some common cause.From a CoP and collaboration perspective two things stood out to me:1. He says “Social institutions, and our own instincts, produce more co-operative behaviour than crude models of rational economic man would allow – if they are given a supportive environment”. Is there a clear understanding of what would constitute a “Supportive environment” from a CoP perspective? With CoPs becoming the cornerstone of many KM initiatives how do we ensure that the “supportive environment” does not trample the organic nature ofcommunities?2.And some good advice to keep in mind when designing incentive systems. He says “But as shareholders who approved executive incentive programmes discovered to their cost, if you design institutions on the assumption that behaviour is naturally self-interested, self-interested behaviour will follow.”The underlying argument being that it is not true that people will only respond to incentives targeted directly at them.This seems to be inline with the way many successful open source communities have evolved.Is peer recognition the way to go?You can read the full article at

Deficit Vocabulary & KM

I have been fascinated by Appreciative Inquiry ever since I stumbled upon it in the com-prac yahoo groups as a potential tool to conduct visioning exercises. The idea is very powerful and I see parallels between their work and what Marcus Buckingham of the Gallup Institute had to say in “Now Discover Your Strengths”. The fundamental idea of AI and the Gallup’s work is to begin focussing on strengths. Both of them attack the futility of focussing on “deficit vocabulary”.
Cooperrider and Diana Whitney write about the “cultural consequences of deficit discourse”. They refer to vocabulary used by mental health professionals like impulsive personality, narcissism,anti-social personality, reactive depressive, codependent, self-alienated, type-A,paranoid, stressed, repressed, authoritarian, midlife crisis etc.,They go on to argue that that this vocabulary influences our actions and hence the outcome. From a change management perspective every anti-story about previous attempts at KM seems to be peppered with deficit phrases like “Just another initiative”, “So,I should spend more time in the office” and so on. No matter what we do to manage change, the “water cooler” stories exchanged may make or break adoption. The authors quote Gergen:
“As I am proposing, when the culture is furnished with a professionally rationalized language of mental deficit and people are increasingly understood according to this language, the population of “patients” expands. This population, in turn, forces the profession to extend its vocabulary, and thus the array of mental deficit terms available for cultural use “
Anti-stories would breed more such stories and that in turn would make change all the more difficult and lead to more empty portals. AI as a technique to address myths and anti-stories seems promising .
You can read the full paper on AI at

Talent Themes for Community Coordinators

The task of identifying natural communites in a huge company is challenging and managers who lead these initiatives find the task of seeding strategically important communities easier. Good leadership does help top-down communities to flourish….However are there a set of traitsthat good community leaders possess(apart from facilitation)? Can these skills be acquired or do these traits have dimensions that cannot be taught…I was reading “Now Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton in which they speak about 34 themes of talent. I have been wondering if there are themes of talent that we may find across a subset of good community coordinators…The techniques applied in the book to arrive at this frameowrk are pretty rigourous and convincing…I quickly scanned through the 34 talent themes( and my feeling is that the following themes seem to be important for community coordinators:(Theme descriptions borrowed from the gallup site)1.Connectedness:People strong in the Connectedness theme have faith in the links between all things. They believe there are fewcoincidences and that almost every event has a reason.2.Includer:People strong in the Includer theme are accepting of others. They show awareness of those who feel left out, and make an effort to include them. 3.Maximizer:People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.4.Relator:People who are strong in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal.5.Woo:People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection withanother person.Im sure that there would be tremendous interplay between these themes and others…But then the authors suggests that a theme like “Woo” which I guess is absolutely important for a community coordinator cannot be really learnt…May be someone who does not have the Wootheme may become a little better at it after some training but then if his brain is not wired for it(if it is not one of his top five themes)…he may never be able to Woo new community members…This was my post in the com-prac yahoo groups initially….and this is what John Smith of Learning Alliances had to say :
“* an attribution problem. We may all want to woo, for example, but situations conspire to prevent it, making us clumsy and ineffective.We repel those we seek to woo and don’t know wny. Telling the difference between a person’s “intention” and “their situation” is messy,situated, learned, etc. see: Catherine Durnell Cramton, “Attribution in DistributedWork Groups”, chapter 8, pp 191-212 in Hinds, Pamela J. and Sara Kiesler.Distributed Work. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.* the other hot-button word in your post is “after some training”. Which would bring up the idea that WATCHING how someone woos new members into a community maybe the only way to learn to do it. That might mean participating in a community of practice. Somehow a series of instructional bullets about how to do it (e.g., you discuss the benefits before talking about costs, or something), seems, well, not wooing enough!”