Wednesday Sep 23, 2009

Equity in Communities

Much is written about equity, capital and networking, particularly when prefaced with "social" to ascribe some value to sites such as Facebook, Yahoo or Twitter. Conflating these terms reduces their utility in describing the problem space.

Equity is a measure of value. Tells you how much something is worth, net net of whatever detracting, devaluing or impairing items surround it. Not just equity in the stockholder sense, but brand equity, personal equity, and

Capital is a working form of equity. Capital needs markets - networked communities - that agree on pricing, valuation, transfer, forward transactions, and membership. Capital markets may be the US Treasury auctions, or Kiva microfinance networks of affiliated microlenders.

Networking is what makes those values fungible. It's the basis for exchange of value and for disseminating values.

Assigning value to members of a community isn't a new idea: eBay has member feedback; Cory Doctorow introduced the concept of "whuffie" as a form of social contribution measurement in in Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and that idea spawned Tara Hunt's Whuffie Factor. In a large technical community, what are the elements that create value, and what things detract from it? In particular, when you're dealing with technical documents and design patterns that share the half-life of the underlying technologies, last year's contributions have to be discounted versus updates and current interactions. On the other hand, this kind of value doesn't really fit into a market model - would you exchange two Hadoop experts for a graph theoretician? Measurement only makes sense if the semantic contexts are the same, and technologists are not necessarily players in an organizational fantasy league.

That's the set of problems that Peter Reiser and team set out to tackle when defining "community equity," a measurement of contribution and participation. Community equity rewards content publishers but equally recognizes those who interact with the content, as the commenters, redistributors and fine-tuners of content give the community heft. Can you imagine Twitter without retweeting or responses?

Peter and I talked about the state of equity measurement, code availability and what some more down to earth views of "semantic web technology" might be in the latest Innovating@Sun podcast; check out the audio stream and related links.

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Hal Stern's thoughts on software, services, cloud computing, security, privacy, and data management

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