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.

Saturday Nov 01, 2008

Pecha Kucha: My Internet Life

At Sun's recent internal nerd fest, I participated in my first pecha kucha night. Having once failed miserably at play by play basketball broadcasting, I didn't think any other form of public speaking could be as challenging. As Yoda would say, wrong I was. The 20 seconds per slide cadence eschews anecdotes, extemporaneous thoughts, or anything less than a highly collimated focus. There are play stoppages in basketball but the slide timer has no wait states.

But that doesn't mean I can't fix it in post-production. Here is the tabular version of "My Internet Life" pecha kucha in less than a dozen frames.

In 1995 I started looking at how the Internet, then defined by AOL dial up and email, might change the types of relationships I built. I scribbled this Gartner-esque 2x2 grid for mapping relationship types, spanning those based on facts to those surrounding or stimulating emotion (think work versus religion although those lines are blurring); those that are purely personal versus those that are community driven.

I'll upset the magic quadrant afficionados by starting there. It's what Carol Cone called the "ribbonization" of America. If you're not about something, representing, excited, incensed, pitching, shilling or voting, you aren't engaged. According to NASA's Gen Y rocket riders, everything you know about causes is wrong. Not to quote bumper stickers, but if you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.

The Talking Heads' David Byrne sang the attributes of facts, including among them being lazy, late, simple, straight, and not doing what he wants them to (It's in the bridge of Crosseyed and Painless). Technical facts have a time value problem: they become worthless quickly. If your relationships are built on hoarding information, then they decay in value over time. Knowing something in isolation is useless.

Facts and emotions meet on Facebook, and dance in the form of short status updates. Create a group for just about any cause you can invent, and within three weeks your friends will forget what it's about. Probably because it's not about anything -- there's no output.

Output provides a segue to work: fact based and somewhat community oriented (unless you're the resident "doesn't play well with others" type). The classical view of work product defined by a company is rapidly being replaced by work product represented by an open source community. It has value, community, facts, economics, and usually a technical cause attached to it.

When you attach emotions to communities, they become long lasting institutions. Add in special clothes, chants, and traditions, and you have either higher education or religion, and some would argue there's little difference. Institutions forge remarkably strong, life-long connections; someone once told me that "Princeton" is like a second surname.

Challenges to these long-lived institutions arise from the same revisiting of intellectual property rights that fuel the growth of open source communities. We can use intellectual property to define the boundaries of today's institutions, or use it as a foundation for developing new ideas, broadening participation, and encouraging the ideas of others. That's true whether it's Disney, Princeton, Sun Microsystems or the religion of your choice.

Proof that you can remix media and and mediums: web comics are a growth industry. No matter how miserable the economy, everyone wants a good laugh on a regular basis. And if the comic remixes pop internet culture then it's rich on multiple levels.

Networked relationships have given rise to network memes. Our relationships that span the personal and community spectrum give us a sense of identity and worth: we know who we are and how we provide value to a group; those that run from facts to emotions provide a sense of belonging. And they intersect in an oblique pop culture reference.

Being in sales, I have to end with an ask: Do you grok the snowclone? If not, or worse, you stopped parsing at "grok," it's time to upgrade your science fiction canon from Heinlein to Doctorow. It may not make you or your causes more attractive on Facebook, but it's likely to help us understand how our companies and their work products matter in the networked market.

About

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

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