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Why the hell do you want CommunitiesThatScale? Aren't you happy to have a couple of friends? Do you want millions?

Yes, of course:

Please consider the list-subentries (like UniversalProduct or EvilMonopoly) not as required or sufficient, but as phenomenological observations, as remarkable patterns. Add your observations or patterns to make them discussable.

So why not do like (examples):

What made them successful?

How can such successes be reproduced?

What will help? What may be needed beside the concept?

What is on the way:

Open fields:


NathanielThurston: I have no need or desire for millions of AdoringFans, and it seems self-evident that nobody can have millions of friends.

The reason I am interested in scaling healthy community processes to societies is quite simple: I think that solving this problem is necessary and sufficient for fostering the sort of "generous solidarity" that is required to for positive change in the global village; and that without substantial changes to the global village, planning on the scale of the lifetime of my children is impossible.

A second reason: I see a trend toward the recognition that self-aware communities are desirable things, and if this trend continues, I could easily imagine the same sort demand for membership in Meatball that already exists for wikipedia and the original wikis; and I would rather have better options than adopting bureacracy, limiting membership, fishbowling, or the other options we know of today.

HelmutLeitner: Nathaniel, do I understand you correctly, that you feel insecure about the future, especially on a global scale? And to feel more secure, you would need people to be more generous?

Do you think that the GlobalVillage needs a kind of GlobalMen?, that embody certain virtues or values?

Do you think that the solution is technical, a kind of trust metrics, that will somehow produce this generousity? And to have a large positive effect, large communities are needed?

By the way, which wikis do you have in mind when you talk about "the original wikis"?

And why do you think that demand for Meatball membership (whatever that is) could become large?

NathanielThurston: My feelings about the future are complex, and I struggle to summarize them honestly and accurately. To begin with, I don't think that my efforts for change are necessary for the change to occur; rather, I perceive a wide array of similar changes, of which I am one among millions. It would be more accurate to say that I don't feel confident about the future, that it would be possible for the global situation to collapse in a number of degenerate ways, and also possible for it to pull through nicely. What does seem obvious is that things cannot possible proceed along the same course they've been following.

To tell the truth, I no longer remember the identity of the wikis I had in mind. I am recalling the various experiences I've read here over the past several months, about wiki growth. WikiWiki springs to mind. The demand for Meatball membership would be for similar lines: people want to "join in" with efforts which are recognized to have been successful and worthwhile. I think that the only thing stopping such a demand at present is the lack of widespread recognition of what you've done here.

I would separate generosity into two parts.

  1. Healthy communities foster generosity ("apparent altrusim") within the community. Trust metrics would be out of place in a small community (prefer SoftSecurity)
  2. My hope for the liquidity of trust is to foster generosity between people and organizations who are only indirectly connected, e.g., between me and a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend.

I may have made a mistake in the problem statement, which I think is contributing to a misunderstanding. I do not advocate large communities; instead, I would advocate thinking of societies by extending the same principles we use when thinking about communities. Meatball, for example, might change over time from an online community (where each person interacts with, and has a professional or personal relationship with, each other person) to an online society (where most people have no direct interaction)

HelmutLeitner: Nathaniel, I think a lot of wikizens will agree to see wikis as kind of laboratories for democracy. They are great for experimentation: action is quick, and everything gets protocolled. They down-side is, that there are many places where experiments happen and the interest is not extraordinary to put experiences in a common pot, to learn. The negative experiences are often hidden, because only few want to expose their errors. The positive experiences are often hidden, because they are seen as valuable know-how to build on in a competitive environment. There is probably a lack of generosity in this regard.

When you talk about trust and generosity, I still feel I do not quite understand what you mean. If you say that you would like to "trust a friend of a friend" it sounds to me, as if you would have no trust in a person you do not know. And that you need trust ... yes, for what? For communication? For collaboration? Isn't that what generosity can also about: to be generous with your InitialTrust?. One can interact (communicate, collaborate) starting with small steps that become larger and larger, and if successful, then TrustFromExperience? can build very quickly. Theory for that could be taken from TitForTat or from PatternTheory.

When I hear you say "Healthy communities foster generosity within the community" than alarm bells ring in my head. This sounds near to right-wing GroupThink, "healthy" but negative to everything that is "unhealthy", and hostile to those people outside of the group. I can't imagine that you think in that direction, because it would be contrary to everything you said before. I think that "healthy" is a pretty dangerous word outside the realm of health.

NathanielThurston: Helmut, I see what you mean about "within the community". Healthy communities foster generosity, period.

I like the term "health" for a community, and I do think that "health" (or whatever you want to call it) can be evaluated at least as accurately for a community as it can for an individual. More generally, I find the analogy between the individual and the community to be a powerful source of insight. I will agree that there are dangers associated with this power.

My personal difficulty with trust is not in showing trust, for I feel that I extend trust easily; in particular, I feel that I have shown a great deal of trust toward the Meatball community. Nor do I feel that I often go wrong when I extend trust, for I don't get any sense that I've been particularly "hard done by". Rather, my difficulty lies with being trusted, and here I guess that much of the difficulty lies with my status as an "outsider" -- I don't "fit in" with any group of people (including here, as I do not meet Sunir's criteria for being respected in this community). Also, I have, and have expressed, unusual ideas, and that fact alone is enough to make the task of earning trust difficult.

HelmutLeitner: Nathaniel, does this mean you would like to have a trust system, so that you can refer to your "trust status", that possibly reflects more objectively that you can or should be trusted?

Maybe you do not see, to what large extent Meatball actually is a community of outsiders. Sunir is an outsider, he :-) is "the Obama of the wiki world". A lot of other people, including me, are typical outsiders. That's why we are relatively open to outsiders. Maybe you distrust communities, because of bad experiences, in the sense of EveryoneIsaSuccessor. Maybe your expectations don't fit to the situation, what can develop in a specific time spam. Maybe ...

Anyway, I see you and trust you as a member of the Meatball community.

NathanielThurston: Helmut, my only real need is for trust is for the purpose of gainful employment, for I would describe my financial situation as "stabilized", but not secure. I think I've painted myself into a corner -- people who lead hierarchical for-profit communities (e.g., corporations) seem to fear (with some justification) my "rocking the boat". I really don't know if anything can be done about the situation, other than to carry on as I have been, supporting my family on short-term grants and contract work from the mathematics and computer science communities.

I would find a trust system to be immensely helpful, but I would want one that reflects objectively the ways in which I can -- and should not -- be trusted. For example, I am a natural planner, but I have had a tendency to execute poorly on plans, especially when I feel that those plans are poorly constructed. AaronPoeze wrote an [honest recommendation] for me when I tried (unsuccessfully) to start the new ideas community; perhaps that gives a better idea of what I mean.

Trust as a single-dimensional construct doesn't work well: It divides the population into two groups: sociopaths (a tiny minority), and everyone else. I have made a practice of trusting people to act in their own perceived self-interest, using WikiPedia:abductive_reasoning to guess what that perception is from circumstantial evidence. It seems to work well for me.

HelmutLeitner: Nathaniel, what I know for sure is, that being a Meatball member won't translate into money or job opportunities. You could see it as a repository and laboratory for ideas, a place to learn. The advantage of being a member, compared to being a reader, is that one can connect better to the topics. It's like diving into the water instead of looking at it from the beach. But even jumping into the water won't bring you fish.

NathanielThurston: Helmut, what I hope to gain here is via exploring more about the subject of trust. Already I have benefited, for I discovered first what would have been required with a particular potential employer I had in mind; and second that this particular employer was a sort of a "cult of money", hostile toward people who do not share their passion.

SunirShah: Scaling Meatball is a red herring. Meatball is unscalable.

Scalable "communities" aren't really communities, but more like media or spaces where existing communities move in to inhabit and then find connections between each other via the spaces or media.

Key points:

For instance, FaceBook began by providing a method to organize the existing communities of classes at universities and colleges. Later, they added workplaces. Finally, with enough critical mass, they allowed new groups to form based on interests of already existing members.

For instance, UseNet began by providing newsgroups around well known categorizations of fields of interest. These mental groupings existed before the medium, even if the communities did not in a strict sense. Later, as the value of the medium proved itself, UseNet expanded to create newsgroups that were local to UseNet (e.g. alt.barney.die.die.die, or alt.religion.kibology)

For what it's worth, it's practically a Law of Media that all media start by mimicking the old media before becoming their own thing, and the phenomena of supporting CommunityOnline before OnlineCommunity is an extension of that.

Discussion moved to ScalingMeatball

See also: CommunityMayNotScale


SunirShah -- Fri Sep 18 16:09:33 2009

Why the hell do you want CommunitiesThatScale? Aren't you happy to have a couple of friends? Do you want millions?

Seriously? There are very clear reasons why you'd want a community of millions: it's worth multimillions of dollars. Possibly billions.

NathanielThurston -- Fri Sep 18 16:39:43 2009

I've been rethinking my claim about "I have no desire for millions of AdoringFans". It feels more honest to say that I feel a certain thrill at this idea, and that I find that it might be a possible outcome; but when I look deeper, I don't think that that's what I really want. The same would go for any financial consequences of having a large community. Having a few good friends, and the possibility of a secure future, is more than enough to satisfy me.

NathanielThurston -- Fri Sep 18 16:41:06 2009

I think it would serve us well to avoid attracting the attention of people who are drawn by the idea of making millions or billions of dollars or friends, at least for the time being. For the same reason, I would suggest that we avoid stirring our own passions by dreaming of such eventualities.

SunirShah -- Fri Sep 18 17:21:33 2009

Nathaniel, that is what I do for a living. I'm a professional tech marketer. I make money building up the Internet. What I've done and am doing with FreshBooks? is no small potatoes.

Personally, I prefer cultivating relationships with for-profit social media. Money has an amazing ability to focus people to do the right thing, and you need the money to scale. If you're building and stoking a large community to make money you really need to do a good job, focus on serving your community, execute, listen, adapt, and worry about the details. Plus, money attracts the best people. And it pays for the best research and development. And it makes it possible to invest in proactive actions to build your community.

It may be your goal to avoid money, but it is the direct opposite of my goal.

NathanielThurston -- Fri Sep 18 17:25:22 2009

Sunir, I'm not worried about your making lots of money; nor do I have a goal of avoiding it. My concern is from the class of intelligent motivated sociopaths -- those who see the possibility of "making millions or billions", and would pursue it without regard to the social damage they cause in the process.

SunirShah -- Fri Sep 18 18:04:23 2009

You can hardly build a large community as a sociopath. Update: actually, what am I saying? That's not even close to being true. Sociopaths are often really good at building communities.

However, DefendAgainstParanoia. There are wonderful examples of online community that are for money. You'd be hiding under a rock if you haven't heard of FaceBook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.

I also don't understand how you jumped from profitability to sociopaths so quickly.

NathanielThurston -- Fri Sep 18 19:11:40 2009

Sunir, DefendAgainstParanoia was extremely useful for me when I first arrived at Meatball. Now, I think of a counterpart, "just because you're not paranoid doesn't mean they might not at some point in the future be out to get you". Still, I think that the whole discussion is subject to DefendAgainstPassion -- making money is a topic about which many people feel passionate, and they may not in all cases be looking for what we have here. I think we should strive to appear boring to people who are seeking money or power. There's no great rush (nobody is looking right now), but... I would rather we downplayed the matter.

Strangely, the goal of making the world a better place, while more perilous in fact (for it leads in the direction the cult), raises few eyebrows. Men seeking power think that people who want to make the world a better place are useless dreamers, and feel free to ignore such discussions.

Regarding sociopathy, my observation is that is seems to be a fairly common trait among those who reach the pinnacles of power. Thankfully, you and Obama seems to have your heads on straight. The difference is subtle -- at some point, people are faced with a choice between seeking more power/money and having better relationships; the sick ones choose power, while the wise ones choose not to be GodKings?.

SunirShah -- Fri Sep 18 19:51:20 2009

I don't know if you know this, but many real organizations know and have been influenced by MeatballWiki such as the CIA and Flickr. I'd prefer to cultivate that. There's a well known result from sociology that show that people tend to be as successful as the average of their friends, and it's more because you aim to be the average of your friends than your friends help or harm your success. If you're surrounded by losers, you don't want to outshine them, so you don't try too hard. If you're surrounded by winners, you're motivated to succeed to impress them. It has to do with SocialBelonging? again, but in a positive way.

NathanielThurston -- Fri Sep 18 20:06:53 2009

Sunir, I had not heard of that result, but I see its truth. I would have a hard time outshining my friends. My father won the fields medal (the mathematicians' equivalent to the nobel prize), my grandfather invented epoxy, and what you have made here is equally impressive. Nobody else I have made friends with has won that level of recognition... but my family and friends are a class act.

An afterthought: this effect suggests to me that in order to address the issue of the vast imbalances of power that exist in the global village, we would do well to follow Fridemar's lead in cultivating friendships that involve power differentials. This seems more effective than merely giving money or resources -- for by establishing a personal relationship we give the most precious gift of all, the motivation to succeed.

NathanielThurston -- Sat Sep 19 13:40:34 2009

My favorite ScaledCommunity? is FriendFeed?, and recent events there are instructive. FriendFeed? was owned by an ordinary corporate entity (one whose sole purpose is to earn TradableMoney? for its stockholders), and was recently sold to FaceBook. This sale was treated as an act of "defection" by some of the more influential members of the community not within the corporation. In response, they started OpenFF?, an effort to clone the most important features of FriendFeed? in an entity free from corporate control, and already after just a few weeks there is an early functional prototype.

It seems to me that that it is impossible to have an entity legally bound to have concern only for the financial interests of its shareholders serving as GodKing of the community without introducing irreconcilable conflicts of interest. I guess you could say that I find the corporate form as we know it to be inherently sociopathic -- that is to say, it creates forces which compel the individuals within the corporation to act in a sociopathic fashion in order to fulfill their duties toward the corporation.

For what it's worth, I hold my nose against the flood of "application advertising spam" and use FaceBook to connect with my friends and family; watch YouTube frequently (and recoil in horror from the bile that flows in the comments); and find wikipedia to be an invaluable resource (by am deterred by what I've heard of the bureaucracy from serious considering diving in there). Of all the online communities, I find only FriendFeed? and Meatball to be personally rewarding, and I suspect it's for this reason that these are the only communities in which I don't mostly lurk.

NathanielThurston -- Sat Sep 19 20:36:12 2009

On second thought, I think that the for-profit corporate form may be a necessary evil, especially with the right kind of CEO and chairman (preferable different people) at the helm. I'm wondering, what's to stop some of us from forming a corporation and going after one of the open fields? I'd love to be the "chief scientist" in such a venture.

I'm thinking in particular of gogoyoko and the music space. I like their "grand vision" of being a community where music lovers meet with aspiring artists -- but I've signed up for their beta, and I think they get the execution all wrong. The website is painfully slow to use, didn't seem to offer much in the way of actual social interaction, and in general seemed to have not been very well-designed. Basically, I think that they're doing the execution all wrong, and feel ill-placed to either approach them with these observations or form a new venture that has a better chance of making it work.

SunirShah -- Mon Sep 21 17:27:38 2009

I think the whole DocumentMode is getting intoxicated by prejudices. I suggest burning it down and starting again by first enumerating "communities" that have scaled successfully, and describing their structure briefly. The "EvilMonopoly" dynamic didn't work, as you can tell by the fact that half of your examples don't have an EvilMonopoly. That isn't actually the correct theory anyway. You're talking more about DisruptiveTechnology?, which is one but not the only way to be successful.

SunirShah -- Mon Sep 21 17:30:38 2009

FriendFeed? was owned by an ordinary corporate entity (one whose sole purpose is to earn TradableMoney? for its stockholders), and was recently sold to FaceBook. This sale was treated as an act of "defection" by some of the more influential members of the community not within the corporation. In response, they started OpenFF?, an effort to clone the most important features of FriendFeed?? in an entity free from corporate control, and already after just a few weeks there is an early functional prototype.

I have two key questions here:

HelmutLeitner -- Mon Sep 21 18:14:31 2009

Sunir, I'll defend the EvilMonopoly as a one pattern for success. Of course this is not causal, because no pattern is. You don't need it, but it can help.

SunirShah -- Mon Sep 21 19:52:24 2009

Helmut, I don't disagree having a clear enemy is a successful strategy to win the PublicRelations? battle, but I think the reality is better described by the concept of DisruptiveTechnology? as described in InnovatorsDilemma? by Clay Christensen.

HelmutLeitner -- Tue Sep 22 03:34:51 2009

Sunir, don't look at the finger. It is not so important, to have an enemy. The important thing is to have a large potential of a real need. DisruptiveTechnologies? or DisruptiveInnovations? point in the same direction, because CC assumes a market, that's accepts the invention. This has a tautological aspect.

The problem is that the line of thought "scale a community" by "some technological innovation" avoids to look at the needs.

EvilMonopoly proves a need, so it can be used to direct the search for innovations.

SunirShah -- Tue Sep 22 03:46:32 2009

Christensen makes it very clear that disruptive technologies do not have a market, but they disrupt because they create their own market that grows eventually to consume the markets of others.

While this is all very interesting, I don't think it's getting to the question of which, why, and how communities scale. I understand the expression to not look at the finger, but I don't think it applies in this case. My point is that it is clear from the examples above that it is the wrong model to presume requiring an EvilMonopoly to construct a scalable community since not all large communities have an enemy. Seems like square peg, round hole.

HelmutLeitner -- Tue Sep 22 05:29:43 2009

Sunir, you are repeating yourself about "requiring EvilMonopoly", but this is nowhere in my text. CommunitiesThatScale don't require an EvilMonopoly, but one can observe them as a recurring pattern. Just as great paintings often show a "triangle composition", but don't require it.

CommunitiesThatScale are not subject to causal predictability, but to the logic of unfolding processes (PatternTheory).

I think that "consume the market of others" is doubtful. It's not the product that creates the market, and if you create a new product you don't have a "new market" necessarily. There is a "market for illegal drugs", not a market for Exstacy. There is a market for advertizing needs, not a market for google ads. Competitors or single products don't "have a market", they have a "market share".

SunirShah -- Tue Sep 22 16:25:30 2009

Let me clarify. The existing DocumentMode has a structure and content that implies all communities that scale are fighting an EvilMonopoly. We both agree that is not accurate, and I would like to accept that agreement and move on to how we can restructure the DocumentMode to build on the core intuition expressed and get it to a more accurate model. i.e. CommunitiesThatScale address scalable markets.

We can debate the InnovatorsDilemma? on its own page if you wish. The evidence Christensen presents about disruptive innovation is compelling and I strongly believe his conclusions are correct, especially since they combine incredibly well with CrossingTheChasm? to provide an actionable and demonstratable ActorNetworkTheory?-based model of markets. For those who have not read the book, he has demonstrated that disruptive innovations have to find a new market with a different value network (his term). Since that market is unaware it exists, the new company has to create the market. Initially this market is very small, and the disruptive company's business does not look appealing to the incumbents especially since their solutions are worse for customers in the incumbent market. However, over time the disruptive technology improves allowing the disruptive company to start picking off customers from the older market. Eventually, the new market grows to engulf the old--and it's ultimately a larger market.

The best way to displace an existing monopoly is to disrupt it in this style.

HelmutLeitner -- Wed Sep 23 15:10:23 2009

Sunir, I'm looking forward to all the begging links that you created relative to Christensen. I hope that you will fill them with good theory eventually.

The categorial name "disruptive" and its use for everything: disruptive technology, disruptive company, disruptive market, ... , doesn't convince me in itself. This may sound good, but seems still related to phenomena, not to explanations. There must be more, to become useful.

If there is something like disruptive technology, then it's absolutely not clear what effect it can have on markets, old or new. ("the new market is ultimately a larger market, engulfing the older"). I think one could find examples, where markets would behave differently. Consider the "atomic bomb", probably a very disruptive technology. I would assume, that it affected the market of classical weapons in a remarkably small way.

NathanielThurston -- Wed Sep 23 17:41:04 2009

I agree with Sunir's point that the focus on an EvilMonopoly is inappropriate. There seem to be two classes of opportunities for the formation of a new large-scale community:

HelmutLeitner -- Fri Sep 25 14:10:14 2009

There is no such focus. The focus only comes from the discussion around it. Seems that my critical position towards monopolies touched a "free market" taboo.

The focus of this page - as far as I am concerned - is on UniversalProduct. Actually the discussion between you and me about the scaling of Meatball got this started. The answer is: Meatball has no UniversalProduct. It has a complicated product that is interesting to hosts and core member of communities only, maybe 50K people world-wide. This is nothing compared to 1G+ of some simple twitter product (0.005%). Therefore Meatball has no comparable growth chances, whatever "disruptive technology" you might use.

There is a connection between the MonopolyPattern? and UniversalProduct, though. The monopoly proves that there is a need and a UniversalProduct, otherwise the monopoly wouldn't be felt and it couldn't be exploited.

RadomirDopieralski -- Sun Sep 27 15:20:18 2009

Looking at the examples, I begin to suspect it's not about scaling the communities, but about scaling the collaboration. I don't think that community is necessary for collaboration -- especially when there are examples of "accidental" collaboration, where collaborating parties don't even know (or care) about their existence. One obvious way to scale collaboration is to introduce hierarchy -- but this has its own problems. Another, more chaotic approach is to give up on social interactions ("the less social interactions necessary, the better" from the current document mode) and instead concentrate on the work to be done, creating an environment when this work can be done chaotically by random people, in small pieces, and where it accumulates. That's where the UniversalProduct comes into view -- notice how it always has a way of communicating locally with any workers working on the same part -- through code, comments, documentation and bug reports in case of open source software, through the wiki itself in case of wiki, through comments and tags in case of "social" sites. It's similar to how ants build their anthill: no single ant has the blueprints, but each one works on its own small part and reads the signals from others to coordinate.

NathanielThurston -- Thu Oct 8 12:53:17 2009

Radomir, I agree with your point that it's about scaling the collaboration, but I'm not sure how a scaled collaboration would be possible without some sort of hierarchy or community -- how else could it be possible to cope with vandals, spammers, and trolls?

RadomirDopieralski -- Thu Oct 8 15:46:14 2009

If there is no community, then there are no trolls -- so no need to defend against these. Spammers are tolerable as long as they don't damage your project or suck on its resources -- at which point they become vandals. Dealing with vandals may be hard, depending on the project. Of course, if the working environment is made safe (hard to do permanent damage, easy to spot and repair it) and only requires maintenance at the local level, then single users and small groups can effectively defend it against entropy of the universe. SoftSecurity has a lot on how to create such environment, although it's not only specific to soft security. I think it's possible to have a hybrid system, where some framework is based on hard security and hierarchy, but most of it is just single persons or small groups working locally. In fact, I think that this is exactly how Flickr or Wikipedia work!

HansWobbe -- Thu Oct 8 17:14:12 2009

My quick review of these comments motivated me to post this comment as an "expression of interest" and as a reminder to myself that I should think through some possible responses.

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