[Home]CommunityLore

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Not all information is recorded on tangible media. A lot of knowledge is stored merely in the minds of people. What is known only to the people of a community is called lore. Much of the time lore is not recorded at all. If it is, it is poorly indexed or generally inaccessible. Consequently, lore is passed on by tradition, anecdote, or pedagogy. If the community does not actively teach lore, then it can be accessed by asking.

Lore doesn't include CommunityExpectations or values, but merely facts. We should also exclude TacitKnowledge?, as lore isn't gleaned implicitly or indirectly, but instead as direct person to person communication. It's not really CommonKnowledge? either, as lore isn't something that everybody knows, or at least community outsiders would know.

Clearly the information had to come from somewhere in the first place. Lore represents the combined learning of the community's CollectiveIntelligence. Although originally derived through experiment, analysis, serendipity, or other impersonal means, the process to derive the information would be too difficult for each individual in the society to undertake.

A common example in many cities is knowing the most efficient bus route to a destination. While this information can be discovered without assistance, say by analyzing the bus schedules and routes, and then experimenting to see which ones are most efficient, this is more effort than most people are willing to or can afford to spend. Someone else surely knows the right answer. By asking around, you might save hours from your life.

Much useful information may not be written down or indexed efficiently for many reasons. It could simply be that no one knows exactly how. Consider the StyleGuide; no one here really knows how to teach the local style except through mentoring. In other cases, the information is too difficult to organize, such as knowing the most efficient bus route from any location to any other location in the city. Sometimes, the information is considered too "easy" to discover, but only to those who can use the index, such as knowing about the bus route finder on the city web-site. In another common case, the information is too transient to write down, although it remains significant. For instance, knowing where the current hottest night club is often a demonstration of your coolness. Similarly, in blogland, knowing where the current hot discussion is happening is a measure of your coolness.

This latter case belies a problem. When essential information remains trapped within the social networks of a community, lore creates a barrier to entry to outsiders. For instance, to protect their sense of cool, the community will actively exclude others from knowing. More commonly, though, outsiders may not feel comfortable enough to ask, lacking a CommonContext. The may not know how to ask, such as knowing the appropriate manner to ask questions here on MeatballWiki.

Since this information is impermanent, it is fragile. It can be lost at any time. Village chronicles passed on orally millennia ago are now irrevocably lost. While some information can be forgotten, such as the ever changing cool night club, InformationLoss clearly presents a serious problem. Clearly some lore, like the village chronicle, is worth recording. In modern life, much important knowledge that would make our lives easier--like bus routes--is kept only as lore; this should be written down and indexed.

Nonetheless, you can't write everything down because it creates too much information. Half the time, lore is merely "Where is the index?" This only makes the pertinent information more arcane, forcing people to rely on lore once again.

The truth between these two extremes is simple. Lore represents the short term memory of the CollectiveIntelligence. After enough thrashing around, someone will discover how to simplify the significant information, and that will be recorded. Lore, in this way, represents the front of progress. It is also a limit on progress, because the less accessible information is, the less malleable it is. TheCollective's ability to remember lore is also very limited compared to the shear volume of information that has been recorded.

OnlineCommunities, particularly text-based communities, present a vital improvement to CommunityLore. Provided that all the interaction is recorded, all the acts of asking and teaching are recorded (cf. LifeInText). While non-malleable formats like BulletinBoardSystems, MultiUserDungeons, or WebLogs prevent this information from easily being reorganized, wikis make this quite easy. After only a few times of being asked the same question or stipulating the same teaching, people can easily refactor the lore into a cohesive text. For instance, our discussion about ShallowPages has since been turned into its own StyleGuide.

This doesn't mean that wikis are perfect. They have their own problems with lore, such as knowing where the relevant pages are. While architecturally wikis have certain advantages, like their "link names are page names" property, BackLinks, IndexingSchemes, for the most part, they rely heavily on the CollectiveIntelligence to know where the related pages are, or to identify redundant pages. However, as the PageDatabase grows, the CommunityMayNotScale to match it, particularly if pages are added too quickly. While the effort continues to organize the information into TableOfContents and CategoriesAndTopics, this work is typically slower than the act of creating information, especially since it's a lot harder to organize information than to create it. See also ReworkingProblems.

Therefore, because CommunityLore is essential to Wiki:PrepareTheWay, and because CommunityLore is limiting, it is important to move lore down into either CommonKnowledge? or easily accessible recorded knowledge. With wikis, this means identifying the real FrequentlyAskedQuestions?, and unifying them into their own pages. Follow the guideline, "three times, refactor!"


Recorded above doesn't always mean written down. It may also mean automated. For instance, certainly very few people today care how to churn butter manually, but at one time, many people did. The reason? Butter factories and the mass market.


Teaching the CommunityLore has to be generation-to-generation, and generations in OnlineCommunities are only about two years. Only the founder is likely to span multiple generations before exercising her RightToLeave. But some critical principles need to continue after the founder leaves or burns out, like FairProcess and the PrincipleOfFirstTrust here. More obvious rituals, like WelcomeNewcomer and the AwardRitual, need to be in place to pass this information down.


Forget to remember

The critics of the god Thoth, the inventor of writing, remark in Plato's Phaedrus that the ability to record has a lot more to do with forgetting than remembering, as it is a way of burying information in the past rather than continually recreating it in the present via OralCulture. When we organize and reify CommunityLore as learnt knowledge, it has a very strong tendency to then be forgotten. The Wiki:WikiIceberg then gets built of 'knowledge' that no one knows, and then things fall apart along the CommunityLifeCycle as CommunityExpectations are never expected.

This is a danger. Perhaps the positive spin many have poetically placed on Wiki:WikiFires is not badly placed. Continual forgetting leads to continual reenlivening of the argument as it has to be reformed, restated, and replaced in the present context. -- SunirShah


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