[Home]EmbraceTheCycle

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Wiki:CommunityLifeCycle describes the seemingly inevitable pattern played out in all online forums. Successful communities reach a peak, then eventually falter with growth and age and failure to adapt. The cycle begins again in a diaspora as the core readership moves on to join or found new communities.

Is this a pessimistic view, or a cynical one? In some ways, yeah, it is. But I think the cycle can be positive, even joyful to contemplate. Revel in it! EMBRACE THE CYCLE. This page is only slightly tongue-in-cheek...


Now that Wiki:CommunityLifeCycle has been shown to us, and our experience seems to confirm its truth, what do we do about it? Can we break the cycle, prevent the fall, keep our site forever in its Golden Age? Will our new foreknowledge make us real-life HariSeldon?s, preserving our institutions for future generations?

I say not! Why fight the cycle? Instead, become the cycle. Live the pattern as so many have lived it before. But now that you've studied its stages, its symptoms and causes, you can adapt to the cycle and even take advantage of it. Ride the cycle like a surfer on the ocean. When the wave has "finally crested and rolled back," you're already on the lookout for the next big breaker.

How can we embrace the cycle as we build our online world? First make it easy to build new communities, and to jump from one site to the next. Look at the proliferation of free WebLog and WikiClone software. Look at cheap hosting services and home broadband. Look at the webs we're building through InterWiki and RSS syndication. Soon new groups will spring up almost instantly, and readers will know about them as soon as they exist. The cycle will accelerate to a constant diaspora. Users will glimpse new sites all the time, sometimes finding a place they fit and joining the discussion for good... at least until something better takes its place.

Chaos, yes -- but a wise sort of chaos. In the diaspora, new communities are potent mixes of users from different old sites. Each user brings experience from their past participations, and gains even more as they join others with different backgrounds. As hundreds or thousands of communities constantly grow and die back, a few with just the right mix will stick around for a bit longer. Their users will know the glory of an extended Golden Age, and when the Fall eventually comes, the old readership will spread out and take its accumulated wisdom to neighboring groups, or go on to found new communities of their own.

Don't fight the cycle.


For individuals, it's reasonable to jump from one community to the next because (like everything intellectual) communities are so cheap on the Internet. You can build new ones at the drop of hat. It's also cheap to eviscerate communities. For the sake of knowledge collection and annealing, this is not a very good proposition. Consider the fight to preserve the DejaNews? Usenet archives. Some people have tried to archive the Internet as a whole, but this is ludicrous, just like it's ludicrous to archive every flyer that's stapled to lampposts and bulletin boards. But, I still think it's important to build little nuggets of knowledge here and there. -- SunirShah


Sometimes the journey matters more than the destination. Sometimes I learn more from writing a page than from reading one. So Wiki is ephemeral. Wasn't it Hari Seldon who said, "Finished products are for decadent minds?" -- DaveHarris

Writer's koan: You can't can write until you read.

I have recently read a great deal of research stating that this is probably untrue. Most children become fascinated with writing long before they become interested in reading, and actively write before they know how to read. Whether this writing has any meaning is debatable, but the active nature of writing does seem to inspire children much more than the passive act of reading. This is probably parallelled in the fact that as a rule, we much prefer to engage in active verbal discourse than passive listening (certainly, I learn a great deal more talking to my friends than listening to a lecturer!). I suspect this is why so many online communities thrive in the space where they can contribute - no community exists unless people can actively participate, and people will find ways to participate if the official channels won't let them. -- LeeDavisThalbourne


It is interesting to note that little of the discussion on this page and WikiLifeCycle itself seems to focus on the implications of the very term it is using - if this is indeed a LifeCycle?, then there is no such thing as TheEnd?. The cycle will merely begin again. Indeed, it is apt to reference life as well, because it could be seen as an analog of the cycle we all go through as living things: birth, growth, reproduction, decline, and ultimately death. To expect anything to last forever is to expect a MagicBullet that will ReverseEntropy?. Thus we can indeed EmbraceTheCycle, and use our time to AdvanceKnowledge? and try to ensure that we will have made a MeaningfulContribution? from which future generations can benefit - by StandingOnTheShouldersOfGiants?. It is however, natural, for the parents to be suspicious of the young - over time, ideas become fixated, and this is the key problem that life cycles solve, by allowing the ideas to be broken by the more flexible thinking of younger minds.

Mention is also made above of HariSeldon? "preserving institutions for future generations". In fact, the application of PsychoHistory? was entirely based around embracing the cycle: where the GodKings tried desperately to hold onto what little they had left, and harked back to the past, HariSeldon? accepted that DeclineIsInevitable? and put his effort into working out the best way of preserving what had been gained, and minimising the overall damage that would be suffered. Thus, the best way to EmbraceTheCycle is to think carefully about issues such as RightToFork, and how best to enable beneficial WikiEmigration and InterWiki (or more generally, InterCommunity?) ties.


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