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In the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, a baseball-obsessed Iowa farmer (played by Kevin Costner) has repeated auditory hallucinations consisting of the single sentence, "If you build it, they will come." He acts on the hallucination by creating a baseball diamond in his corn fields, complete with bleachers and stadium lighting, to the consternation of his neighbors and family. After the diamond is complete, however, ghostly baseball players (the uneasy spirits of the disgraced 1919 Black Sox team) emerge at night to play on the field. The same neighbors and friends who discounted the idea as crazy come to watch the games. Eventually, everyone -- ghosts, farmer, family, friends -- learns valuable lessons about life, love, baseball, and other sentimental subjects.
IYBITWC is a phenomenon of online communities, too.
- A community founder's SeedPosting is much like the leap of faith that the farmer makes. With no guarantee of success, reward, or sometimes even a definite goal, the founder puts work into creating a tool or space.
- There's the almost preternatural way that a public space created on the Internet will attract participation. For the founder or creator of the space, participants seem to emerge from the corn fields of the Internet without obvious cause, and contribute to the space for no apparent reason.
- On the negative side, there's the idea that once founders have created a space or tool, the community will "just happen". This is often the cause of the AbsentLeader syndrome -- the expectation that a founder's participation isn't necessary after FirstRelease?. Sometimes, a founder will give up on the community entirely -- "Nobody cares enough" -- and become embittered and angry. Their field of dreams never happened, and it proves that the phenomenon doesn't exist.
IYBITWC is more of a myth than anything else. Why does this myth arise?
- Most of the things a founder has to do, outside of creating the space in the first place, are relatively invisible. Promoting the community, making allies among other communities, recruiting members, etc., are background tasks that don't often show up on the radar of the site.
- Many founders are modest and don't want to appear as a GodKing.
- Many founders are immodest, but want their achievement to be remembered as having created a community that was needed and wanted, and not as having done the social grunt work necessary to get that community off the ground. In an economy of ideas, having recognized and filled the need is considered more of a virtue than having put in time or hard work.
- Many founders come from geek backgrounds, where technical skills are honored and social skills are deemphasized. The skill of creating a community is a social one, associated with marketing geeks and CEO types. If the founder is a geek, he or she may credit the initial programming, system administration, or other skills necessary to create the community, and ignore or downplay the more nebulous social ones.
- Community participation depends on community ownership. If the founder overemphasizes his participation, he can stifle that feeling of ownership, and stifle its growth. Founders have to balance their effort with a disclaimer of making any effort, instead giving credit to the ghostly community for whatever occurs in the space.
There's an interesting parallel with FreeSoftware projects. The myth of Free Software posits the hero working in obscurity and creating a fabulous product, then springing it on the world to universal acclaim and acceptance. The reality -- that projects don't just become miraculous successes the day after the first release, and that most software project creators (free or otherwise) have to spend years fine-tuning, fixing, and enhancing a program before it becomes an Apache, a Linux, or a perl.
- If You Build It, Will They Come?
Comments / Discussion
I like this page but too many people already think that their dreams are enough to produce reality. Too many ShallowWikis. [-- Anonymous Coward who is often accused to be cynical for his "won't work"]
- Oh, absolutely. I wanted to try and document both sides of the idea: that sometimes they come when you didn't expect them, and sometimes they don't come even though you wished and wished and believed and prayed really, really hard. --EvanProdromou
- I wrote a little something on WikiReputation, but I think there's lots of stuff on the care and feeding of a Wiki on WikiLifeCycle. --EvanProdromou
So, one thing that's starting to worry me is that Sunir tends to refer to this page like this:
- ... which is TechnologicalDeterminism, that is, IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome...
I don't think this is quite accurate, and perhaps I've described the fallacy too poorly to be clear. I don't think it's actually a question of how the technology determines the character of the community (which is my take on TechnologicalDeterminism). I think at issue is the mistaken assumption that the creation of a space will through some kind of ChemicalPotential? attract a community to that space. It doesn't really matter if it's a mailing list, a Wiki, an Elks lodge, a chat room or a penpal network: establishing a community space doesn't guarantee a community.
It works with any kind of people group. You can't start a new barber shop and just hope people will show up to get haircuts -- you have to advertise, you have to have a big sign out front, you have to give your friends free haircuts right up in the window so everyone knows you're open for business. --EvanProdromou
Proposal. Considering the title is too long and hard to read, perhaps this page could be renamed as WishfulThinking?. The other name "If you built it, they will come" for the Pattern would then be listed as an Also known as.