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This page is meant as good advice for founders of online communities but I may be also applied to the personal development of individuals or other goal-oriented systems.

The general problem. Visions are forces that help to reach goals. If you have no visions then the chance is high that you will arrive nowhere. On the other hand if the visions are too far from your reality, if you have not set proper subordinate goals, then visions become dreams, they create a gap that is hard to overcome. This is a general problem, but it is also an online community problem.

Visions in online communities. Online communities need visions (SuperordinateGoals) to inspire the founder and its members. But if the gap is too large, then no significient progress towards the vision can be made, and the result is an increasing demotivation. Sometimes the vision may look outright impossible from the beginning, so visitors will turn away before they even become contributors or members. On the other hand, if the gap is too small, you get the TargetReached or ShallowWiki problem. But this is easier to solve, because the discussion about new goals may inspire and motivate an existing community.


Be aware of this, check your overall design when you create new goals and visions, and every now and then. Just MindTheGap between your visions and the reality.

Be careful with great visions without proper near goals or stepping stones. Keep the these visions for later. Perhaps some member will come up with it in a few years and will really fight for it because it is his idea and not something that known-to-all years ago.

Example: Why does the WikiPedia vision of a "free encyclopedia" which is also a "great vision" work? Because you have clear near goals. Any page, any entry is a goal and you can look at it and judge: "yes this has the quality we aspire". So any good page is a proof of concept and a motivation to continue. If you can make one or a dozen, you can also create the 50K high quality pages you need.

Be pragmatic. WikiPedia also worked because they were pragmatic in practice, even if idealistic in vision. Similarly, Meatball is pragmatic, but idealistic in vision. BarnRaising, not church raising!


Great ideas. Often people start with a really impressive great idea: something like "Let's create a world community!". Fine, never heard before, did I? Ok, but what then? There are some occasional visitors, some contributors, maybe lots of discussions ... but what steps to take, how to reach this goal? It turns out, that the great idea itself without a plan - without subordinate near goals - is worthless.

BücherWiki. When I created the BücherWiki I was already aware of the importance of visions, but I overdid it. I created a vision page with dozens of ideas what could and should be done. But visitors and early members don't feel up to discuss directions and visions - there were never contributions to that page. While there is no real feedback on its effects, I think it did more harm than good. -- HelmutLeitner

Well, ... Why do you think it did harm? Can you give us some indication? -- LionKimbro

For example I talked about exchange between readers and authors of books. But this is extremely difficult. Authors often put their life in their books and its hard and painful for them to stand real feedback. Readers are consumers that aren't used to give feedback. Although in theory it should be a big step forward for readers and authors, no-one can really live up to these expectations. This has an negative impact. On the other hand, without this vision, someone could sometime in the future jump over this hurdle and feel as an innovator - which he really is. But within the framework of my vision he's just doing "what I always knew". My visions reduce the space for individual creativity. -- HelmutLeitner

Verbal Picture

I like the pictures and the atmospheres you draw! A picture is more ... perhaps these are the paintings of the online world. -- HelmutLeitner

IfYouBuildItTheyWillCome. TechnologicalDeterminism believes you can code your way to salvation, which is false.


A great idea may be a bad idea at the wrong time. In 1500 the idea of the "United States of America" may have been obvious but worthless. An underdeveloped country will need a "highway system" eventually - but perhaps not now. A great idea will not nourish a wiki if it comes at the wrong time. -- HelmutLeitner

Helmut, the wording of this makes it look like you're saying that people shouldn't publish grand visions. If you change the wording, I'll probably be fine with it. I do hope you'll tell us how you believe grand visions (in particular, communicated Grand Visions) harm communities. WorldForge? wouldn't be WorldForge? without it's grand vision.

This entry feels way too binary to me. It's like, "Either dreams are fulfilled, and that's good, or dreams are not fulfilled, and that's bad." When you're talking about dreams and visions, I don't think you can reason that way.

Some people are attracted by large dreams, some repelled, at different points in their life. Too vague, to draw a specific conclusion one. Especially not "You shouldn't publish your grand vision," as a general principle for all community-kind. -- LionKimbro

I agree that we will have to work this out. Let me talk about it a bit, perhaps you'll then be able to refactor it.

We see great (online) communities and some have great visions. Does a great community need a great vision? Perhaps, but I don't think so. Is a great vision enough to create a great community? Surely not, that would be too easy. Other ingredients play an important role...

A lot of millionaires are made by lotteries. Is it a good recipe to become a millionaire? Is the dream to become a football star necessary to become such a star? How many dream and fail? How many fail because they dream instead of just going forward step by step?

Other way round: You want to create a community. You know you need a vision. What should you take? You have a lot of possibilities. Each choice will have positive and negative effects. How to chose a vision? People in the internet are used to "great ideas" that are very short-lived. It may be a problem of trust and credibility. If people trust you, a great vision may be perfect. If you need to build trust, a simpler vision may be better.
Again: do you have the intermediate goals that allow you to prove your concept and build trust?

Very often the vision is too small. People come and say: "I have this shop and a lot of customers, I want to create an online community for them". There is a high chance that this won't work. Only 1-5% of them will show up. Only a small part of them will contribute. The vision (and therefore the target group) is too small. People dislike that their "technical idea" doesn't match the "internet reality" and that they just can't buy or create a community constructed exactly that way they envision. -- HelmutLeitner

That reminds me of ErnstGruber, who had a great vision but couldn't show any ideas or personal effort how he planned to accomplish it. Thus he was ignored and subsequently met great resistance. -- DavidSchmitt

Helmut, I think the questions you are asking are good. I also think that they have no easily calculable answer. I still think Visions and Realities things that Gods are made of. I agree with the sentiment behind Mattis' comment: "Mind the gap." I think this page is a good idea. But I don't think it should have answers on it; Only questions and possibilities. Mention that it's generally preferable to have stepping stones. Mention that you can usually come up with them. Also mention that sometimes we don't always have them, and sometimes we have to just "go" with it. Talk about mass movements, and the dreams living within hundreds of thousands of people, unconsciously guiding their motions. Talk about how we often operate according to a vision that we don't quite know. Talk about possibilities and abiguities. And then, I would end with: "Mind the gap." -- LionKimbro

How does the GoalStatement interact with this? Visions are important. You need direction or meaning in life. They help shape your daily actions. But even then you can't be governed by ideology; you have to keep your feet on the ground.

You may want to drive to San Diego, but remaining beholden to an ideology is like just pointing your car at San Diego and then locking the steering wheel. If you don't look where you're going and don't keep steering, you'll be off the road very shortly, and quite probably crashed.

Ideally Helmut should close his VisionRealityGap? here by outlining the Wiki:ThreeExamples that inspired him to write this page. That would help frame the discussion. I have added some thoughts below that are rough, but may be useful for a final Pattern. -- SunirShah

Would somebody please define visions?

Are we talking about utopianism, futurism, or technological determinism? Each of these are evil because the ignore the human condition and therefore increases suffering. Utopianism does not BuildInTolerance. Futurism ignores all those who suffered and died in the past to teach us about who we are today, and then goes on to recreate those situations. Technological determinism disempowers people by caging them by what should be a substrate that enables them.

If we are talking about imagination, that will always be out of phase with reality. That is why it is important to validate your ideas. Do a search of the historical and academic record. Consult others. Verify facts. Test assumptions. Sometimes your hypothesis is so promising that you cannot withhold your excitement. You may then hype your hypothesis. While this is profitable in the short term, in the long term it almost always fails. When it does "succeed" (i.e. survive), it does so at a great cost/benefit ratio.

Therefore, DefendAgainstPassion. Close the gap between your idea (the ideal) and the real using the scientific, academic, or common sense methods. --anon., brainstorming

I don't think we're talking about any of those things (utopianism, futurism, technological determinism). We're talking about any vision that people think is worth persuing. -- LionKimbro

Well, are there any examples here except TechnologicalDeterminism and/or TechnologicalUtopianism?? But maybe there are other types of visions that are salient? I already know that CryptoNauts are evil, but I don't mind pounding that idea in a little more.

"Mind the gap" T-shirts and more Info http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/4761/90349 -- MattisManzel

So, there's the famous "Chinese" saying, "A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." (I think I'd like to eventually do a paper on fake Chinese sayings. If you ever want to say something silly, but there's no existing aphorism for it, you can always fudge it and blame the Chinese. Poor bastards. I have a feeling it was probably Seneca who said this, but I can't find a citation.)

Anyways, I think the big "gap" problem is that a community needs a SuperordinateGoal to make what you're doing worth doing, yet there have to be small, easily-achieved tasks that lead to that goal. Wikis are actually great for this: you get a warm fuzzy feeling every time you correct a spelling mistake, because each tiny bit of work leads farther to the goal. It's tough to get people to think in terms of teensy-weensy steps -- one fact, one comment, one letter -- rather than in terms of a big step (like, "OK, you handle the section of WikiPedia on philosophy, and I'll do physics").

OK, I think I wanted to say something deeper than that, but I went astray. You need a destination 1000 miles away to make the journey worth while, but each step should be ~3 feet long, and it should go in the right direction. --EvanProdromou



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