on content management and communities

I've been deep in thought, planning a set of resources to support a community project, and have been struggling with how to best position these resources to best reflect a dynamic, engaged, face-to-face set of communities.

My initial reaction was that the communities need to exist first face-to-face, and that any online resources are supplementary and intended simply to continue and extend their conversations. The online resources are not the community. I think this part is pretty obvious.

My second reaction was that I should whip up a new site in Drupal to host the online portion of the communities - discussions, notes, questions, presentations, etc... I've even deployed the site and begun to craft it to reflect where I hope to help steer the communities.

But then, after thinking over Cole's post, I started thinking that the right tack would be to just have the community members publish wherever they like (with a few suggestions offered) and pull their various bits back together in one central aggregation site to help them track the activities. It provides much more flexibility, and each community would be able to draw on any tools and resources they wished to use.


After thinking some more, I realized that most people aren't in the same headspace as the edtech geeks like myself. They don't get eduglu. They don't get distributed publishing. They don't get aggregation. Or tagging, or rss, or rip-mix-burn. And, quite possibly, they shouldn't have to. I take a fair number of things for granted in how I interact with various resources online. Most people don't have the context to make sense of this, and forcing them to jump into the pool without first sticking their toes in is not productive - people will be overwhelmed, overstimulated, and alienated.

They're in a place where they need some guidance. Not authoritarian mandates, but simple guidance. They need constraints and limits, because without them all they'll see and hear is noise. They won't be able to participate effectively in distributed conversations, because they will have difficulty even finding the various threads.

There are a few parameters in how a community can select resources, and I think these parameters also reflect the style of the community itself. Here's a grossly oversimplified 5-minute diagram to help illustrate:

What we're trying to do is hit the sweet spot, where a community resource has enough flexibility, support, control, and ease of use to enable a high quality online experience to help extend the community.

I'm now convinced that my initial draft at the centralized website resource "hub" for the community is the right approach. I'll be providing means for the individuals within the community to basically do whatever they want to, to create their own groups (both formal and ad hoc), and to publish whatever they want within the resource. But - they won't be required to use this website. If they want to move into a WikiSpace, or start up a WordPress blog, or any of a billion other options, they are free (and welcome) to do so. But by starting things in a more centralized and safe place, there is less risk of leaving people out in the cold by forcing them to move too quickly.


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