For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing over in Ning with the Classroom 2.0 and School 2.0 people. The usual suspects are there and some of the puzzlements I’m dealing with is “what the heck is this space?” and “why do we need a centralized location?”
David Warlick wrote this reflective bit about the space today:
2 Cents Worth » Starting to Get It?
I’m coming to suspect, however, that there are many kinds of networks, and that they are, in a sense, part of one network, tied together (attracted to each other) through the conductivity of conversations and the gravitational pull of logic.
He goes on to talk about attention and how when we started blogging, there was a lot of attention available but that as more and more voices flooded into the space, the natural limits set by hours in the day begain to overwhelm attention. I think a lot of people (at least those who’ve been doing this for more than a few months) have had the experience of trimming back their feed lists because it’s just too much. So the idea of attention has merit, but this other notion of a variety of interconnected networks precipitated another discussion.
In an ancillary conversation I was having with Mrs B on the subject of professional organizations, we began to analyze what it is a professional organzation offers to its members in a networked world. Why would anybody pay dues to be a member of a club? What could a club offer that would make it worthwhile?
She pointed out that humans are tribal animals, so we want to belong to something — that old Maslow affiliation drive. Which made me go back and think about the idea of “professional organzation” as a way of permitting its members to address the top half of Maslow’s hierarchy. I don’t know quite how this all works yet, but I wanted to get it down while I could remember it.
One of the things the “tribe” needs is identity and that comes from a shared vision, shared values, and shared goals — a sense of “us.” The tribe also needs a center. The center becomes the instantiation of identity through that shared vision, value, and goal. Someplace where, if you go there and meet another member of the tribe, you know you have something in common — just by virtue of their being there — even if you’ve never met them before.
The next question, logicially, is the nature of this ‘community center’ and I thought it could be decentralized. A technorati feed with the tribe’s name as tag could provide the center, but that would require a level of skill, and expertise that I don’t think a lot of people have yet. It’s going to be hard to identify with a feed and most people don’t see the river of content flowing from a feed as a center.
And that brings us back to Ning and other centralized spaces like TappedIn or MySpace or The ORG. They provide a place to go to find the tribe. To see what the members are doing. They provide a baseline that’s easier to deal with than the dispersed and distributed model. The problem with the ones I know about are that there’s no good way to merge distributed and centralized content together.
Eventually, I began to think that the community center needs to be centralized as a symbolic commitment to the tribe. We can each have our own spaces but the tribe needs a kind of metaphorical long house. It’s an answer to Stephen Downes’ perennial question of “why does there need to be another place?”
I’m working in analogy here. In metaphor. Bear with me if it breaks down.
If I go to the market and meet somebody, we share some things in common, and for a short period we even share a common goal – getting whatever we came to the market for. But the meeting is co-incidental. It’s not being driven by any kind of common vision or shared outlook except in the most superficial way. We’re not tribe.
So if I tag a post as “online community” and it merges with something that somebody else posts, it’s co-incidental. We might have opposite views and opinions, and while that has some value, it’s not the view of the tribe. While it’s true that the person is part of my network, that person is not one of “us” and is not part of my affiliation set.
And that brings me back to David’s notion of the gravitational attraction of ideas and linked and related but not congruous networks. People are finding Classroom 2.0. People are joining, reading, writing, participating. There is a rudimentary sense of identify forming — an idea of tribe. We’re still in the storming-norming stages but it’s already beginning to shape up. The conversations that happen in there tend to stay in there. They don’t appear to be pinging out (altho it’s entirely possible that I’m missing it). A few people are cross posting content from outside in and from inside out, but the link out of the community seems to consist primarily of links to the individual members’ blogs and web sites. So this sorta looks like David’s idea of connected networks holds up with one network inside the Ning garden and links in and out.
All of this leads me to the conclusion that the value of places like Ning is in forming centers around which networks and affiliations can form. Not as a replacement for the distributed world of feeds and aggregators, but as kinds of hubs. Cross pollination centers. Tribes.