Thursday, May 14, 2009

Any tool can do, culture matters

I'm writing blogging tips for a book we're writing and one of the tips is to create a rhythm of posting. I had a good blogging rhythm but now I seem to loose it! So I need tips how to keep your rhythm. All the holidays in the Netherlands starting from queen's day on 30 april are definitely fun, but don't help me to keep into any rhythm. But let's try to stick to a weekly rhythm and blogging about a past experience still lingering in my head.

In a teleconference Davee Evans, active participant in wikipedia organised by CPsquare I was very much struck by the complete unimportance of selecting the right tool for online interaction. What's really important is creating a culture of exchange. Since my consultancies started to include online methods for learning and collaboration a lot of the initial questions I get are about help to select the right tool. Or sometimes people have selected a tool and want to know how to tweek it. Though engagement in an intake conversation, all the other questions about introduction, designing the change process, the facilitation of the online interaction surface rapidly. Nevertheless, most of the time I also do some tool advice because I have the feeling that's part of the expertise asked of me. So both clients and myself seem to be drawn to tool selection.

What was the example? Davee talked about a voting process taking place in wikipedia about combatting vandalism. From the teleconference minutes:
The "flagged revisions project" is an attempt to deal with the enduring problem of vandalism. It's a very slow community process held in a very peculiar local style of discussion. Voting, with the pro's and con's about voting, happens in a free text space that is unique.
You can see the polling process in the picture displayed or by clicking on this link. What's interesting is that the tools used are in my opinion not the most appropriate for the job. The poll is done in the form of an online discussion in a wiki. I'd say you need an online survey tool to conduct a poll. And if you want to discuss an issue, you need a discussion thread function. What the wikipedians do, is use the wiki they are so familiar to and write in a threaded fashion in the wiki page that seems to work for them.

A strong example of the fact that when culture of working together online is very strong, the tool doesn't really matter. (it definitely put my idea about the best tools upside down!).


Barbara Fillip said...

The idea that the tool doesn't matter as much as the culture really resonates with me. Those who get to pick the tools or discuss the pros and cons of various tools are often techies with strong personal opinions about what makes a "good tool" and lots of good ideas about how the tool could have been made better. They'll often end up discussing the finer points of things that have very little impact on the average user's experience.

What you really need to nurture, aside from a culture of knowledge exchange, is an openness to new tools, the willingness to try new tools and to learn how to make them work for you as an individual or for your group's specific purpose.

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi Barbara, thanks for your addition! I agree that it's an openness to experiment with new tools that need to be fostered.. with that groups may find better tools after all.

John Smith said...

I agree that culture trumps tools, but only so far. Tools can not only do "what you want" but also open up surprises, and they are not all the same in that respect. For example, the link you gave for Davee Evans himself showed him in the context of 10 other authors on an automatically generated, special-purpose page. I thought that was an interesting context that I hadn't seen. Is that authors page a tool? OR is the tool the "One City" blog? OR is the tool the link in your blog? In our Digital Habitats book, we've used the concept of "platform" to refer to the collection of tools that Beliefnet, in your example, has put together to support all the blogs it publishes. So would you say that "Any platform can do"? :-)

Joitske Hulsebosch said...

Hi John, thanks for your comment. Perhaps stating any tool/platform can do it is too strong. A seemingly less optimal tool that is part of cultural use by a group is better than the most optimal tool. The example points (again) out that we (including me) are paying too much attention to the choice of online tools as opposed to supporting the habits.

If they'd asked me I'd say that a wiki can't do that thing, but wiki-ing is so much part of the culture of the wikipedians. Probably tools use is part of culture as well. You'll probably agree with that