Aldo de Moor’s Blog, Growing Pains

Aldo de Moor, professor at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, member of the Collaboration Collaboratory, author of several excellent papers on virtual communities, and overall good guy has joined the blogosphere. Welcome, Aldo! His latest piece explores the role of virtual communities in society as a whole and introduces some of his latest research.    (1E1)

Manifesto Comments, Responses

Many thanks to everyone who’s emailed me or blogged about my manifesto. I’ve received great feedback — lots of kind words and constructive comments — both via email and the blogosphere. Because of the good folks at Slashdot, the piece was widely distributed. The last time something I wrote was Slashdotted, the responses were mostly content-free. This time around, quite a few people there had something reasonably substantial to say.    (1AS)

Where’s The Beef?    (1AT)

The most asked question was, “Where’s the beef?” Krysztof Kowalczyk wrote:    (1AU)

It points out problems, shows some meta-solutions but almost no concrete solutions.    (1AV)

Marc Canter added:    (1AW)

There’s nothing he’s saying that I don’t agree with. I just wish he’d get more specific. Screen shots, Mockups, Design guidelines, Wireframes. APIs. Schemas. We need more Schemas!    (1AX)

The point of my backlinks example is that in many cases, concrete solutions already exist; we just haven’t collectively realized it yet. Collaboration can’t happen until we realize that we’re all working on the same problem. There are initiatives for achieving this Shared Understanding, including our Collaboration Collaboratory and OCSI.    (1AY)

That’s the more technical part of the “beef.” However, there’s a sociological element that has to come first: We have to understand what it means to collaborate, and we have to understand how we collaborate. Again, pockets of understanding exist, although they are mostly isolated from each other. We need to unify that understanding.    (1AZ)

Patterns of Collaboration    (1B0)

Blue Oxen Associates is working on that part of the problem. Our approach is to mine for patterns of effective collaboration and to disseminate these patterns widely via a Pattern Language. We’ve hinted at this objective in previous research reports, and we’re further refining it via additional research and other projects. Tomorrow, I’m heading to Carefree, Arizona for Chili PLoP, where I’ll be leading a workshop on patterns of collaboration.    (1B1)

On Slashdot, Jameth commented:    (1B2)

The manifesto makes grand claims about unifying our collaborative language, but totally understates how difficult this is. The problem usually is that we just do not have a solid model of what can and cannot be done, and we likely never will.    (1B3)

Jameth later added:    (1B4)

Collaboration methods change day-to-day. Sometimes the methods change due to whim, sometimes due to fashion, and sometimes due to technology. Whatever the reason, collaboration methods are hard to nail down reliably.    (1B5)

I’m mostly with Jameth here. If I understated the difficulty of unifying our collaborative language, then I did so in error. It is a tremendous challenge. However, his claim that collaborative methods change day to day is incorrect. Perhaps that’s the case for methods in general, but it’s not the case for effective methods. The problem is that we’ve done a poor job of identifying and sharing these methods. This is exactly the problem we’re trying to address.    (1B6)

Metamodeling    (1B7)

Dorothea Salo wrote:    (1B8)

ARGH! Every time I think the One True DTD business has finally run its course?    (1B9)

…    (1BA)

Tell you what, dear heart. You tell me what the “fundamental constructs” of documents actually are — every document on earth, mind you — and I’ll happily help out with a standard way of expressing ’em.    (1BB)

I absolutely do not believe in this notion of “One True DTD”; in fact, I have spoken adamantly against it in the past. As I explain in the manifesto, the fundamental constructs I’m talking about are graphs. Every document can be expressed as a graph. XML fundamentally relies on this property, as its underlying data model is a graph. The point of my piece is, don’t get too caught up with syntax (although don’t ignore it either); focus on the data model.    (1BC)

Talk: Cheap, but Necessary

John Stafford had an interesting response to my recent blog entry, “Million Dollar Dialog.” John said, “The problem with dialogue is that talk is cheap,” and then proceeded to tell an anecdote about a series of town hall meetings on education that led absolutely nowhere.    (19U)

Before I respond, I want to share Tom Munnecke‘s thoughts, which I liked a lot. Tom wrote:    (19V)

It strikes me that we could have a lot more talk in many circumstances:    (19W)

Physicians could take more time to communicate with their patients (and be given it in their schedules)    (19X)

Parents could talk more with their children.    (19Y)

Americans could talk more with Europeans, instead of letting their leaders or the media do the communicating for them.    (19Z)

Muslims, Christians, and Jews could talk more.    (1A0)

…    (1A1)

Seems to me that we should be talking about the quality of the communication and the “rightness” of the action, not simply trying to pump up “action” at the expense of “talk.”    (1A2)

I agree with both John and Tom. Talk is cheap, but it’s also necessary. Talk leads to Shared Understanding, which is an absolute prerequisite to effective collaboration. One of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to collaborate is confusing talk with lack of action. The two are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are highly complementary.    (1A3)

I’ve suggested in other posts that collaboration requires shared, bounded goals. Those goals generally manifest themselves as action. However, action that does not emerge from a Shared Understanding of ideas is not collaboration. That doesn’t mean it’s not valuable, but in many cases, its effectiveness is limited. Consider organizational mission statements. Suppose a CEO spent a week writing a mission statement for his or her company. Compare this to a CEO leading a six-month, organization-wide, facilitated dialog for collectively developing a mission statement. Even if the two statements were exactly the same, the latter would be far more meaningful than the former.    (1A4)

Action is important in two ways. First, it signifies progress — the achievement of shared, bounded goals. Second, action itself is a form of communication that helps strengthen Shared Understanding.    (1A5)

How do we facilitate action from talk? Representation, as John suggests, is vital. You need to have the right set of people, people who are capable and motivated. Jay Cross recently wrote about the Pareto Principle, more commonly known as the 80/20 rule. 20 percent of a group is usually responsible for 80 percent of the work. It only takes a small number of folks to get things done, but you need to make sure you have the right people in the first place.    (1A6)

Still, talk plays an important role here, because it gets ideas out there. When you Think Out Loud, there’s a possibility that someone who is action-oriented will hear and will do something about it. One of the explicit goals of our Collaboration Collaboratory is to capture the good ideas that emerge from our dialog. Even if nobody in our collaboratory decides to do anything about them, by capturing them and making them accessible, we increase the likelihood that someone else will. It’s a phenomenon I’ve seen time and again.    (1A7)

Chaordic Commons Revisited

Tom Munnecke (a member of our Collaboration Collaboratory) posted some thoughts on Chaordic Commons. Tom, who’s currently working on a project called GivingSpace, worked with Dee Hock on a health care venture a while back and has some interesting insights into Dee and the Chaordic Commons.    (14T)

I want to take issue with something he said about Doug Engelbart, however:    (14U)

As a student of visionaries, I am interested in how far-sighted individuals succeed or fail in getting their ideas across. One of the patterns I see is the degree to which the visionaries are able to dissociate their own identity from the ideas they are promoting. Sir Tim Berners-Lee did not name it “Tim’s Web” – but rather gave it away to be “the World Wide Web.” However, “Ted Nelson’s Xanadu” and “Doug Engelbart’s Augment” and “Dee Hock’s Chaordic thinking” got tangled up in the charisma of the visionary. The really successful visions, I think, embed the charisma in the vision, not the visionary. “Success has many parents, but failures are an orphan.    (14V)

This may be true of Dee’s work, but it doesn’t apply to Doug. How many people have heard of Doug? Not enough. How many people know what a mouse is? Quite a few.    (14W)

Anyone who attended Engelbart’s Unfinished Revolution symposium at Stanford in 1998 knows how many important thinkers Doug has influenced over the years. More telling is that Doug insisted that his name be removed from the followup colloquium held at Stanford in 2000. His reasoning? It’s not his unfinished revolution; it’s ours.    (14X)

Dialog Mapping Use Cases

The Compendium Dialogue Mapping tool came up in conversation on the Collaboration Collaboratory. In the course of the discussion, I explained that I use Compendium for three purposes:    (XW)

  • Personal note-taking.    (XX)
  • Taking shared notes during meetings.    (XY)
  • Facilitating face-to-face group meetings.    (XZ)

John Sechrest asked in response:    (Y0)

I have a client come in. We talk about what? And that causes what to show up on the compendium screen?    (Y1)

Specifically, what is the social process that compendium is facilitating?    (Y2)

And how is that different than just writing an outline in an editor?    (Y3)

I mean different things by taking notes on a Shared Display versus facilitating group meetings, so I’ll treat them separately in answering John’s questions.    (Y4)

There are three advantages to taking shared notes real-time. First, you know that a record is being kept of the meeting, which is reassuring. Second, you know that the notes are immediately available. Third, you have the chance to validate the notes as they are being taken.    (Y5)

Taking notes on a Shared Display is a great pattern, regardless of the tool you use. In fact, using a Wiki or a program like SubEthaEdit instead of Compendium may be more valuable in some ways because the note-taking can be collective. When I use Compendium to do this, only I can edit the notes.    (Y6)

The advantage that Compendium has over these other tools is the graphical IBIS grammar. IBIS (which can be expressed as a text outline) is slightly more semantically rigorous and slightly more compact than an outline. Graphical IBIS is superior to a textual outline, because the second dimension serves an additional reference for finding what you’re looking for.    (Y7)

Another advantage of the IBIS grammar is that it encourages, even forces participants to consider the underlying questions (a precursor to the Left-Hand Move pattern). This really comes through in facilitated meetings (with facilitators who are trained in Dialogue Mapping).    (Y8)

The most important thing Dialogue Mapping does in a facilitation context is depoliticize discussion. Dialogue Mapping focuses attention on ideas rather than on people by making sure that all ideas are captured and captured anonymously.    (Y9)

Jeff Conklin, the man responsible for graphical IBIS and Dialogue Mapping, has written a book on Dialogue Mapping that does a great job of explaining how it’s best used as well as the underlying theory. I’m not sure if the book is available yet, but I’ll check. In the meantime, I highly recommend Jeff’s Dialog Mapping workshops. I wrote an article a few years back describing one of these workshops.    (YA)