A set of dilemmas that I face, and that I presume a lot of other people face, in collaborating and cooperating online are:
- Information overload: There is so much to process from each group, with discussions, and output from the group. As time progresses, it can sometimes get beyond the ability of any individual to keep track of the evolution and progress of one group. Let alone many.
- Timecrunch (too much to do, too little time to do it): Networked digital technology empowers us to do many things that we could not do in the past. The benefits of this are vast in proportion. Yet, one of the byproducts is that many of us as individuals end up running out of time in our daily lives. So, we end up having to pass, or being only marginally active in some activities that might enhance our overall individual goals through participation.
- A proliferation of diverse tools, process, and goals: I write for three group Weblogs. I participate in 10+ different wiki communities. I use, help develop, and have business based around TeleCommunity Software. I have my own Weblog. I copy most of my posts from all of these blogs into an experimental wiki called a “bliki“. I also participate in discussions in several google, yahoo, and other-“groups”. I’m also part of different private conferences and message boards online. I use Secondlife. I am part of a few different social networking sites. I also subscribe to several different email listservs, and, I communicate with 20-100 different people via email every day. Everyone who participates in these different groups are also a part of many other different collaborations elsewhere themselves on an individual level.
Each one of these ways of online participation is a slightly-to-highly different system of social software tools. Each group that I am a part of tends to have it’s own unique goals, although some of those goals overlap with other groups and projects that I work on. Yet, I only have so much time each day to spend trying to participate in each group.
A friend named Garsett Larosse ( http://go.webassistant.com/to/garsett/) gave me some examples of how to “synergize” all of the different things that I am doing, all of the different demands on my time.
“Synergize” in this case refers to Buckminster Fuller’s concept of “synergy”. The definition of “synergy” being:
n. pl. synÂ·erÂ·gies
- The interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
- Cooperative interaction among groups that creates an enhanced combined effect. (from dictionary.com)
So, I started thinking about ways that I, as an individual could “synergize” my activities among the many projects and groups that I am a part of.
An example would be thinking about and applying ways to make work that I do on one project benefit other projects in some way, if possible. Like, if I write something in one wiki, and then re-use that page in another wiki by linking to it instead creating a whole new page with the same name in another wiki, for instance.
However, I also discovered that synergizing can scale beyond the individual, and into the group(s) the individual is part of, and between groups.
Human “synergizing” refers to three actions:
-The action of one person synergizing their work across many
Thinking about this could start with asking:
Is it possible for me to reuse work, insights or resources from one structured project in other structured projects (taking into consideration all of the re-use restrictions, agreements, non-disclosure, etc that may apply)?
Is it possible for me to structure the way that I work in a way that makes it easy for me to apply my work in many ways, in many projects?
-The action of many individual people synergizing their individual work together into one group “project”
Thinking about this could start with asking:
What are the roles of the individuals in the group? How do they communicate? What are the goals, or the desired outcomes of the group? How can each person then better apply synergizing their individual energies and work into their own roles, and the desired outcomes of the group? How can each person better synchronize with all of the others in
-The action of many groups of people synergizing their work across many
Thinking about this could start with asking:
How can the desired outcome, the goals, and the work output of the group help other groups? How can the output of other groups help our group? How can the group better synchronize and build relationships with other groups?
So how can we as individuals and groups overcome the three roadblocks to human synergy (information overload, timecrunch, diversity of processes)?
Well, I am not the only person thinking about this, actually.
For instance, the wiki community I am part of, CommunityWiki, has employed InterWiki tools, like NearMap. So, if you type the name of a page shows up on another wiki in the “NearMap”, but not on CommunityWiki, it will automatically link to the other wiki. CommunityWiki also employs RecentNearChanges (and RecentFarChanges), which unifies the recent changes of many different wikis. Since most people keep track of wikis via recent changes, this gives an easy and systematic way for wiki communities to collaborate, help each other fight spam, etc. This is group to group synergy (at least among wiki communities). CommunityWiki is also exploring, in OneBigSoup, ways to let many different types of social software systems collaborate via creating software tools that work better together. The “OneBigSoup” exploration is at least a start at removing the roadblock of too many diverse processes. It points in a possible future direction of the evolution of the tools we used, and suggests some ways to get there.
But in the meantime, we are still stuck with the three roadblocks to synergizing our individual, group, and group to group workflows. We are still stuck with many different tools, and many different conversations, and many different individual and group goals. Some people simply throw more technology (more tools) at the problem, which helps some people, but slows others down or even grinds them to a halt. They must now keep up with yet another set of processes, and even more information, with the same amount of limited time.
In the present environment of networked digital technology, and of growing online collaborations, I think that it is time to stand back for a moment, and look at what we can do as individuals, and groups to synergize our work. To get more done with the same amount of time.
I have been trying to develop processes to synergize my work on an individual level. I have also been hypothesizing ways that a group can synergize the work of it’s individuals effectively, and how a group can synergize with other groups effectively as well.
Individual scale synergy: Mapping, Social Bookmarking, and RSS, and Refactoring To The Rescue?
One of the things that I have begun to do on an individual level is to map out what I am doing in these many different areas, and how they relate in my mind. You can do this mapping with a visualization tool, like Freemind Mind Maps (here’s and example from Jim Benson’s blog). Or, you can use a tool that allows you to create a personal taxonomy of online information, like del.icio.us (I use both del.icio.us and TeleCommunity Software). The point is to use one of these tools that allows you to see how what you are doing in many different places online is connected, and allows you to quickly look at those connections.
Almost all of the different social software tools I describe above (blogs, wikis, email via gmail, message boards/groups, TeleCommunities) employ RSS tracking. So, I am able to add feeds to a feed reader like bloglines and track new content among all of the groups that I am working with. I’m also able to search these feeds quickly for specific areas of content. In fact, I can search them for keywords from my mind map, or my tagged personal knowledge base. Or, I can search for words that relate to those keywords. This allows me to see where one fruit of labor created by me can possibly be refactored into other efforts, other groups that I am part of, effectively.
“Refactoring” can sometimes acceptably consist of wholly reusing/reposting multiple places. Or, it can mean talking about and recontextualizing in a way that each group can understand and use.
Mapping, tracking many different social software formats via RSS, and using these maps and aggregated feeds as a way to to figure out how to reuse/refactor our work when possible. These are all effective ways to reduce the three roadblocks to “synergizing” our work on an individual scale.
Synergizing Many Individuals On The Group Scale
So, you’ve mapped, you’ve started feed reading, and you’ve started reusing and refactoring as much as possible.
Yet, the practices/processes of each group, and the goals of each group are still so varied that you still must spend a lot of time reworking related work from one project and one group to another.
So, how do we synergize the work of many individuals, who all participate in many groups and projects, into our group project in an effective way? Getting everyone to use the same software platform is obviously not realistic. However, getting every group to help each individual link and connect work from your groups to other groups is within reach right now, no matter what social software or processes you use.
The way to do it is to acknowledge up front that the individuals who make up the group are usually active in many different ways with many different groups, and make it easy for them to incorporate relevant content from the other groups. Right now, many groups give some way for individuals to introduce themselves, or even have a home page for each participant, or a profile of some type. This introduction, this profile or home page could be expanded into a way for individual people to synergize across groups right away.
The idea is to state the goals and and areas of focus of your group, and then let each participant have the freedom to show how their work in other groups is connected to the focus and goal of the group. It’s important to realize that if you want the benefits of this individual-to-group synergy, that part of your core goals and focus as a group must explicitly be to allow and encourage this individual connecting and refactoring from elsewhere.
Synergizing Groups To Groups
If you are able as a group to successfully encourage and promote individuals refactoring relevant work from other groups and efforts into your group effort, the natural progression is to seek useful partnerships between groups. This should not be delegated to one individual who happens to be a part of two groups, however. Instead, the group itself should have a collective apparatus, a program, a group method, a group process, for approaching other groups for partnership. A basis of the partnership can indeed be the fact that individuals connect both groups. But another basis should also be either shared group focus, shared group goals, or both.
The little secret here is that: groups that encourage individuals to synergize, recontextualize or refactor relevant work from other groups will already have a some degree of either shared focus and/or shared goals. The other little secret is that: groups made up of individuals who actively try to map themselves, aggregate sources when possible, and synergize, refactor reconextualize will have an easier time of synergizing on individual to group, and group to group scales.
If we start with synergizing our own individual methods, we get the benefit of using time more effectively, cutting down on information overload, and we start having more time and clarity to work in diverse social software environments with many different groups. If we work as a group to encourage and enable this individual synergizing, we get the benefit of more and better participation from more people in the group. And, if we as a group create a group apparatus to seek out synergetic partnerships with other groups, based on connections between the focus and goals of our groups, we’ll gain the benefit of scaling collaborative participation.
I want to leave three questions to each of you that reads this:
- What is the best way for us to “synergize” our work as individuals across many groups?
- What is the best way for groups to encourage and enable the individuals who make up that group to do this?
- What is the best way for groups to create a way to work with other groups that share some basis of focus and/or goals?