IA Summit: Architectures of Conversation

by Luke Wroblewski March 24, 2007

Andrew Hinton’s Architectures of participation: what Communities of Practice can mean for IA talk at IA Summit 2007 analyzed the role of communities of practice in the continuum between top-down hierarchies and emergent organic networks.

  • There are two extremes of the organizational continuum: top-down command hierarchy (government, military) vs. emergent organic network (crowds, friends)
  • You can illustrate this distinction by looking at assault rifles. M-16: closed system, expensive, complex, accurate (require specific bullets, require maintenance, for professional marksmen). AK-47: open, inexpensive, simple, close enough accuracy (easy to hack, not fussy about ammunition takes anything, kills 250k people a year).
  • Design has consequences. Social context reacts to what you design.
  • Another illustration: Britannica encyclopedia: container of knowledge that dispenses information. Wikipedia: more about conversations.
  • Conversation is the engine of knowledge. “Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.” –Cory Doctorow
  • Markets are conversations (Cluetrain Manifesto). Hard to get more purposeful than conversations about money.
  • In last 5-6 years seen an explosion in creating groups online. It’s almost becoming a commodity.
  • There are patterns of groups that attract people to them.
  • Looser more organic networks have been under the radar but that is where innovation has occurred. Organic networks are now more explicit and ascending (over traditional institutions).
  • Community of Practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.
  • Domain: shared concern. A group’s identity is defined by shared interests
  • Practice: learn how to do things better (through practice)
  • Community: interacts regularly
  • Craftsmen (even when in competition) learn from each other.
  • How are Communities of Practice different from teams? Teams are involuntary, require product delivery, and are defined by management. Communities of Practice are voluntary, work on continuous evolution, and are defined by the group.
  • Management doesn’t understand communities of practice. When confronted with them -they add deliverables, schedules, structure.
  • In a healthy management environment both teams and Communities of Practice can co-exist and be symbiotic.
  • Communities of Practice inherit a lot from organic, emergent networks. They have a structure because they are centered around a central domain. Members may come and go: legitimate peripheral participation. Involvement may shift with time – that’s to be expected. Sometimes Communities of Practice attract outsiders because they are interested in the domain.
  • There is a tension between organic networks and institutions. Communities of Practice are a nice hybrid that can help bridge the gap.
  • How to design for Communities of Practice.
  • Cultivation = motivation/moderation. Balance between moderating actions and keeping people motivated. Members need to be part of running things. To motivate you need to utilize self-interest and shared artifacts (something to share and work with like wikis). Also need to build subtle cues into the system.
  • Is Information Architecture a community of practice?
  • Practice: socially shared domain (context of need), emergent from the bottom up. A practice needs to have tools (can be borrowed or created). One tool could be used by many practices. A practice only contextualizes tools it is not defined by them.
  • A practice that is looking for acceptance in traditional institutions tries to map to more structural disciplines.
  • Discipline: established standards, definitions, and curricula. Planned from top down.