The other day I was having conversations with Ed Vielmetti and Jay Fienberg on IM. Simultaneously, both conversations came around to Web 2.0 and how it's managed to eat itself.
Oddly enough, Web 2.0 has been a term that means everything, some very specfic things and nothing. To me, at its best, Web 2.0 meant employing technologies to enable web applications that enable easy integration of information. It grew to mean everything in that anyone who wanted to give it some meaning could, and did. And it meant nothing because the conversation grew to be arguments about what Web 2.0 was, rather than what it did.
This caused me to question what my tag line meant when it said "Jim Benson's Web 2.0 Conversations." Indeed, as my posts began to outgrow Web 2.0, it was becoming less relevant on its own. So, I changed it to "Jim Benson's Cooperation Conversations."
But it gets better. It turns out I was never really focusing on Web 2.0, but always on community, cooperation and people.
I've been posting a lot about how relationships build the net. How current synchronous and asynchronous tools give us the ability to learn, share, and grow. So today, Ross Mayfield had a great post about how people collaborate. This includes a great graphic that illustrates an assumed power curve of participation based on the energy one needs to expend on participation.
Social software brings groups together to discover and create value. The problem is, users only have so much time for social software. The vast majority of users with not have a high level of engagement with a given group, and most tend to be free riders upon community value. But patterns have emerged where low threshold participation amounts to collective intelligence and high engagement provides a different form of collaborative intelligence.
In Ross' power curve of participation, we see readers as bottom feeders. But maybe that's not the way it really works. Maybe it's the other way around.
Maybe the long tail here would be easier to view like this:
Readers, the "free riders" suddenly go from being bottom feeders to being plankton. There's a whole lot of them. They're hard to distinguish from each other. But they are the activity that feeds everything else. More than the collective intelligence, they are the collective conscience of this ecosystem.
They might not post or collaborate or moderate or lead, but they chat with their friends, maybe change their buying patterns, or do other subtle things that can represent major movement en masse. They also boost our spirits by showing their existence in our logs or other stats.
Even when we Read, our patterns are picked up in referral logs (especially with expressly designed tools, like Measure Map), creating a feedback loop. But reading alone isn't enough to fulfill our innate desire to remix our media, consumption is active for consumers turned users.
True, reading alone isn't enough to support the ecosystem, but without it the ecosystem would fail. Commenters, diggers, taggers, etc. are also important, but there should be a balance. If we have more writers than readers then we the conversation will come to a slow grinding halt.
The message in Ross' post is something that community builders need to remember - 100% participation in a community doesn't mean 100% uniform participation. We want to fill the curve to create a healthy mix of roles. If you have a small community of do'ers, don't think that they are your community. The community should expand all the way out to readers who can synthesize what you are saying and take your message to the world.
Graphics: Ross Mayfield