web 2.0 for development


Define your target group and its needs

Starting a new online community is a hard job. Before doing anything else, I always suggest to ACCESS your TARGET AUDIENCE. Spend your time on this exercise because it is very, very important. This is one of the key to avoid further problems. It is the prerequisite to analyze the needs of your future users and find the best way to address them. If you want more suggestions about it do Lesson 2.1 of the IMARK e-learning module on Building online communities.

After that, it is much easier to verify the NEEDS of the group. If you know what kind of people you want to address then you can discover their needs. And this is the best way to create a useful service and a long life community.

We have to start from people’s practice, from their habits, from watching what is going on among potential members. We have to discover who they really are and what they need. In this way, it is easier to understand what kind of use they do of a network and understand the key of success.

Then, we can think about consolidating the system and make it grow. Not before. Relationships among users have to be real and well established before thinking about enlarging the volume and the possibilities of a network. The chart describe this process:

Correct approach

On the contrary, most of the people willing to create a new network are focused on the idea itself. Their will to make it real is so strong that they loose contact with their potential group of users and do not focus on their needs. The focus is on “planning” rather than on the “practice”.

As a consequence the group has very few possibilities to grow and be successful and is likely to be abandoned pretty soon after its creation. The managers spend their time thinking and not watching what’s going on. They tend to be sure that their creature will be accepted by the end users but this is not sure at all. In this case, the risk that the process of consolidation does not take place is very strong. If users are not so fascinated by the new network, they won’t repeat their experience and the new “house” will be empty in a while. Consolidation of the relationships among members won’t take place and the network will fail pretty soon.

Wrong approach

So, the lessons learned are:

  • Observe people and their habits;
  • Assess your group;
  • Assess people’s needs;
  • Spend time on creating relationship among users.

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Editing… or morderating a network discussion?

Setting up networks is different from setting up a website. Networks focus on discussions, they need conversations and foster interaction. And discussions are very different from documents. Discussions, ideas, personal points of view cannot be EDITED. They can be MODERATED. That is to say that conversations can be directed and channeled into some lines, fueled with new topics, managed to be fruitful as possible. But external intervention cannot go further than that.

So EDITING is not the correct approach while MODERATION is much more suitable when thinking about the creation of a network.


TRUST and TIME: the crucial factors of online communities

The 3rd workshop on online communities just finished and Nancy and I are here collecting the experience and trying to find out what was good and what wrong (if any!). Personally, I’m very positive after this training as I see many people really interested in what we are proposing. And we are not talking about a transitory phenomenon but we are showing the next step of the Net: Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, just wrote an article on the Economist, highlighting the value of online communities.

What’s always clearer to me is that, talking about online communities, we propose something more than just “discussing”. We offer people, whoever they are, the idea of CHANGING the way they approach the others, they get in touch with other people and colleagues, they work and share their knowledge. In few words, we propose a CULTURAL change whose main point is: TRUST the others and keep in touch with them. UHHHHHHHHH: what a change! It is so hard to change. It is so much harder to do it fast and in our offices.

The other main point which came out from the workshop is: TAKE YOUR TIME. It is going to take lots of time to get into this new mood, get the habit to it, learn how-to do it, learn new tools, etc. So, the paradox is that, even if the Internet is so fast, we really need to take time to get used to it.

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3rd Workshop on online communities

The new workshop on online communities is starting. After the last edition, we modified the structure to take care of participants’ suggestions. So the new features of the course are:
– three weeks only and less contents to read;
– more focused on the IMARK lessons;
– fewer discussions and a different set-up of the space in our Moodle environment.

Let’s see what comes out this time. I will refer about it at the end of the course at the middle of December.

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Open Source: my reasons to sustain it

Open source vs. proprietary software is an old discussion and I don’t want to afford as “something vs. something else”. Many things can be said about Open Source and many have already been written about. I want to try to approach it in a different way, starting from my own needs and looking for what satisfies them. I approached the great confront between Firefox and IE in the same way.

Let’s consider some points:
– knowledge sharing: the main benefit of OS stands in its definition, the “openness”. Being “open” to everyone means that the knowledge it contains can be potentially acquired by everyone: users and developers can make it theirs and build their capacities on it.

– capacity building: under this point of view, I see OS products as “gyms” or “garage”, places where you can train yourself and get your finger dirty with the smell of oil and grease. I’m pretty convinced that a good driver is also a good mechanic. That’s why OS helps capacity building: when the engine of your car is open and you can look inside it, even if you are driving in the desert and it fails, you are in the conditions of repairing it. You can decide you are not interested in getting into it and want just to travel comfortably, so you can hire a good driver and a good mechanic who, in case, can do everything you need. Using OS is learning and adding capacities, at the same time. It is something like the passengers of a bus would learn how to build a bus during their travel. When arrived at the final destination, without having paid any ticket, they are also able to build a new bus and drive it themselves: at the end of their trip, they will have the tool and the capacity to set up a new activity of their own. Learning by doing can potentially happens every time someone use an OS product, while this does not happen with proprietary products, with which users can learn “how-to” but not “what-it-is”.

– cost: costs are also important. OS products are free. You don’t pay for the product as you can download it for free, most of the times. You have two choices: you can pay for the knowledge about it or you can decide to learn by yourself, putting your hands inside it, and save the money.

– innovation: as OS products are usually produced by large groups of people, are quickly released and frequently updated. A good idea is the core around which people create good tools. Maybe they are not so well known as other commercial ones, as developers don’t spend much time on marketing their products, but technically they can usually rely on clever minds and active people.

As a conclusion, I decided to support OS because I see more advantages for everyone.

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IMARK reviewed by ADBI: EXCELLENT rating!

As announced some months ago, the new IMARK e-learning module about “Building online communities and networks” has been released. It is free and open to everyone who wants to learn more about how to create an online community.

Now it has been rated by the Asian Development Bank Institute and comments are VERY positive! The module got an overall EXCELLENT rating, getting five over five in all the six categories considered.

I’m quite sure that you’d like to take a look at it, now!