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Discussion Spaces- Circles

November 4, 2009

Over the last few years, I’ve been less and less interested in the types of dialogue produced by forums and the blogosphere.

The problem isn’t just the need for filtering, there’s also the major issue of attention posting, status games, and the simple but also real issues of signal to noise, produced in part by numbers of people and by the need to constantly educate folks to get up to a minimum standard.

At the same time, having a group discussion to bounce ideas off of is useful. So I’m toying with a different setup for online discussion that maybe some folks will find useful.

1. Small group (12 members, 6 men max, 6 women max)

Enough people for multiple ideas, and enough people assuming that not everyone will participate or care about any given topic. This is based on seeing most functional forum threads, or blog posts discussions, usually revolve around 4-8 people.

2. Private, but quotable w/permission

The discussion is private to the group, though anyone can talk about their own thoughts publicly, or quote others with permission.

Keeping it out of the public eye cuts out a lot of the attention posting, plus it also allows people to start doing a lot of the exploratory/unfinished thoughts stuff that tends to get pushed aside on the public spaces.

3. Limited Duration, forced mixing

If you form this kind of group, it needs to have a deadline, an endpoint. My suggestion is something like 3-6 months. After which, the group breaks and if you choose to form a new group, at least half the people must be new people. (And, it might make sense to form multiple groups, if you have specific topics).

The deadline does two things- one, it pushes folks to try to make the most out of the time people have committed to being available- if I have access to 5 really smart folks who really know the topic, and there’s a good gestalt, I better use it! Second, it stops the other major problem that shows up a lot- the formation of identity around spaces- “We’re Forgies” “We’re Storygamers” (or, equally problematic, “They’re Forgies”, “They’re Storygamers”).

The point of the group is the function of what it produces, not just having a new set of buddies (and if you are buddies, you don’t need to be in an online group just to maintain that friendship…)

At the end of the duration, it makes sense to have a followup on how things shook out, and what, if any valuable ideas folks got from it.

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2 comments

  1. (I meant to send this as an email, but your email acct seems blocked!)

    It all seems reasonable and a good idea. (I also read some of your other amended details from the blog.) I was toying with having a mixture of private and public talks. Most conversation is private, while once in a while there is a public discussion amongst just the members, trying to share where they’re at, like a status report. Or maybe the metaphor is like a “panel” at the milestones or the end of the group, to present their work and findings. But this could provide pressure or might get caught in the same attention/attack games, so perhaps any experiments with quasi-public discussions should be saved for a future iteration.

    I once had an idea for a reboot of 20by20room, with the model of “fireside chats”. There’s a topic, and the conversation is public, but only a specifically recruited set of people are participating, so it’s a curated conversation without external distraction (provided folks have the discipline to not bring in whatever they’re saying out on the livejournals).

    The short-termed-ness of the project does go well for trying things in lots of iterations, which is great! Opportunities and forcibly clearing out social cruft.

    I’ll try to refrain from software-quibbling, since you just need to put out something that’s useful. That said: any reason not LJ, since a lot of our mutual social networks of cluefulness are on LJ? (It could be you just don’t like it’s workflow, which is fine.) Google Groups would certainly do the job.

    Let me know if I can help, if you’d like me to nominate people from within my nets, etc.


    • The fireside chat -might- be useful. What I’ve been thinking mostly, about, is what, actually constitutes useful discussion space. The attention/status game stuff kicks in mostly based on audience – which definitely accrues over time. If the point is to get smart input, on whatever you’re doing/thinking, it doesn’t need public check-ins to justify it’s existence- if you feel these people are giving you useful feedback (and they think you’re giving useful feedback) then that’s sufficient. If people put together awesome theory/design out of it, that’s a plus.

      LJ might work, though I’ve found that blogs tend to cause people to hyper-focus on the newest thing, and lose track of the older stuff. Though listservs can get crowded, having recurring reminders of multiple topics might be more conducive.

      (And yeah, I’m open for possible folks. Try emailing again! Thanks)



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