Dr. Strangeshare or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the “Collaborative Economy”

dr_strangeloveI have a confession to make: I can become really obsessed with labels.

Back in 2008, when I was producing events and conducting research focused on Online Communities for Forum One, the word “social media” hit broad adoption. I had countless debates with my colleagues about what we should title events and new research initiatives to stay true to the intention and tradition of online community building, while including the emergent activity happening on the mass social networks that were experiencing explosive growth globally. Two years later at Dell, our centralized “Social Business” team was called “SMaC” – Social Media and Community. Many labels in play trying to describe a spectrum of concepts and activities.

Ch-ch-ch Changes
On the one hand, each new term that has been introduced introduced to describe a major shift (virtual community, online community, social media, social business…) signaled a major evolution or change in culture, driven by the twin forces of technology and culture. On the other hand, each change contained so many attributes of the last wave that it was easy to be cynical that it was change in name only, driven by consultants, analysts and authors ready to make a label stick to own a market or concept. What really happened? Honestly, I think a bit of both – as market and cultural forces gained energy, a handful of folks were able to step forward and help make meaning of what was going on and describe what possible future scenarios might come in to play. I created a simple diagram to describe what I personally saw in my career to date:

A Snapshot of the Evolution of Online Communties
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click for a larger version)

Something’s Happening Here
Which brings us more or less up to date. When I first heard the terms “Sharing Economy” and “Collaborative Economy” hitting mainstream last summer, my immediate reaction was a cynical “here we go again”. But then I started doing research, and listening to some of the smart voices in the field signaling the change. In particular, I found Rachel Botsman’s work very helpful and insightful. Her “The Sharing Economy Lacks a Shared Definition” is an especially good overview. Jeremiah Owyang has done a lot of research and writing in the field as well, and it was his energy and insight that helped me decide to make Autodesk a founding member of his Crowd Companies brand council.

I’m convinced we are entering a new era – one that draws on the collective learning, social technology and cultural evolution to set the stage for the next act in a very long play that the Cluetrain Manifesto described in 1999:

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

I keep coming back to a handful of questions to help frame how the Collaborative Economy will affect my day to day practice:

  • How might this next phase of “social” enable (or force) sustainable and thriving businesses?
  • How can Brand’s fully design and engage an extended community ecosystem – inclusive of all stakeholders (customer, partners & employees), built on shared value?
  • How will reputation play a role as the marketplace becomes a mesh? How can we make data, content and associated reputation all portable across meaningful contexts?
  • How will participation and contribution will be valued, exchanged and incentivized in the near future?
  • What does the future of crowdsroucing and co-innovation really look like?IMHO, early examples, like Dell’s IdeaStorm (I designed the current incarnation) and marketplace’s like Quirky and kickstarter are all part of an interesting but humble beginning.

The net-net: for me, the time for lable-gazing is done. It’s time to learn, experiment and evolve my practice.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Updated 3/3/14 @ 11:55am
This morning, Jeremiah Owyang released a new report: Sharing is the New Buying, Winning in the Collaborative Economy - this is the largest study of the Collaborative Economy to date, and an informative read.

Culture, Change and Faith: Achtung Baby & Social Business Transformation

File under: slightly off topic but personally meaningful.

Disclosure: I’m not a massive U2 fan. With that said, Achtung Baby is one of my all time favorite albums. It is a transformative recording from a band that had, to date, been cast as a folksy and righteous rock and roll band from Ireland. Achtung Baby is a product of the band intentionally losing its established identity, giving themselves time and room to explore (albeit contentiously), and birthing an almost unclassifiable masterpiece and subsequent co-opting of mass, and particularly, electronic media as part of the album experience.

vertigo

In 2011, From the Sky Down was released to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the album. The film takes the band members back to Berlin to talk about the creative process of recording Achtung Baby, and in the act of creation, remaking the band.

One of the most insightful moments in the film is at the end, when Bono sums up the intention behind the Berlin sessions and the album. It is at once terrifying and inspirational:

“You have to reject one expression of the band, first, before you get to the next expression,” says Bono, “and in between you have nothing, you have to risk it all

I LOVE this. Applied personally, it is a call to action to grow, explore and transform. Faith in your instincts, talents and abilities bridge the gap between what you are and what you can become, and help hedge the risk.

It occurs to me that most organizations are in a similar state today – business models, culture, internal structure – basically most everything needs some level of transformation to thrive in the new increasingly connected and empowered market that is emerging globally.

How many will have the will to reject the “current expression” of the org?
How many will invest in the work needed for exploration and transformation?
Most importantly – how many will find the will and purpose to risk it all?

We will find out in the very near future.

ps: I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Berlin in 2011. I have to admit that I was not looking forward to the trip, but I wound up falling in love with the city and its energy- including the vibrant startup scene. I posted some of my pics from the trip here:
shots from Berlin

Attributes of Thriving Online Communities

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 11.19.39 AMI got my start building online communities in 1999 with the launch of TechRepublic.com. We grew from a cold start of 0 to 2 Million members in less than 2 years before being acquired by Gartner – it was an insane ride.

I was first asked the question of (more or less) “What makes a thriving community” during the first few months of our growth, and frankly, I didn’t have a good answer at the time. I was primarily focused on designing the site, rolling out new features (like one of the first peer networks in the space), and tweaking architecture. One night when we were working on what was essentially a Social Q&A feature, I checked into our forums to look for inspiration and ideas around how people typically ask technical questions. What I stumbled into was an exchange in the forums about configuring Windows NT for a very specific enterprise environment. Probably 100 in the entire world were capable of having a meaningful conversation about this topic, and we had attracted 10 of this. For TechRepublic at that time, a thriving community meant attracting the most knowledgeable IT Pros in the world, and incentivizing them to share and participate.

I’ve asked myself the “what makes a thriving community” a lot over the years, especially when my practice takes me into a new domain. What worked at TechRepublic in ’99 and Autodesk in 2001 wasn’t necessarily the same criteria for the large NPO communities and collaboration spaces we did at Forum One, or even the range of communities we built and nurtured at Dell.

I was asked to think about the question again last week, and I put together the following list. Given where brands generally are with their social and community efforts, I feel like this is a good and succinct list – by no means comprehensive – but directionally correct.

Attributes of Thriving Communities

Attribute What it looks like to host: What it looks like to member:
Shared Value Business value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise, & advocacy. Value in the form of answers, content, connection, expertise & access.
Shared Identity Members rally around, inhabit, and shape community brand. Helps birth and shape community brand.
Vibrant Participation Visible, regular and quality member participation and contribution. Regular Host presence, contribution and facilitation.
Community Leadership Defined rank and reputation model; extending management to members. Meaningful ranks and status; clear paths to achievement and privileges.
Quality Content Content base growing and evolving to most valuable state. Contribution, curation and feedback to evolve content quality.
Expertise Community attracts and develops SMEs. SMEs from host are regular community participants; opportunity to learn & develop.
Culture of Trust Culture of openness and civility. Members air grievances respectfully. Feel connected to host, part of governance & free to provide critical feedback.
Elegant Experience Mature community & social tools, fantastic UX, committed roadmap. Easy to participate and contribute, needs-driven features.
Growth & Responsiveness Base follows growth curve of brand / product. Base guides features & policy. Steady influx of new & quality members, participation in community governance.

 

What would you add?

How Do Corporations Embrace the Collaborative Economy? #collabeconadsk

UPDATE 10/13/13:
We have folks from AirBNB, Autodesk, GE, Google, Levi Straus, Lithium, Lyft, Salesforce, Sidecar, Vintank, Vodafon and more. There are ~ 20 spots left for this free event in the Autodesk Gallery. If you would like to come please email  atbilljohnston@gmail.com.

I’m pleased to announce a salon-style event in the Autodesk Gallery on the evening of October 21 with Jeremiah Owyang. We want to pull ~100 really smart and passionate people together from the bay area to have a high signal / low noise discussion about the collaborative economy, and specifically, how corporations can embrace this next wave of social business.

A description of the evening follows. This is a free and invitation only. If you would like to request an invitation, or recommend a participant, please email me – atbilljohnston@gmail.com.

Image

What role do corporations play if people get what they need from each other?

The Collaborative Economy is a new economic model, being framed and researched in large part by Jeremiah Owyang, focused on the growing ecosystem of people, startups, corporations and governments using social networks to discover, connect and exchange value with each other – rather than relying on inefficient systems and institutions. The value exchanged in the model ranges from knowledge and expertise to skills and physical goods – in many cases with the newly empowered consumer unlocking previously frozen value in physical goods, or creation of new goods, armed with networked knowledge and new tools like 3D scanners, 3D printing and freely available model libraries.
The Collaborative Economy Salon will explore the following topics:

•    A brief overview of the Collaborative Economy

•    A discussion of the Maker movement and the return to core skills that all humans in villages used to posses.

•    The phenomenon of share & barter communities, from Yerdle to x.

•    The opportunity for Corporations to nuture relevant infrastructure, content, and communities.

•    The impact the Collaborative Economy can have to on all markets all across the globe, including empowering the developing world to generate income, share what’s valuable, and reduce their dependency on others.

Schedule:

6:00 – 7:00 Mixer

7:00 – 7:25 Keynote by Jeremiah Owyang

7:30 – 8:30 Panel Discussion

Panelists Include:

  • Andy Ruben – Co–founder of Yerdle.com and former CSR lead for Wal-Mart
  • Natalie Foster – Executive Director and Co-founder, Peers.org
  • Neil Goernflo – Founder of Sharable Magazine

Bill O’Connor of Autodesk (Founder of the Innovation Genome Project) will MC and facilitate the panel.
Bamboo image via Moyan Brenn - http://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/

Book of Proceedings from the Online Community Unconference 2013

The Book of Proceedings from the Online Community Unconference 2013 is available. 100 pages of great community content!

An Update on the Online Community Unconference 2013 #OCU2013

ocu2013_2

I wanted to provide a quick update regarding the Online Community Unconference that we are putting together in Mountain View on May 21. It has been an amazing experience to reconvene the “community of community managers” that were first brought together during the period Forum One hosted these events, and inspiring to see the new members of the community: both practitioners and organizations that are embracing the art and science of building and sustaining online communities.

We are currently just shy of 100 registrants, with a target of 200. We have an amazing group of organizations and industry experts registered, including leaders from:

  • Answers.com
  • Autodesk
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Brandle
  • Ebay
  • George Lucas Education Foundation
  • Google
  • Intuit
  • Lithium
  • Mozilla
  • Netbase
  • Ning
  • Salesforce.com
  • SAP
  • WestEd
  • Wikia

and many more.

We will also be joined by independent practitioners, industry analysts and authors that are deeply invested in and knowledgable about the community space, including:

The OCU is shaping up to be a fantastic day of learning, sharing and networking. If you haven’t had a chance to register, you can find more info here:
Online Community Unconference 2013 Registration

I hope to see you all on May 21st at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View!

 

Announcing the Online Community Unconference 2013 – We’re Back!

ocu2013_2

File under: blog posts I never thought I would be writing – but excited that I am.

It’s been an interesting journey to get here (and I’m certain it will continue to be), but I’m very pleased to announce that we will hosting the Online Community Unconference in Mountain View, CA on May 21ist.

You can register here. <

The Unconference planning team is rooted in the #OCTribe meetup and is made up of me, Kaliya Hamlin, Randy Farmer, Scott Moore, Susan Tenby, Gail Williams, Rachel Luxemburg and Maria Ogneva. Our plan is to closely follow the successful format of the Online Community Unconferences that ran from 2007 – 2010 in the Bay Area and New York that I produced when I was at Forum One – specifically:

  • Personally inviting key professionals in the industry to ensure a knowledgeable and experienced group
  • Adhering to the principles of Open Space Technology to ensure a quality event experience & maximum content – no filler / no talking head keynotes and no recycled presentations that you’ve seen from “noted experts” at other conferences. This is about real professionals having real conversations
  • A great location in the Computer History Museum
  • A commitment to document the proceedings  – see an example of the Book of Proceedings from the OCU 2009.
  • A fun and collegial environment

I’ll have more details as we get closer to the date, but the key things for now are:

  • Registration is open now with early bird rates @ $85
  • We are currently looking for a modest amount of sponsorship (feel free to email me)
  • Our hashtag is #OCU2013
  • We hope you can join us on 5/21!

And lastly… its nice to be back :)