Collaborate to grow together

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

In his book Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky helps us understand how Internet communities operate, the reasons why thousands of people share information and knowledge with others and how this could be done thanks to the fact that the social structure of Western society enables greater free time and with it, a “cognitive surplus” allowing us to choose what to occupy our time with.

Obviously, this exchange between people is possible thanks to the appearance of technologies that allow it; any user on the Net can publish contents, hold a discussion in a forum, share photographs or documents with relative ease. In most cases, only a basic user level is required to do so. In this post (in Spanish), you can read a bit more about the book’s contents.

Creating an Internet community nowadays is possible and there are many tools to do it: from creating public communities or forums with programs such as vbulletin or Buddypress if the platform is WordPress, to private communities that operate like an Intranet for companies, like Zyncro.

But what is not as easy is making those communities work and achieve their purpose. For that reason, based on Dominique Foray’s studies (The Knowledge Economy), Shirky recommends four conditions for making a community work:

1. The community’s size. The size must be directly proportional to the knowledge being shared. As he himself quotes, a community to share versions of Happy Birthday can be much bigger (as anyone can understand it) than one talking about poetry written in Sanscrit.

2. The cost of transmitting knowledge. In this case, technology as I’ve mentioned previously helps in making the exchange simple and cost-effective. This means that the number of people coming together to share interests has grown, as they can do it from the comfort of their own home, at a low cost, and achieve the pleasure of sharing with others in exchange.

3. Clarity in the knowledge shared. Knowledge expands quicker in a community if the members are capable of expressing it in a way that is easy to understand: straightforward points, lists, tutorials, etc.

4. Having a common culture. In this case, culture refers to the shared suppositions of a community on how it should work in terms of the tasks and relationships between members. People not only must understand the shared knowledge, they need to understand each other.

Therefore, you’ve no excuse for not having your own community or work group on the topic that interests you. It can contain 3 or 5000 members, but the option is there. The best thing is that when we share with others, following these four conditions, the result of that act of sharing can be quite different to what we imagined at the start.

If I’m left to my own thoughts, those thoughts can only increase as I receive new information. But if I share that knowledge with other people, not only is a quantitative change possible, but also a qualitative change, from which new, transformed knowledge will emerge. So collaborating allows us to grow together.

Do you have a community you share interests with? Are they generic or specific also?