Community is the New Content

Post-DevLearn, I’ve had some very heady and wonderful exchanges with my learning network. Mark Friedman has been especially helpful in putting what I’ve learned into a different perspective.  The title of this post is his encapsulation, and I think it’s pretty significant as a concept.  As Mark wrote me…

[We ALWAYS interact] with information resources in some social context. The application of community to content, in terms of discussion, recommendation, reviews, ratings and so on, is evident in many of the services we use, and in some form in most of the major network services we use (Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, …). Indeed, this is now so much a part of our experience that sites without this experience can seem bleached somehow, like black and white TV in a color world.

In a reductive view, here are three types of social experience, which may be present singly or in combination in these sites: Conversation, Connection and Context.

  • Conversation. Conversation about services is a natural part of our experience of them. Amazon and eBay leverage this fact and exploit it to financial gain. But it also helps the other buyers, looking for feedback prior to their purchase!
  • Connection. We connect with others by sharing information about ourselves. Networks form around ‘social objects’, the focus of these shared interests
  • Context. We leave traces everywhere. We click, buy, rate, follow pathways, add to playlists. We also create collections, lists, and playlists, which disclose our interests and can be compared to make connections or to generate recommendations, or to seed other lists. Services use this subterranean data not only to make connections with other users but to create context, to configure resources by patterns of relations created by shared user interests and choices, and to use these patterns to broaden the experience of their users.

A question that comes to my mind in thinking about this: How might this affect SCORM?

It seems to me that when it comes to networked learning activity, we want to be able to capture something about it — maybe it’s the exchange in pursuit of a learning objective or performance outcome or just a “goal” — but most everyone wants to capture the important nugget, right?  What is that nugget that we want to capture?  And is that then “content?”

If we’re shying away from the notion of “content” and focusing on the “community,” then what about community can we measure?  While I’m sure there’s a lot of people who would contend you can’t measure community, I know some sociologists who’d argue that anything of value can be measured.

If you value a community at all, you can measure all sorts of things, in my opinion:

  • You can measure who’s making a contribution.
  • You can measure what kind of contribution they’re making…
    • You can measure if they’re a leader.
    • You can measure if they’re a coordinator.
    • You can measure if they’re a connector.
    • You can measure if they’re an aggregator.
    • You can measure if they’re a disaggregator or filterer.
    • You can measure if they’re a worker or researcher or writer.
  • You can measure a person’s impact
    • The “retweet” factor.
    • The ensuing conversations spiraling as fractals from someone’s post (how many people start talking about a subject planted by your contributor).

This is just a small handful of what can be measured in community activity if we were interested in measuring it.  What else would you add? What would you take away?

*Note: I’m not advocating that we necessarily should measure these things (or anything) about communities.  I’m recognizing that while lots of people have a picture in their heads about what “social learning” is, we all have trouble describing what it looks like.  I’m putting out some ideas on just what kinds of things we can measure to help generate some discussion about what we might actually want to measure. I want to get us to the question of “why do we want to measure it?” but that’s a subject for a different post. 🙂

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