Why community is hard

Community is hard, and so is pretty much all social stuff. But why is so darn hard? Why do strange, unexpected things keep happening, like the wikitorial and the Digg revolt and so on?

I hope you are familiar with Lewin’s equation by now?
Behavior is a function of a person and his environment?

Well, on websites, we have always had partial control over our user’s behavior. On a good day, 50%.


In these diagrams, red means we have no control. This person (P) was raised by parents that we have never had the pleasure to advice, and thus who knows what nonsense they were fed. But environment(E)! The beautiful blue under our control! Hey, now we’re talking. We choose what content went on the site, what navigation, what got linked, what those links were named… and one day, then whammo! Suddenly someone started letting users have a bit of control.


Let’s say it was user-generated content, let’s say it was tagging… but suddenly more and more elements of the environment we not really under out control. The environment was directly created by the users. and then…


Social networks. Social media. Social everything! The users are the environment. We control so very little; a drop down, a form label… and yet, it’s all important because that’s our only hope for influence. You have to embrace a lack of control to realize this is what environments are supposed to be. A fully controlled environment is like a shopping mall, and Web 2.0 environments are more like national parks. Prone to forest fires, sure, but would you trade them for anything else?

We cannot dictate, because we have ceded control. We can influence, we can cajole, we can suggest. But Behavior is not ours to manage.