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This post is from the CollabNet VersionOne blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Sep 23, 2009 — Enterprise Agile Planning expert

Communities are founded on trust

Enterprise Agile Planning

I’ve just started reading Trust Agents, by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, and if you’re interested in community building and innersourcing, I think you should, too.

If you know of the book, that might surprise you: Chris is well known in the “Social Networking” world, possibly more closely related to marketing than to software development, and I don’t really do marketing. But in many ways, “Social Networking” is one of the ways in which open-source techniques are finding new life in other domains. Here’s what I mean:

In “Trust, Social Capital, and Media” (the first chapter), the real money quote is:

Communities don’t want to be managed: they want to be cared for.

That’s a great statement! You can find it in the foundations of such open source classics as Karl Fogel’s Producing Open Source  Software. Actually, I don’t think Karl has any one quotable statement of that principle, but it’s easily recognizable as one of his primary convictions. Consider, for example, Karl’s Setting the Tone:

Choosing a mailing list address is easy; ensuring that the list’s conversations
remain on-topic and productive is another matter entirely.

Again, Chris describes the dynamics of Trust Agent conversations:

We’re just interacting. We used to do that by e-mail, which is private;
but the fact that it’s all done in public view now means that all the participants
on the Web are creating value for each other simultaneously.

And Karl’s Avoid Private Discussions section similarly shows how public discussions benefit many people, not just the original questioner, as well as creating permanent records that go on giving value long after the original conversation is complete.

Chris ties this all together like this:

Social capital is different from other kinds of capital.
When people come together and share a meal, they not only end up fed,
they also become tighter as a group. …
Just think of your favorite television cop drama and how often the phrase
“you owe me a favor” is uttered. These things are real.

In the literature of open source, this is usually referred to as a “gift culture,” well-presented by Eric Raymond in his paper Homesteading the Noosphere:

If one is well known for generosity, intelligence, fair dealing, leadership ability,
or other good qualities, it becomes much easier to persuade other people
that they will gain by association with you.

So, what does it mean to care for a community, not just manage it? Again, Chris:

Make everything you write something that’s helpful to other people;
if those people might also be your customers, all the better.

That’s the open-source inspired, communitarian spirit in which we recently started up our Community Management project (think we should change the name?).

Are you a Trust Agent? Would you like to be? Come join us, and build up a little social capital!

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