Defend your mess

Half way through the life of our bulletin board at the BBC we came under pressure to make it more structured. Most of the early adopters, myself included, were happy with the really simple structure and organic growth that had helped it find its place in the organisation. But it was beginning to be noticed by other people; people who were less experienced on the web; people who liked things tidy and organised. We came under pressure to make the forum more structured. They wanted a structure that reflected the organisational structure at the time. They thought that people would find it difficult to navigate if it didn’t follow the familiar patterns.

But this wasn’t the point. The forum worked because it didn’t fit the patterns. The patterns didn’t work. The silos bore little relationship to the real patterns that emerged from our day to day exchanges with each other. The structure reflected one view of the organisation, the networked conversations in our forum another. One was formal and managed, the other was informal and emergent. We needed both. Don’t let people try to tidy up your internal use of social too soon. At least let it find its feet before you start worrying about mess. Mess is in the eye of the beholder.

Part of your job as the instigator of social in your organisation is to defend it. You are there to keep reactive forces at bay until the tool achieves a robust enough culture to look after itself. This will probably take years.


5 thoughts on “Defend your mess

  1. Good read! I have the feeling this also applies to taxonomies vs folksonomies. As for prearranged role-dedefinitions and functions people use to describe themselves. I agree we need both. And to keep the ‘reactives’ out for at least a longer while 😉


  2. I’ve been thinking about this lately and wondering if there is a middle ground. I agree that the full, official structure is not a good online infrastructure, and that there is great value in emergent structures, once you have reached a statistically significant size/scale. I find that true and open folksonomies have a problem at small scale. Without enough activity (and tags), what exists is a bunch of seemingly random words.

    Should small groups work together to develop a working taxonomy that meets their needs? So for specific and small use cases there is alignment of the information structure.


  3. Many moons ago friends of mine built a tool that did just what you describe. Combined folksonomy with structure and had smart ways of managing the edges between the two. Sadly I reckon it was before its time.


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