Sunday, November 2, 2008

Celebrating Diversity

Recognizing that each forum, group, chat room or any other area dependent upon member content forms the infrastructure of online community opens a door to opportunity. It also opens a door to potential hazards. The sheer joy experienced when establishing friendships across the globe is unique to our modern digital age. Unlike the pen pals of old, the connections are instantaneous, inexpensive and available to most anyone. E-commerce sites thrive on the sales of items to people you may never meet and the transfer of goods and services establishes a contract between the parties along with a preliminary link. However, there is nothing quite like talking to someone in a far off land about his or her day to day life.

One of the management issues is how to address widely divergent world views as people are exposed to different opinions and approaches to problem solving. Socio-cultural differences impact the evolution of community as each entity strives to fill their own needs based on their learned set of expectations and bias. The elicitive model proves a variable structure that allows this diversity to be expressed within a uniform social contract. Enabling all member of the broader community to contribute and embrace a similar set of cultural tenets provides a more secure environment that reduces fear of "the other" and allows differences to be explored with a higher level of comfort.

Provided with sufficient control of space to function autonomously, groups will tend to tolerate or ignore other groups or interact with many groups and individuals while generally respecting boundaries. However, where resources (such as staff attention) appear unevenly distributed between groups or where differing percepts of interest cause members to feel threatened, there can be clashes between groups and even outright feuds. In some instances each entity seeks to increase its influence by protecting its own boundaries or making incursions into the spaces defined by other members. When this occurs community leaders should be able to rely on the common ground to help resolve the conflicts. This takes into account that all parties are motivated by a strong need to maintain a sense of security and place. Providing opportunities to air grievances and disagreements among members provides a built in reinforcement for continuing community detente' thus effectively countering the tendencies of online communities to support extreme ongoing conflict.

The effect of continual exposure to differences between life or business approaches (in e-commerce sites) occurring in a safe and shared environment is real and profound. Members may still profess to hold strong activist or oppositional views when debating philosophies, but ultimately become increasingly tolerant of other community members. Alongside the sometimes heated debates, members continue to share experiences and review each other's successes. Each contributes to the group despite vast differences in perspectives and respect is earned, sometimes grudgingly. In most cases the absence of a familiar yet confrontational face causes concern and queries about the well being of the missing person. The sharing of information is an integral part of this process and new ideas are quickly adapted whether its an original acronym or a successful selling strategy there is a form of cooperation in effect in all but the most destructive forums.

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