First, a big thank you. I’m so excited that this site has been able to reach more people than I thought possible — I love hearing about and exchanging insights :).
Still, there’s only so much juice you can squeeze from this orange at a time. The previous article took several days to research, draft, diagram and edit (I hope to get faster over time).
And that’s where you fit in: I’ve had some great email conversations about expanding the site, and I’d like to get everyone’s thoughts. Are blogs, guest posts, wikis, or forums the best way to share?
The Goal: Cram Ideas Into Your Head
Taking a step back, my philosophy is simple: Let’s share the hard-won insights that usually stay locked in our heads.
Learning is like crossing a minefield. There’s pitfalls everywhere, but after a struggle you make it through (or get “permanently discouraged”). But once you’ve navigated the path, shouldn’t you share it with those behind you? While it’s still fresh in your mind?
It frustrates me that we study the same subjects (algebra, calculus, programming), but struggle alone. We don’t share “a-ha” insights that really make learning stick; most textbooks offer pedantic facts and rote memorization. We have enough of those — what about the insights that help us “really get it”:
- e is a fundamental rate of growth, just like pi a fundamental ratio in every circle
- Version control is like keeping a timeline of your files
- HTTP Caching lets you avoid downloading a file you already have
Models For Online Communities
Having this blog has been a huge learning experience (more to come), and there’s much to learn about starting a community. Though it’s still a small site, I’m looking to my favorite big sites for patterns of interaction:
- Regular blog (Coding Horror, TechCrunch): Single or many authors start the discussion with a detailed article. Readers reply with their own thoughts. There’s consistent style and quality, but topics are limited to what the authors discuss.
- Edited submissions (Slashdot): Site owners collect and filter topic submissions; readers contribute their thoughts. The majority of the value is in the comments, not the stories or writeups themselves.
- Community submissions (Digg, Reddit): The community decides the topics and handles the comments as well. The site owners are seemingly invisible. This works well for late-breaking news, but can lead to “tyranny of the crowd”.
- Forums (Steve Pavlina, Webmaster World): Users kick off their own topic ideas. Forums have fast, free-flowing discussion but can have a low signal-to-noise ratio.
- Wikis (Wikipedia): Edited repository of information containing collected thoughts. Unfortunately there’s a high barrier to entry — how often do you contribute something substantial to a wiki? It’s nice to have your own voice shine through in a forum post or comment.
Those are the major collaboration models I’ve found.
Moving Forward: What would you like to see?
I’m a fan of the “ready-fire-aim” approach, trying something new and tweaking as you go. So here goes:
- Share a comment on what type of collaboration you enjoy most. I’m looking more into wiki and forum software; perhaps a hybrid will do.
- Suggest topics you’d like to see explained better. More math? More programming topics? More business/writing/communication?
- Contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’d like to do a guest post. Just think of a topic you like — the content is yours. I can help with formatting/proofreading, even diagrams if you like. I’m thinking of making a guide to writing “how-to” guides as well.
My dream is to contribute to a community that helps us all avoid learning’s stumbling blocks. There’s so many ways to present a topic and yet so many “a ha!” moments are just locked away in our brains.
And what’s the incentive to share your understanding? Well, if you’re like me, you’ll forget your insights and need them explained again. And who better to teach a topic than you, when you remembered it?
Thanks again for all the support and comments — it makes writing a pleasure (editing is still a pain, though! :)). I’m excited for what the next months and years will bring.