Friday, January 27, 2006

Recovering from a Community Platform Loss

Long time KM group, Act-KM had a rude awakening earlier this month when their Yahoo group just disappeared. Poof. Gone. No satisfactory response from Yahoogroups.

What happens to a community when their group memory has been compromised? It's membership identity (1550 membership list lost)?

How do we think about protecting our groups from malfunction or disruption to the technologies we have become reliant upon?

This is a significant question, and in some ways, more challenging (and interesting) than the offline comparison. Offline we use paper records, but offline groups are more often geographically co-located, so when something gets disrupted (the club house burned down last night!) the world of mouth channel is very powerful and effective. People know who is "in" the group and pass the word. Scale is usually smaller and thus more manageable.

But online, our groups can be large. No one is going to remember 1549 other people's names and contact information. We might have redundancy if some members kept copies of everything on their personal harddrives. But reconstructing can be difficult.

On the other hand, it is much faster to rebuild online tools than brick and morter buildings.

It might be interesting to write up piece on guidance for protecting against/planning for a technical disruption in an online group, and to more carefully compare the online and offline issues. There is something else to add to my "if I find time to do list!"

In the meantime, to all my friends at Act-KM - GOOD LUCK!!!!

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Anonymous Roger Benningfield said...

Nancy: Well, RSS solves a lot of the "group memory" issues... all it takes is someone to store feed content for emergencies, and rebuilding is then simply a matter of importing the archived feed material into the new tool/service.

JournURL actually supports that both ways. All communities can output a feed, including necessary threading info. And it can take any feed using the Atom Threading Module and import it, making the rebuilding process pretty simple.

Membership lists are a little trickier. A lot trickier, actually, since that brings you into the realm of privacy issues. Many systems (including mine) insulate users from the owners/managers of individual communities, since the system-runners have no way of verifying in advance that a community hasn't been set up just to harvest identities.

In those instances, the most important lesson is probably "own your URL". If a community has to transition to a new platform, you'll lose fewer members if you can automatically redirect people to a "New location, you'll need to sign up again" message.

10:45 AM  
Anonymous Denise said...

Remember when you posted about "what if I lost my entire bloglines list?" and how scarey that idea was to you (and to me)? I can only slightly imagine the pain and even FEAR when these folks discovered their online home was just gone.

This idea of yours about planning for group loss due to technology failure is a good one. Very good idea.

Now if we could get "companies" who own communities to create their own guidelines for making community disappear or merging communities... THAT would also be awesome. I've suffered through many such purgings and mergings and they are rarely good for community members.

11:48 AM  
Blogger David Geilhufe said...

Yet another arguement for open source. We're building CiviCRM a web-platform for constitutent relationship management targeted at groups and nonprofits working toword social change.

To be really useful, CiviCRM needs to be a hosted service like Yahoo Groups (nonprofits aren't conversant in installing their own LAMP applications). With an open source solution like ours, as long as you have access to the data, you can back it up, install your own version of the hosted software and recover your entire community.

In fact, if you wanted to move hosted service providers, you could back up your entire community and move seamlessly to another hosting provider.

Now if you don't actually do the back up... not much can be done :)

12:56 PM  

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