Sunday, February 05, 2006

Worth another link - Online Archetypes

On the Com-Prac list, Patrick Lambe reminded me of a great piece he did on the archetypes in an online community.Mapping the Culture of an Online Community (application/pdf Object): Archetypes and their attributed derrived by ACT-KM participants at the ACT-KM Conference 13-14 October 2004. It offers some thoughts on the types of people that inhabit online communities, particularly ones that self identify as communities of practice. It is a bit less inflamatory than Mike Reed's Flame Warriors and Amy Gahran's "online vermin" archetypes.

Patrick's archetypes are:

  • The mediator
  • The energy vampire
  • The lurker
  • The angry little man
  • The beginner
  • The hostage
  • The backstabber
  • The professor
  • The sophist
  • The visionary
  • The guru

On the list Rob Peterson suggested another archetype to add to Patrick's list, the intermediate / general participant. Rob described this as:
- knows a little but by no means an expert
- can reply intelligently to communication though not at the level of the guru
- often shares information at a less theoretical level
- asks questions and responds to others in near equal ratio
- a stepping stone to other archetypes, prof, guru, visionary, or even the more negative ones
As I continue to think about our SXSW panel, "US/THEM: A blogging conversation survival guide" I'm wondering if archetypes will help us. If so, how are they different in blogs vs other online interaction media?

The thing that is missing here for me is the gap between our perceptions of the people embodying the archetypes and their own self perception. This may be one of the places where our "conversations" go sideways. We forget our own perception gap about each other, let alone about the content.

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Blogger Edward Vielmetti said...

Wow, I'm amazed at how negative most of these archetypes are. You all must have some bitter discussions you want to do online. Is an online discussion the best way to handle this?

Generally for public discourse (lightly moderated, but public, mailing lists) you can go a long ways by modelling good behavior, so that there is a group of people who show the others what's to be expected.

& generally if that core cadre of good behavior is missing, I get out of the group.

I'd love to see a list of all *good* patterns and behaviors, so that someone could learn what to do, and not have to focus on what to have other people not do.

8:23 PM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

I agree Ed, they really do dwell on the negative for the most part. We need to see the other archetypes.

Or perhaps state them in more neutral terms because some of the types we label as "negative" actually offer value to some communities and interactions!

8:48 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I'll expand on Ed's concern over the negative archetypes and flatly state that I don't find the flame warriors or the vermin archtypes helpful in facilitating good communication between people or fostering community-like behavior.

To your question Nancy if archetypes will help, I find that archtypes, even positive ones, seem to encourage people to label themselves and others which can create roadbloacks to communication. As someone working within a community, I don't need to label someone as an "angry little man" to know when my Terms of Service has been violated and I need to take action.

I thnk the closest I have come to categorizing people within communities has been lifting from Randy Farmer's Social Dimensions of Habitat's Citizenry. I find the descriptions of Passive, Active, Motivator and Caretaker neutral to positive descriptions and they have served me well in understanding how people move through quantity and quality of participation in onlein communities.

Categories help us make sense of the online communities we see and inhabit. I wouldn't rely on them, though.

1:02 PM  
Anonymous Denise said...

Some of them do seem a little negative, don't they? But they all really do have a place in most communities - and without all of those types communities could become pretty boring, couldn't they?

I really dislike "typing" members of communities but I know I do it myself. Even "typing" in a positive way can be problematic. If you expect a member to always be the welcome wagon, always be the guru, always be the mediator then you're bound to be let down at some point - or you may even put pressure on that person to always behave in the expected fashion.

And of course, if you expect a member to always be the energy vampire, always be the backstabber etc... then do you treat that person as such and force him/her to remain in that "type" simply because it is expected?

OK I'm rambling, sorry about that. (And, I'm feeling even more grouchy that I've finally decided I can't make it to SXSW this year like I'd hoped.)

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Chris Blow said...

I don't see much value in categorizing community members in this way. I mean, is an "energy vampire" going to become a "mediator" because they are given this archetype?

Understanding your community is extremely important ... but I think it is better to try to be as specific as possible, not as abstract as possible.

I also think it is better to do this type of research when you are building community tools (the website, listerv, etc.) not merely as an evaluative strategy.

And you're right Nancy: we'll just end up thinking about people from our point of view, not trying to get into theirs.

So how do you combat this perception gap? In best-practices web design this is usually done by developing "personas." (It has been a well-established practice in online User-Centered Design since 1999.)

For example:
If I were to design a community website, I would (ideally) develop a dozen index cards with mini biographies of specific users -- people that I know are going to be involved in the online community. Then, every time there is a design question, I refer to the cards and investigate the question anew.

Should we use Yahoo! groups or just a listserv? Should the group blog be private or public? Weekly or daily mailings?

All of these questions are practical concerns that relate directly to the art and science of building a community online, and the answers are better sought in real users' profiles than in archetypes.


Great articles about User-centered design and Personas can be found here
and here.

2:49 PM  
Blogger Alan Gutierrez said...

I don't seem to be able to do a trackback to blogger, or I don't know how, but I thought this was interesting, and blogged about it in as post; Online Archytypes.

Not only are the archetypes too negative on the one hand, they are too elitest on the other, as least for my unsophisticated tastes.

I do like Scott's suggestion for a different, smaller set of archetypes.

2:51 PM  
Blogger Nancy White said...

(I left this comment on Alan's blog as well)

Did you get to read Patrick’s article about HOW they came up with the archetypes? They were created BY the community. I find that very interesting. (I still have difficulties with the stereotyping of neg/pos, but if a community “owns’ somthing, that matters!)

3:00 PM  
Blogger Alan Gutierrez said...

Thank you for pointing that out. I'd started out by reading though the Flame Warriors, then the comments, which didn't leave me well disposed to the ACT-KM archetypes when I finally opened the PDF.

Reading through the archetypes, they are thoughtful, and familar. There are similar characters in certian programming communities, and certainly even greater parallels in nacent projects, where design or stardards are the topic of discussion. These archetypes are very useful in that sense.

I only wish that when I saw myself among the archetypes, there were suggestions that I could follow to better my participation.

This does model an "expert community" pretty well, but it we might be entering into a new era of communities that are more loosely connected, and are more inclusive.

In a community forum, like a political or town hall forum, the model of the meritocracy, which is what this appears to model, probably is counter-productive.

The take away may be that each community ought to consider their own archetypes. I'm hoping to learn of others way to build communities that are not so exacting.

3:18 PM  
Anonymous Chris Blow said...

I like that idea of communities "owning" a vision of themselves. It's worth something indeed.

But I'm still in the more pragmatic perspective of a developer trying to encourage communities with tools. Owning a vision seems a little fluffy if you can't get your community off the ground.

In that (archetypically) curmudgeonly spirit, I wanted to point to the "planning" chapter in Philip Greenspun's excellent (and free) book on programming. It reaffirms the idea that web design = community design.


4:52 PM  
Blogger Tish Grier said...

Hi Nancy,

interesting, as A.G. noted, that the archetypes are mostly negative--even more interesting that they were created by the community!

What I found most curious in the pdf are the illustrations that corresponded to the archetypes. There is, even in the words alone, a certain gender stereotyping. People like the "professor" "sophist" and "guru" were male, whereas the "beginner" and "energy vampire" were female. My sense is that, if we're going to think of individuals in communities in these terms, that there needs to be positive female archetypes--and ones that are equal in strength to the male archetypes.

But, I know I'm dreaming on that one.

I think, though, that the way these archetypes break down, and are then applied to the blogosphere, reflect the majority population opinion of others in the blogosphere--which is still overwhelmingly male, college educated, and upper-income'd. They like their gurus male, as much as they often approve of their goddesses being blond and thin--and I don't think that will chance any time soon. Just an observation, not a fact :-)

6:03 AM  

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