The success of participation

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One of the magical things about grassroots computing – grassroots anything probably – is that any success is decided by the participants. This basic rule is what ensures support but perplexes companies who want to make money from the productive application of technology. Users of technology do not overtly care about the monetary value of technology which is what makes it even harder – we are all quite content to use something we deem useful even if – and often even more if – we are delighted by it.

One of the challenges companies fall into is trying to create a community or an online social experience where there is no compelling groundswell. Online community development and certainly grassroots computing are not about technology, so building something rarely begets either.

Web 2.0-ifing existing applications is often a sure way to move further away from productive. The only time it helps is when the existing solution has a decidedly undesirable experience and the aspects of grassroots activity might result in better outcomes. Adding a set of widgets tells people you acknowledge and recognize the movement, designing or conceiving business with social computing as a core heartbeat tells people you are the movement. If you are successful, you did it right otherwise you learned a lot.

If the barrier to progress focuses on a framework articulating the values of the past or present, then the outcome will be one that follows instead of leads. There is plenty to be done meet the expectations of traditional returns on investment, but they will necessarily either limit innovation or shape the potential successes. To be really leading edge new measures and values are required that articulate the future state. Without this it is all smoke and mirrors.