Monthly Archives: May 2009


Reputation systems and patterns

On one of my web wanderings reading about wikis and motivations for contributions, I started reading as much as I can about reputation systems. Last year around this time Yahoo released social design patterns for reputation systems. Wow, that’s generous.

There’s a fascinating interview on with Bryce Glass. From that interview, I pulled this definition: “one’s reputation in a community is both a history of one’s past actions within that community, and a value judgment about the worth of those actions.”

Clay Shirky has an argument against even well-designed reputation systems where he instead calls for community leadership.

My limited experience with reputation systems would tend to have me agree with Clay Shirky. While I’m not much of one for “gaming” the reputation system I can see how others may be entertained by that thought. But if you want something done, there’s nothing like true leadership. And a truthiness rating. 🙂

What do you think? Are there reputation systems that work well for you? Or do you tend toward more actions when inspired by a leader?

Edited to add:

Lisa Dyer has a great post, Using community equity to attract and develop talent, talking about Sun Microsystem’s work on reputation systems with Atlassian’s Confluence wiki. She has notes from “a presentation by Peter Reisen of Sun Microsystems, hosted on Atlassian TV.” Definitely worth reading!

Love, love, <3 The Twitter Book

Wow, just got a print copy of The Twitter Book
by Tim O’Reilly (@timoreilly) and Sarah Milstein (@SarahM, user number 21 of Twitter). Thanks go to Andy Oram, @praxagora, for referring me to it after he read a draft of my upcoming book.

The layout, form factor, full-bleed color page numbers, and color screenshots and photos (Twitpics) throughout the interior are just wonderful. This design combination makes it an excellent hand-held object, worthy of being print-based! I’ll keep this one out in my living room. But I’m kind of nerdy that way. 🙂

It has important and useful information about Twitter ( and why it’s so powerful. Just thumbing through it I found two things I didn’t know about Twitter (and I’ve been on Twitter as @annegentle since early 2007.) One is, it really is a big deal that Twitter removed the setting that allowed you to customize which @username replies you saw and your followers saw. There used to be three settings in the Settings>Notices tab (page , now there are none. But Twitter reversed the original policy decision, and Read Write Web gives a graphical explanation (it’s strange enough that it needs explanation.)

The second informative tip is that for the most part, people tweet the most on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. And most people, if they don’t see your tweet in the first five minutes of you posting it, won’t see it at all. I bet that the more uptake we have desktop grouping helpers like TweetDeck, the longer that tweet click-through duration will last. But even with better grouping so that you don’t miss tweets from people you really want to read, as more and more people join Twitter, it’s harder and harder to ensure you get the information you want. So you might want to think about using TweetLater to post a slightly re-worded micropost at another time.

I have to admit, I do like Chris Brogan’s idea of using the hashtag #getoffmylawn for celebrities who use Twitter in an annoying way. But better yet, have more and more people read The Twitter Book to get better and better at their Twitter use and micropost writing.

And finally, words to live by, in Chapter 3 “Hold Great Conversations.” On Twitter or any other community and communication site, it’s not about you! The best part is about contributing to the community – make a positive impact. “…the more value you create for the community, the more value it will create for you.”

Social weather in online communities

I’m writing this as the rain falls down in Austin, Texas. I’m learning that with practice, you can learn the ebb and flow of a conversation and become a meteorologist for the “social weather” that’s ongoing in a community. For an example of social weather, do what Clay Shirky describes in his description of the course with the same name at New York University. Simply make some observations next time you walk into a restaurant. Is it noisy or quiet? Slow or busy? Are there couples or groups dining? That collective atmosphere is the social weather, which I first read about on Jason Kottke’s blog.

Photo courtesy DiscoverDuPage

In a restaurant you have visual and auditory cues to give your inner meteorologist a chance to assess the social weather. In an online community, you need to understand the cues that occur in writing, in emoticons, and in frequency and intensity of updates to content. In the presentation “Blogs and the social weather” at the Internet Research 3.0 conference in October 2002, Alex Halavais describes a deep dive into analysis of blogger’s discourse.

“By measuring changes in word frequency within a large set of popular blogs over a period of four weeks, and comparing these changes to those in the ‘traditional’ media represented on the web, we are able to come to a better understanding of the nature of the content found on these sites. This view is further refined by clustering those blogs that carry similar content. While those who blog may not be very representative of the public at large, charting discourse in this way presents an interesting new window on public opinion.”

While this concept may sound new and exciting, it is quite 20th century. I was surprised to learn that analyzing newspaper content to determine public opinion was researcher Alvan Tenney’s original concept in 1912. 1912!


Casual users and Power users – what type of online help do they want?

I have been scanning through some of the presentations at the STC Summit that I had to miss due to the packed schedule, and Scott DeLoach’s presentation, Best Practices for Developing User Assistance caught my eye. He has slide after slide of Facts listed based on research in user assistance. Facts from those important and difficult-to-uncover research studies in the ways people read help and read on the web. The citations are excellent!

He starts by separating out the stages of use, saying 80% of your readers are in fact the casual user (novices and advanced beginners), and the other 20% are power users (competent performers, proficient performers, and expert performers). These definitions come from Dreyfus and Dreyfus’s Mind over Machine: the power of human intuition and expertise in the era of the computer.

The great thing about Scott’s presentation is that he offers citations for each of the claims he makes, even when (and especially when) there is a slight difference in interpretation that may affect your design or writing decisions.

Of special interest to me is his claim that the Power Users are the ones who want online communities. For some companies, I wonder if that means that building an online community is considered to be “icing on the cake” and a project that can’t be funded because it targets a smaller group of users. In companies with mature documentation sets, though, it seems like building an online community with the available tools would be a natural next step for technical writers.

What do you think? Do novices and beginners want a community online? Or are communities reserved for the power user?


I signed a book contract! Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation

I’m simply buzzing with excitement because the ink is drying on my first book contract, and it’s with XML Press with the capable Richard Hamilton at the helm.

The title is Conversation and Community: The Social Web for Documentation. Here’s the announcement and description of the book. I’m nearly done writing it, the designer (the very creative and talented digital artist Patrick Davison) is working on the cover and interior design.

I hope you’ll put it here (on your well-stocked bookshelf):


Bookshelf photo courtesy of Stewart on Flickr.

Though it’s completely possible you’ll put it here (handy at the side of your work station or on your computer):


Workstation photo courtesy of Travis Isaacs on Flickr.

I was asked earlier, why don’t you blog about the process of landing a book contract? I’d love to tell some great story about a bright response on how I brilliantly negotiated a book contract. But there is no such story. : ) I honestly think writing two blog entries a week for the last four years or so has been the best way to explain the point I’m at today with a book contract in hand! Look for the book this summer mid-2009, as I have an aggressive schedule going right now.


Handout download for Documentation with Blogs, Wikis, and Online Communities

Ah, when I typed the title in the Quick Press book I originally wrote, “Documentation with Blogs, Wiis, and Online Communities.” If only we could write documentation with the haptic Wii controller. Brings a whole new meaning to drag and drop. 🙂

I’ve uploaded a handout for the presentation that Janet Swisher and I just gave at the STC Summit. We only printed 20 copies but easily had 50+ and a standing-room only crowd! So please feel free to download and print this one-pager that contains links we referenced. And since you came to my blog to find this handout, you get an added bonus of the Social Technographics(tm) tool from the Groundswell authors, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.

Thanks to all who attended! Please fill out the speaker evaluation on the STC web site. Feel free to remind me that I talk too fast. 🙂