Blogs, scopes, and human routers

Blogs, scopes, and human routers. Back before there were blogs, my groupthink laboratory was the NNTP protocol, which I used at roughly four levels: workgroup (my new media development team at BYTE Magazine), department (the BYTE editorial team), company (all of BYTE), and world (BYTE's public newsgroups). I learned something then that was, and still is, quite difficult to describe — but critically important. I call it the principle of scoped collaboration, and I illustrated it in a chapter of my book like so: 

The crucial insight, for me, was that a new kind of skill is becoming relevant: the ability to make effective use of overlapping scopes. Here's how I put it then:

If I am seeking or sharing information, why do I need to be able to address a group of 3 (my team), or 300 (my company), or 300,000 (my company's customers), or 300 million (the Usenet)? At each level I encounter a group that is larger and more diffuse. Moving up the ladder I trade off tight affinity with the concerns of my department, or my company, for access to larger hive-minds. But there doesn't really have to be a tradeoff, because these realms aren't mutually exclusive. You can, and often should, operate at many levels. [Practical Internet Groupware]

Today, you can see a great example of this principle of overlapping scopes. Chris Anderson copies some material from his private “work blog” at Microsoft over to his public blog, SimpleGeek, in order to attract outside perspectives into the organization. This is precisely the maneuver that I have found to be powerful, yet elusive to explain. Chris's entry takes a confessional tone. “I don't understand blogging,” he writes, and he worries that software will get written before the subtleties sink in. That's a valid concern, and a great issue to raise now that blogware has begun to issue from Redmond. As a matter of fact, though, Chris's take on blogs is spot on:

One reason I believe that blogs are great for corporation internal communication is the question of distribution lists. Inside of Microsoft we live and die by email. However the constant spam of email to large distribution lists ends up drowning out the important information. For many types of communication (but not all) blogs provide a better way of communicating. There are many cases where you as the publisher of a piece of information don't know who would be interested. Blogs are a way to “publish and forget” – you fire the information out there, and interested people will find it. Once I add our internal blog server to the corporate search service, suddenly I could find people that worked on products that I wanted to communicate with. Amazing. [SimpleGeek]

Even more interesting, at least to me, is Chris's instinctive use of overlapping scopes, and his positioning of himself as a router among them. “This is quoted from my internal blog at work..,” he writes, “I know that there are much better experts out there to answer this question…I hope some of them can respond.” Bing!  [Jon's Radio]

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