Fostering collaboration online
October 21, 2012 5:00 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever collaborated on a project with someone you met on Mefi or elsewhere online? How did that happen? Was there something about how the online environment that made it easy to reach out or be approached? I'm interested in learning what kinds of dynamics or aspects of online communities foster collaboration.

I would also be interested in hearing about times you may have collaborated with someone you met in person but that you didn't know very long or very well before your collaboration, and seeing how what lessons might apply to online communities. The reason I'm asking is, I am helping run a small online community and we are trying to foster collaboration.
posted by AceRock to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am not entirely sure what you mean by "project". I once proposed a new subforum elsewhere. I followed stated community guidelines, which included being willing to moderate it. My proposal was accepted. The subforum was created and I was set up as the moderator.

It fit with some school work I was doing and a website I had at the time. I explored cobranding between my related website and the website that was hosting the forum, though it didn't really pan out. Ultimately, my project (my own website, I mean) died (or is perhaps way deep in "backburner" territory) and I stepped down as a mod, etc.

So, I guess in that case, the forum owner helped make it easy by putting out a call for such things and spelling out his terms. But I think I was the only taker.

I also have a couple of websites which still exist which grew out of participation in an online community and which received technical support and the like over the years, mostly from that community for a long time. I had been a moderator there as well. While I was a moderator, I had instituted very warm, welcoming practices which lived on well after my departure. I think collaboration there with me was fostered in part by how approachable I was perceived to be.

If that is not in line with what you are looking for, maybe you could clarify?
posted by Michele in California at 5:31 PM on October 21, 2012

I ran an open source video game development project for a while some years ago. Recently I responded to an interview focusing on the online, distributed, collaborative aspects of that. Part 1. Part 2. I also wrote a lengthy history of the project and how I struggled with its transition from personal project to community development. This may be informative, or may be TMI.
posted by rlk at 5:43 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I participated in quite a bit of collaborative artwork which was organized online through a couple separate communities. First, there was which was a network for collaborative artists to create Land Mail Objects - things mailed from person to person and ultimately either ending up back with the creator or having some on-going purpose (like a travelbug in geocaching).
Created after this was the 1000 Journals Project, which I'm confident has been mentioned here before. This was a collection of 1000 journals mailed, passed hand to hand, abandoned and found, etc to which you were welcome to add art and pass along. Both of these projects have fizzled out for a variety of reasons but the 1000 Journals Project resulted in a book and a documentary film.
I haven't actually seen either, but I was filmed at length in my studio for the documentary.
posted by blaneyphoto at 6:04 PM on October 21, 2012

There have been several Mefi related projects that started from MeTatalk threads.

Metchat sprang from the loins of a MeTa.

A collaborative book is proposed, born and later delivered. Two other attempts at collaborative books (1, 2) did not find such success.

Mefi Mag also got its start from a MeTa thread.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 PM on October 21, 2012

I do a fair bit of open source programming, some of which is collaborative, and almost all of which is with people I only know online. It's a strange sort of "collaboration" though, because you never know just how seriously someone else is going to take things at any given moment. Maybe for me Feature X is something really important that I want to finish pronto so I can show it to a colleague, but to them it might be a sideshow to other things going on in their life; or vice versa.

In terms of approaching people, things are weird in this new Age of Github. You know that all the open-source software there is easily available, and theoretically set up for accepting patches. But the person you want to work with may or may not respond quickly, or at all. They may have abandoned the software you care about, without leaving any sort of note. They may have ideas for drastic changes to your software which don't fit your plans. All in all, it feels a bit like online dating!
posted by vasi at 6:57 PM on October 21, 2012

MeFite dbiedny and I collaborated on a music video. I came here posting to ask whether anyone could help me make a fractal zoom video, for one of my band's songs. He ended up offering to do it for me, which I'll be candid, that's what I was hoping would happen. The things about MeFi that made it easy to reach out were that people here have a default position of wanting to be helpful, and there are so many of them. On any given issue, there's a 99 percent chance 10 or more MeFites can help you, and usually at least that many try. So even if everyone was uninterested in helping me, they likely would have kept it to themselves instead of rejecting me in a hurtful way.

I should note that what David did for me went above and beyond the call, supposedly because he really loved the song. I in turn was beyond enamored with the video. So that helps.
posted by troywestfield at 8:32 AM on October 22, 2012

I've worked on three projects with MeFites — the Mag, a blog about dumb questions people asked Obama, and another blog about time travel.

The main thing that's hard is that without geographical proximity, it can be hard to have the quick coffee meetings where stuff can get hashed out, and I also find that having things far away makes them mentally far away too. Out of sight, out of mind. Of the three, the magazine was the best.

So, things that help foster collaboration are: Clear tasks that can be delegated, a regular schedule of meetings, video conferencing, defined rolls and (at least) one person who has the authority to just do shit when everyone else is slacking. Oh, and it helped that Brandon's really good at what he does. That made collaboration a lot easier.
posted by klangklangston at 11:50 AM on October 22, 2012

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