I was asked once about why the Kitchen effort had to end. Much of the reason is that the tools are such as to intimidate those who might like to get involved, and in this case I’m referring to the wiki; or too cumbersome to allow a truly open, community-managed weblog. As it stands now, both are too dependent on an individual, which means too vulnerable on that individual’s continued participation.
Marius Coomans wrote a relevant post related to these issues today. He talked about how he wanted to combine his interests in sailing and group software with a mailing list for his sailing friends, but couldn’t generate enough interests–that critical mass that has been mentioned elsewhere.
Why? As he writes:
So why couldn’t I get a enough people to join? Well, I’m part of a minority – those in their late fifties with a intense on-line habit. Most of the people in my age group don’t get it, they didn’t grow up with computers.
That’s much of the problem with the technology associated with the Kitchen. Many of the people who wanted to participate had never had anything to do with a wiki before, and wikis are intimidating. They require not only understanding of how the wiki technology works, but also the culture of the wiki, which is very unique.
As for the weblog, true the contributors were all webloggers. However, most of them have never weblogged in a group environment, or used WordPress for weblogging. Again, there was an intimidation about whether the person’s writing was good enough (all of the writing was more than good enough by the way); and then there was the concern about breaking something in WordPress.
What I’d like to see is a combination of power between the two, wiki and weblog; either through carefully adjusted modifications in code to both while still allowing separate products; or combining the two into one product. A super wiki-weblog.
To start, a good group WordPress modification (perhaps a version of Wordform for Groups) would be to have a ‘newbie’ checkbox next to the person’s name that means when they access the tool, it opens into an editing page that is very simple and very easy to comprehend that doesn’t have tabs at the top and odd fields such as “Post Slug”. Then once the person is over their newness, they can be promoted to a more experienced user and given access to the greater power of the tool.
Another good change would be to allow people to ask to be given administrative capability, and have the other members vote on this. If enough members agree, this person would then have the ability to do things such as pull a post (i.e. set it to a ‘pulled’ status – no post should be deleted), and help new users. With this, several people could have administrative capabilities and the weblog could exist without the direct intervention of any one person. That’s the power of the wiki, openness, but incorporated into the power of weblog, authoring specificity.
It would be an interesting experiment to see what one could do with an open source weblogging tool and a wiki that would lure people out of being passive consumers into active participants. Perhaps the Kitchen can be brought back to life at a later time, and we could try something like a Wiki Wordform for Groups.
Still, technology can only go so far. Or as Marius concludes, we have to get people to want to participate:
Social Software, like weblogs, wikis and yes, mailing lists generally need a two way conversation and many people still see themselves as consumers rather than participants.
We could also consider giving away free toasters. I’ve heard that helps.