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Tidbits From 'Conversation and Community' by Anne Gentle

posted Jun 2, 2012, 12:13 AM by Jen Brass Jenkins   [ updated Nov 9, 2012, 6:04 PM ]
Conversation and Community by Ann Gentle
For my technical writing course, we were assigned to read the book Conversation and Community, The Social Web for Documentation by Ann Gentle (2009). I wasn't entirely sure why our professor picked this book as I felt that most of us already understood what I perceived to be the core premise: how social platforms and wikis worked. However, in order to more fairly assess it, I recently reread it in its entirety and found ideas that reverberated in my work as a content strategist writing for a less technically minded community. So, here are some thoughts on the ideas and advice that struck me in my more diligent rereading.

A community is not built around content but rather around a concept or common goal. While this seems obvious in our day-to-day social activities as like gathers to like, I never entirely understood that a community is not primarily about content but about how that content is viewed, created, conceived, and received. Content does not bring the community together but is a dialogue engaged in or around by the community (p. 46).

Content Remixed
Any content or data is now being remixed in novel ways for consumption (p. 58). This is the concept on which social media is founded. The new trend of this concept is crafting this content for different mobile platforms and devices. (This insight was obtained from a recent post on I'd Rather Be Writing called When Wikis Succeed and Fail about Tom Johnson's (the blog author's) insights at the STC Summit in Chicago.)

Two-Way Communication To Foment a Community
I particularly loved a paragraph on page 66 where Gentle paraphrases Alan Porter description of the interactive nature of Shakespeare's plays: "they were modified each night based on audience participation." Such is our current experience with social documentation and online communities. For each audience we modify our communication strategy and presentation in order to retain and interact with our audience. It is also this audience that we are seeking to fashion into a community around a concept or common goal inherent in our service or product.

Company Representation in the Community
The place of writer or strategist is not consistently placed across department lines nor is it consistently defined, especially as it differs from company to company and community to community. The policies summarized by Gentle for online representation are excellent: "be genuine, always identify yourself and the company you represent, be professional, talk about what you know, cite sources and acknowledge others' contributions, obey copyright laws, offer value, don't pick fights, and respect your audience (p. 85)."

Community Contentment
What makes a community happy? Gentle quotes Tara Hunt's suggested four pillars of happiness:
  1. Autonomy: Give people the ability to personalize their experience, offer choices, be open and transparent.
  2. Competence: Let people feel like they're good at what they do.
  3. Relatedness: People want to connect with others in similar situations.
  4. Self-esteem: People who are confident in their knowledge or relationships have self-esteem (p. 107).
Also, use these four items to test your social deliverables (109).

Content Read-Wear
This term refers to the most popular or trending concepts and content in a particular community (transferred over of course as a reference to the most worn pages of a print book or other publication). I will add here that when it comes to assessing read-wear, I like news aggregates or communities that list trending articles or topics. does this really effectively.

It turns out that I had quite a bit to learn about content and community. While I have quite a bit of knowledge regarding the available online content platforms, I missed these excellent tidbits that define the core of community and the context in which content is placed. So here I write a belated thank you to my professor for selecting this particular text for our class. Glad I took the time to read it in total! - Google Sites Tweet Button