Sunday, August 17, 2008

Organizing According to Time

Reading What is an online community?

Unlike traditional communities in which geography is frequently seen as a common denominator, in the online realm communities frequently develop independent of geographical boundaries and can be found in a variety of different technical landscapes. Most commonly they fall into either centralised and distributed models, which refers to the space in which community members interact with one another.
What about time zone limits? In offline communities, I must choose a club that is within the geographical limitations of my residence. Likewise, online, we are limited by time. Half the web is always sleeping when the other half is awake. So every poster resides in a time zone and to visit one time zone that poster must be absent from their resident zone.

Example: my normal time online is during the hours of about 8 am until about 10 pm, local time. If I stay up late tonight to visit another time zone, I will sleep late tomarrow and be absent from my normal time zone at 8 am. I may change my habits and stay up every night all night and with that change my time zone residency, but I must of necessity no longer be a resident of my former time zone.

The web has responded with a very loose standard of unlimited numbers of posters, posting in an open circuit, in random order (or without order). The result is an inability among the "members" to maintain control of the mode of communication. Traditional ordinal forms help maintain the exposition of a deliberation but random posting has destroyed that form. The result is to enervate traditional discussion forms.

Random posting was a quick fix that has failed in many important functions. Random posting is bad for deliberations because it denies the democratic principle of equal time and equal say. A circle form secures equal time for each speaker and listener. It gives the whole group a better listening experience and it charges members with not only the right but the responsibility to speak (or at least signal that they are in attendance).

The circle dialogue is the basic problem solving form for it allows the members to self moderate and achieve a consistent expository mode of discussion. Random form is not conducive to the expository mode. Random posting in open circuits results in mixed mode, notably the digression of exposition into the dramatic mode.

People can speak in circle form when they meet within a given time zone. What is needed at this point is a movement toward circle form that will require people to meet according to time zone. This is not a geographical division since people who are awake at night in any zone can join a community in a suitable time zone. The division is primarily temporal and only incidentally, geographic.

Referring to any time zone map we can see that there are three seperate population regions:

1) The Americas
2) Europe, Middle East and Africa
3) Far East and South Pacific

Now think for a moment. Let's say I'm a member of a traditional service club (Rotary International, for example). I join at the club level because I live in a certain area of town. I am a member at the club level but also that club is a member of the worldwide organization. I meet in my club, but sometimes I go to visit another club, so at that time, I am absent from my home club. I may also move to another part of the city or country or world and join another club. I have not left the larger Rotary community in any of those instances, but it's quite apparent that I am limited by geography, which is why the service community is organized the way it is.

But I come to the Web and you tell me of the joy, the splendor, the complete ecstacy, that we are not bound by geography. Right. We can transcend geography a little but we are still limited by time zones and, incidentally, by geography. So what is the answer? You tell me that we can all just talk as much as we want and whenever we want. OK. But who is going to listen? A proper democratic form gives us a better listening experience.

The fact is that people congregate according to time zones. So why not use that fact to our advantage by giving people an organization that is divided by time zone residency (regardless of geographical residency).

Now translate the traditional service organization to time zones and what do you get?

When I am at a Rotary Club I can only be at that club, yet I am participating in the whole international community. When I visit another Rotary club on the other side of town, I can also participate in the programs but I have no right to speak or to vote in the business of that club because I am not a member. I am a member of one club that meets on a regular basis in my neighborhood. The neighborhood clubs gather in an area regulary but less frequently. The areas come together yearly for a convention of the whole community. The whole Rotary community does not need to gather and communicate on a daily basis.

If people gather according to their time zone then there is no reason not to meet at a certain time and also not to use ordinal forms.

I have been driven to consider this because it is a common misconception that online communication is instantaneous. Right. The communication from one machine to another machine is instantaneous but I am not a machine. If you email me from the light side of Earth tonight, I am not going to recieve your message until tomarrow morning, because I am sleeping on the dark side when your message arrives at my machine. Even if I answer you immediately in the morning, at that time you are sleeping because we are separated by the range of our own personal time meridians. The process is then repeated and it may take two days to have one complete transaction on the Internet.

Now, this can work for us if we work with it. I must first understand that I am a part of one web first, the one that is awake when I am. The other part is always awake when I'm asleep. And since we reside in separate zones we must keep them separate in real time because they are separate. The only way I can join that other side of the Internet as a continuously active member is to leave my membership on this side. Just as if it were a geographical limit.

But the traditional service organization transcends this geographical limit and successfully organizes people all over the globe in the millions. Can we also transcend the time zone limitation using the same form and applying it to time zones?

In this blog I am going to put this concept together so that you can see it.

This is the way I imagine it - The board is divided into five catagories that are not topical, but ordinal.

The first catagory is the Ozone. The Ozone is the contact point with the public and is open circuit with random posting from all over the world.

Then there are three catagories based on the three time zone limits (although I am aware that a time zone is personal and each individual can post within the limits of the range of their particular personal time meridian). Each catagory contains two forums, one random and the other ordinal circle form. People qualify for membership in a zone based upon their attendance to the circle. Circles are organized using the random forum. We may even qualify people for circle posting in the random forum. Circle posting naturally filters out people who do not reside in the appropriate zone. And since it organizes people according to their time zone, it enables the greatest range of choices for choosing a meeting time. The wider our club zone, the less opportunities to meet.

The fifth catagory is the Fellowship Ring which runs throughout the month for all members to post in a slower, larger circle. Each has an equal say each month or as long as it takes to make one complete round. This can work because we have widened the limits of time for posting and it only requires one post per month. So it looks like this:

The Ozone

The Americas (the geography is only a rough guide)

Europe, Middle East and Africa

Far East and South Pacific

The Fellowship Ring

From Guest status to Member status, the effect is to move people from random posting into an ordinal form and to do it on a large scale by focusing upon a more local area. I am reminded of that old bumper sticker I saw so many times:
Think Globally - Act Locally.

Here we have organized with and for the time that people live in, locally; and we have accomodated the global effects of time also. We are no longer fighting against time. People can reside and participate in the comfort of whatever time zone they choose.

And we have qualified a membership on a local level and admitted them to a global community. They can visit a time zone outside of their residency and participate in it's programs but have no right to vote in that zone. To become an elected member of a different time zone, they must leave their current time residence and move into the zone. We know that they live in the zone because they are able to post consistently in a circle form.

Ultimately, we can organize people constitutionally because we have simply replaced the geographical limits with the time limits. And random posting can not threaten ordinal form any longer.

So why all the fuss about ordinal form? I'll be writing another post about that but basically ordinal form brings order to the organization of people, allowing them to deliberate to the point of concerted action.

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The ordinal discussion arts lead us into coherent group building and groups become the building blocks of communities.

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