As you probably know, I am a big believer in “open.” I also support maximizing inclusiveness and equity. That combination has caused me numerous headaches in terms of platform decisions for online communities as well as with other tools.
Over and over again that, I have seen that the most “open” tools are not the ones that are most inclusive. A simple example: the arguably most popular platform (where people already “are” and the largest number are most likely to engage and participate) is Facebook, also one of the least open platforms there is.
Another example: Some of the most open choices, such as self-hosted web sites and blogs and open source toolsets, are among the least likely to be used by large numbers of people. One might even say they (or their communities?) are elitist.
Usually at about this time in the discussion, I ask myself questions like “Are you being ‘scale’-obsessed? Is reaching the most people really what’s important?” (Walk Out, Walk On is a great book that addresses some of these issues.)
But then I think about equity and inclusiveness, and especially in building online community spaces, it seems to me that one of the highest priorities ought to be accessibility to the broadest group possible. It is essential that we go beyond the “choir” and broaden participator to those who normally wouldn’t be at the table.
A specific instance of this that weighs on my mind is CLMOOC. I don’t even know what to link to here — the main site, the G+ community, the Twitter tag, the Facebook community (a closed group as of now; another whole case study in the problem), the aggregated blog hub — I think you see where this is going.
Every year, team CLMOOC struggles with the platform question. Early on, we decided on a G+ community for a number of reasons you can read more about if you interested. We always wanted to encourage choice though and so made other options available. Now, we are dealing with the challenges of a “fractured” community. Where should people post? Should people try to read everything? Are all the cross-posts too much? Are we losing out by not being everywhere all the time (which is scarcely possible)?
Many OER projects face the same dilemma. When content is free to live everywhere and often does, how do you build, engage, and maintain community? How do you share the best of improvements and forks? How do you track usage?
I know that some groups have approached this through aggregation of content, but I’m not sure that’s the solution if broad, mainstream participation is the goal. Are technologies or their implementers not quite ready to make this mainstream? I don’t know.
And yet, we don’t want to be controlling (non-open) by dictating one place of engagement. Frankly, we couldn’t even if we wanted to.
Any solutions to this? I’m all ears!