Tuesday, January 23, 2007

More Home Analogies: the Potluck Model for Participation

Tim O’Reilly has an interesting post up about the ascension of short-format content—the YouTube clip over the 2 hour movie, the blog post over the journal article. While current trends in film length make me dubious of this trend’s overall power, O’Reilly observes that short-format content is more accessible, more searchable, and most importantly, well-suited to collaborative work. Whether those collaborations take the form of the set of Amazon book reviews that affect your purchasing or the development of wikipedia entries, short-format contributions can be quickly assembled into a reasonable composite.

One of the comments listed other, non-web-based collaborative uses of short-format content, including potluck dinners. As a consummate potlucker, this comment immediately resonated with me. Potlucks are a great model for “good sharing.” Everyone (or almost everyone) understands the “rules” of potlucks: bring enough, bring something that fits the time of day. And the implied: bring something good.

Think about potlucks from the 2.0 standpoint:

  1. you create and share an item that reflects you
  2. you enjoy the items shared by others
  3. all items are subconsciously evaluated by all users (and those evaluations thus reflect on all users)

These three steps could easily define a web 2.0 application like MySpace or Wikipedia. The difference is that the collective item in question (the meal) is very clearly defined at a potluck. What is the collective item to which all are contributing on MySpace? Social connectiveness? On Wikipedia? General knowledge? “Dinner” is about as clear as it gets.

Imagine a museum event or exhibition in which visitors can make a toy or creative object that will then go on display at the museum for the day. This is the MySpace model. Some people may participate, but the goal is unclear (why can’t I take it home?), and results will be inconsistent at best. The sharing is weak. Now imagine an event at which people make and connect pieces of a giant Rube Goldberg machine. This is the potluck model. Creators get more out of the whole experience by linking pieces up, and there’s also a great experience to be had by an audience. Give people a playing field for sharing they already understand and value, and the collective product can be truly delicious.

1 comments, add yours!:

Anonymous said...

Judging from the potluck inanity stuck to my refrigerator, Magnetic Poetry is a participatory activity my drunken friends just can't get enough of.

You can single-play online at