Creatives, designers, makers and developers of a so-called “platform” like WordPress are in the minority. Even the much larger group of merely supporting contributors are quite rare. There is a rule-of-thumb metric often called the 90-9-1 rule which identifies 3 broad categories of general populations (Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff vastly expounded on this idea in their analysis of participation / engagement titled “Groundswell”).
The wider, general population may use a platform like WordPress, but they generally do not themselves create it. From the vantage point of Say’s Law (economics), the provision of the WordPress platform creates demand for that platform. The very oversimplified depiction of the relationships and interactions between these groups and technologies I presented in “Linking together the WordPress community” can (and should) be much more refined. What I was attempting to do was to describe the general setting in very broad strokes.
Now I want
to blur the lines a little.
To keep it
simple, let’s start by saying there is no clear line separating products or
services (WordPress technology) from the people involved (WordPress community).
Neither is there a clear boundary or wall separating one group of people from
another – and so it is completely feasible that such groups could interact and
influence one another.
explain this a little more with an example from another field – not far off,
indeed in some ways quite closely related, but nonetheless distinct from the
field WordPress is usually set in.
calling someone illiterate seems tantamount to accusing them of being
uncivilized. Note that this has not always been the case. It is actually only
quite recently that the expectation of literacy has become more and more
widespread. For most of human history, the vast majority of any population was
illiterate. Even after the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press – yes: for
several centuries following its invention – most of the people
throughout Europe (let alone for most of the rest of the world) were
illiterate. Even in the fledgling United States, the common requirement for
proof of literacy was merely the ability to sign one’s own name.
that change? Well, that’s a simple question. The answer? It’s complicated.
Consider the fact that Martin Luther wrote an open letter to princes across
Europe pleading them to establish schools and public libraries. Did that
happen in his lifetime? No. Did it eventually happen? Yes. One thing that did
happen in Luther’s lifetime is that the written language which is today known
as German was invented. The reason why that happened in Luther’s lifetime is
that Luther invented it … perhaps not exactly single-handedly, because as he
himself acknowledged: he simply wrote down words the way other people
spoke them. I don’t believe he asked for permission – after all: at the time,
copyright was probably a completely unknown concept.
In my own
life, some people have felt violated by my publishing ideas they have confided
in me. I have never published confidential information in the sense that I
would have ever “doxed” anyone, but still some people have accused me of doing
something inappropriate when it seems like I have expressed ideas that
went through their heads. I don’t know what to make of this. To me, it
seems like my expressions are my own. Of course other can express whatever they
feel like expressing – at least that’s the way I feel about it.
also the way I feel about language in general: no one owns it. It is
shared by its community of users, and so when Luther wrote down words that
other people used to talk he no more violated anyone’s privacy than I do when I
express ideas that other people have told me about.
How is my
situation any different than Martin Luther’s? I would say the main difference
is a matter of how widespread literacy is. Yet I would also add the caveat that
today, literacy probably needs to be redefined – or at least re-contextualized.
For example: many people today think that when someone types a word into
Google, that the company will give the “correct” definition of the term. I
consider such people illiterate, because they apparently do no understand how
Google works (indeed: they probably don’t even understand very much about how
the Internet works).
Let me get
back to the issue of participation. If literacy is widespread, then why do so
few behave in a “literate” manner? Why do so few people publish their own
ideas? If everyone has a voice, why do so few people choose to use it?
I alluded to just above – namely, that literacy is in fact not
widespread – is one possibility, but another possibility I feel also worth
considering is that people are not sufficiently motivated to
participate. My gut feeling tells me that a lack of participation is down to a
combination of these reasons, in varying degrees.
do have some ideas concerning what I consider to be good ways to invite,
welcome and promote more participation – to increase engagement and strengthen
community, to empower individuals, to create more social cohesion and all that
jazz. Want to read all about it? Then follow me and tune in next time (maybe
tomorrow) to find out more! 😀