I did reach a personal goal of bringing down the rate at which I was reading books. From around 4 books a week to 3 books a month – that’s a fair enough achievement. Among the ones I wrapped up recently, was The Art of Community (1st Edition) by Jono Bacon (linky)
I finally managed to add it to my Safari Bookshelf (for some odd reason I had to delete a book to free up a slot inspite of not being over quota) and, I did have high expectations from it, Jono has been active and visible in various communities and, I expected his enthusiasm to reflect in the writing. The book is a good one and, definitely worth a read. Interesting chapters are: Building Buzz, Measuring Community, Handling Conflict and, Hiring a Community Manager. A couple of observations about the book:
- it draws on the shared experiences and, “stories” from various personalities and, projects making it somewhat of a “comfortable” book to read. You get to see that there are patterns to the problems across various communities and, tribes and, such patterns can be addressed
- it isn’t “preachy” or, prescriptive or, even full of homilies. That’s a saving grace really. However, the deliberately chatty nature of the book sometimes becomes a bit too full. However, not mandating prescriptions to “fix” communities is a good thing to have in a book
- It does have the usual attempts to define what a community manager does (including the by now cliche of “herding cats”). The end definition is somewhat more easy-on-the-ear (read the book for that :))
- it doesn’t delve too much into the measurement aspects of the vitality of a community and, somewhat implies that the entire effort to build up and, sustain a community is somewhat of a “soft” skill issue. That, I’d say goes against the grain of the intent of the book – to demonstrate the easy of formation of communities and, the significant efforts to keep them sustained. And, although the anecdote about the 5-A-Day is insightful, on the whole, it doesn’t break new ground in statistical assessment or, deriving sense out of the number crunching
- I’d have liked to read about examples from upstream projects like GNOME, KDE and, Mozilla. Because of the size and, nimbleness of their releases, the community experiences would have far more anecdotes about processes, tools and workflows. The book does justice in talking about the importance of having open and transparent processes, however, it doesn’t delve too deeply into the catastrophic failures that can happen if the vital emotions of Belief, Respect, Accountability and Trust are thrown to the winds. There have been ample cases in the world of Open Source where one or, all of the foundations have crumbled and, havoc ensued. Dispassionate discussion about them helps bring out the case for the need to have a vigilant community.
- I recently read Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, William M. Snyder (linky) and, expected The Art of Community to demonstrate the validity of legitimate peripheral participation in the Ubuntu community. There aren’t too many examples of those.
In short, although the books falls a bit short of my expectations, it is a good read and, a book to have on the shelf. It does not lend itself towards creating neat little check-boxes like, say, a Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project by Karl Fogel (linky). Or, it isn’t aimed for companies who want to build a community around their products/services as is documented by Dave Neary in his blog.
On a related side note, the other books which I read and, would recommend are: 97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know, 1st Edition by Barbee Davis (linky) and, 97 Things Every Software Architect Should Know, 1st Edition by Richard Monson-Haefel (linky). Both are extremely nice read especially because they have a diverse range of inputs which make it topical. There’s a need for a 97 Things Every Community Manager Should Know as well
Lastly, it would be delicious if the Safari folks allowed the bookshelf to be treated like an actual library bookshelf – check-in and, check-out books at will as opposed to waiting for a specific number of days to be able to remove the books. Oh well ! you can’t have it all I guess.