Read this! Clay Shirky on ‘A Group is it’s own worst enemy’. As well as containing gems like this, on the power of out-group prejudice:

groups often gravitate towards members who are the most paranoid and make them leaders, because those are the people who are best at identifying external enemies.

And, on why geocities came before weblogs:

It took a long time to figure out that people talking to one another, instead of simply uploading badly-scanned photos of their cats, would be a useful pattern.

He also has some interesting reflections on the basic patterns groups reproduce (he says sex/flirtation, outgroup animosity and religious veneration are the top three), on why structure is needed to protect groups from themselves (it is members of the group, operating within the deliberate remit of the group’s initial intention that often cause its collapse, not ‘outsiders’) and a whole lot of other stuff about social software.

And, basically, i’m not too wrapped up in the software bit of social software, i’m more interested in the social. How can we catalyse well functioning groups?

Clay says that you need some kind of privilaged group of core users, or some kinds of barriers to entry – in an internet forum a lack of these things leads to a one-person-one-vote tyranny of the majority [please read the article before getting upset about any anti-democratic sentiments you perceive here].

However for non-internet groups, I’m wonder if our problem isn’t the lack of limits to commitment, rather than lack of barriers to entry based on a minimum level of commitment. I’ve seen a lot of social and political groups which get overly swayed by the minority that have the time to commit totally and obsessively to the group – it doesn’t make for a rounded decision making process.

I’m in danger of starting an epic string of posts on the interrelation of group structure and group function, if anyone would like to head me off at the pass and recommend some reading/ideas to get my head corrected on this first i’d welcome it…