For a long time, my own organisation has used Yammer as a social learning and collaboration tool, but in a very informal way. There have only been a small community of users and it’s been very ad hoc in it’s use. As is often the case with personal learning networks, the people i interacted with in that space were quite distinct from groupings elsewhere: many were instructional designers and other craftspeople working at an implementation level. It’s always been a very cosy space and i’ve never had to think much about how i use it.
But no more: our Yammer space is going mainstream.
It’s like when your favourite coffee shop (the one with the pallet counter and worn sofas) gets bought out and refurbished: the new sofas, the stencils on the walls, the gleaming coffee machine are all nice, but they’re also all new. Our quiet and cosy Yammer space has suddenly got busy and it’s a bit bewildering. This is a story of change: a story of our growing pains.
I interact in social learning communities of all types and flavours: some are communities of practice, places where like minded people come together to share expertise. Some are for research, others purely social, some highly technical, and i take different roles in each one. The challenge comes when a community changes. The most noticeable differences over the last few weeks have been a proliferation of sub groups and a large number of new joiners. The impact of this? Well, the coffee shop that used to be small is now much bigger, with all sorts of separate rooms. Some are very friendly, but others i feel i’m a trespasser in. I’m not quite sure i’m supposed to be there at all. Some feel like sub groups or new communities, where people clearly know each other, and i feel like the stranger.
It’s also got hard to follow the conversations: when we were small it was easy to be in and follow every conversation, but now there are too many. Turn your back for a day or two and you’d be swamped trying to catch up. This is a good thing in terms of providing a forum space for communities to interact, but makes it less personal.
Of course, it’s not all bad: new blood brings new life and i find that an increasing number of threads ‘take off’, developing into lively conversations. This is, of course, the point of social learning spaces: to provide opportunities for collaboration, for discussion, for challenge and for support. All of these things are true.
Yammer is a technology (there are plenty of others), it’s the infrastructure of our community, and it’s being built fast. Users are building suburbs, new houses, moving in. The village community is becoming a town, and growth can feel strange, can feel painful, but can be rewarding too. Once a town gets to a certain size it supports theatres, cinemas, great restaurants and enhanced opportunities. As long as we don’t restrict it with too many strict licensing terms and bylaws of course. So there is a responsibility for the organisation to observe, to learn how the community wants to use and develop the space, to learn.
Different communities function in different ways: i take different things from each one. It’s strange when you see them change, when you see the spark light and the conversations take off. But very rewarding too.