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How do conversations start: role of catalysts

Over at com-prac, there’s less activity than usual. This could be because of the Setúbal dialog (keeping some members busy offline) or for any other reason; usually the list is not exactly buzzing with traffic. That got me thinking on the role of “core members” in starting conversations. And I don’t mean “core” as in “collaborators” but as in “you pull them out, the conversation falters and stops”. In other words, as catalysts.

Answering Fred Nickols, who was wondering about the statistical relevance of a few in the total number of posts, I tried to make it clearer…

  • Many people initiate threads; many more only jump in.
  • A forum or list with many ongoing conversations is perceived as easier to join in (we did the poll).

So the effect of catalysts would be both direct and indirect. As a result,

  • Catalysts would be those that habitually get conversations going.
  • … and the effect would be greater the more people can be swayed by a fluent environment.

Therefore, if we want to try nice statistical analyses, we could do three:

  1. The “conversation concentration” index would measure what percentage of members start (say) 50% of conversations in a given long period. There could be several of those (25%, 50%, 75%).
  2. The “participation concentrarion” index would measure what percentage of total messages is posted by the most active (say) 10% of users. There could be several of those (1%, 5%, 10%, 30%).
  3. The “conversation cascade index” would measure the proportion of conversations that are started at a time when there is (at least) another conversation going on (say two messages a day minimum). There could be several of those (with zero, one, with two, with three, with four simultaneous threads). It would be interesting to see where it peaks and falls; I dare say this list peaks at three or four.

And I’d propose a fourth analysis: The “catalyst index“: what percentage of those conversations with zero coexistent threads are started by (say) 1% of users.

With that in hand, you would have a really complete picture of how conversations happen in a resource (list, forum, whatever) and possibly even tools to kick it into higher gear.What do you think of the stats? Anybody with time/interest/boredom enough to mine the com-prac, or other, for those numbers :-) ?



3 comentarios en “How do conversations start: role of catalysts

  1. Ola.

    My colleague (and wife) Susan Moger has been researching what she calls ‘Network Activation’. The work started through a remark of an SME founder who talked how he ‘activated his network’ . The concept has fed into our subsequent studies, writing and teaching.

    I’m wondering if your observations on catalysts connect with this work. We suspect that Network Activators are information transmitters and amplifiers. When asked ‘are they like gatekeepers?’ we reply that gatekeeprs control and reduce the flow of information, Network Acticators amplify it.

    Publicado por Tudor | mayo 29, 2007, 8:44 pm
  2. Hello Tudor,

    it definitely does connect with that concept. Most of my observations re this behaviour don’t concern the cited mailing list but several different online communities and offline networks: one of my “holy grails” is identifying both the potential catalyst (activator) types and the most effective techniques that can be used to get the ball rolling in those environments. The goal of that observation (“research” is too nice a word for it) is learning how to drive more active and healthy online communities.

    I agree too that activators are not gatekeepers at all. They’re much more like icebreakers, banging into the inertia and silence that keeps people from connecting and sharing. They don’t actually need to be leaders, or great professionals, just brash and sensible enough to start the conversations flowing in environments where it’s just waiting to happen… and nice enough to become part of the flow.

    You run an interesting blog. Will you be tracking the Jobs vs Gates interview at D: All things digital?

    Publicado por Miguel | mayo 30, 2007, 9:39 am
  3. HI Miguel

    Nice to hear from you.
    Let’s keep in touch. I have an interesting bunch of with varying degrees of awareness but (I think) highly motivated.

    From today’s internal mail:

    My increasingly view is that we can revisit solid historical work, hence my [Ho]s with Stafford Beer, , Enid Mumford mentioned.  There will be many other contributions (Steven’s work was unknown to me, for example), and I can see how we can do much by starting to work together as a community of learning/acting.

    How do they call it, these days?

    Oh, yes, social networking.  That’s it!

    There’s another rule.  ‘Good things bubble up’. (The Argyris and Mintzberg ‘Emergent [Ho]).

    And we will need the naturally cautious as well as the move impulsively innovative …

    Let’s chill it at the cooler,

    I’ll keep in touch

    Best wishes


    Publicado por Tudor | junio 18, 2007, 11:26 am


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