Remember the niceties

A wee while ago, I wrote a post about the social contract of social media and how important it is that we can trust our wider social network, particularly when it is in a professional context.

One of my 'extracurricular' activities is to host an invite-only Facebook group of ICT professionals, most of whom work or have worked on application and web projects. It's a fairly relaxed atmosphere where we share resources, stories, ask for help and generally keep in touch. It's a place designed for trust because you only get in if you're invited by one of the members and as a rule of thumb invitees are people we've worked with and are deemed 'worthy'. It's actually not as snobby as it sounds because really most of us know each other in the real world and are keeping in touch, dispersed around the globe, after working on some pretty gnarly projects together.

To get the most value out of our particular wee group, we occasionally have to speak quite frankly about issues we are encountering to get the best advice and assistance, therefore knowledge of who is listening as well as who is responding and participating on a particular topic is fairly important.

I may be a little old fashioned but I like to think we can be as mannerly in our digital world as we are in the real one and I find it disconcerting that we can lower our expectations just because we're online. Not only is it more difficult for someone joining into a digital activity when they don't know who the others are, it also decreases the trustworthiness of the social circle when there are unknowns that enter quietly and stand in the back.

Whilst most online group interactions are self-assigning and more analogous to attending a community meeting or a running club that meets at the park, there is a subset, usually for work purposes, where membership is for collaborative purposes and knowing each other is quite important, from Moodle student projects groups, Basecamp document sharing, to Government hosted collaboration tools. It is this subset I'm particularly concerned with.

One of the rules I have imposed is that new members get an introduction by whomever has invited them: just a short post about them, why they've been added to the group and a prod to other members to say hey. Usually the newbie at least likes the post or comments to say thanks and hello. Some even write a post themselves outlining what they want to get out of their participation.

Introductions: remember those? That thing you do when two strangers bump into each other and you're the mutual party; or when there's a gathering and everyone else knows each other it's done to ensure your new entrant to the social circle is known to the old hands. Whether it's a Facebook group or an online collaboration tool don't leave it to the surprise post or puzzling comment before people notice there's someone lurking in the room they didn't know was there.
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