Ming the Mechanic:
Categories and Group Forming

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Categories and Group Forming2003-02-13 16:21
9 comments
picture by Flemming Funch

I have often tried to come up with lists of perfect categories in one context or another. Right now one that works fairly well is the one you might see for example in New Civilization News in the right sidebar. There are more than 50 total, and usually I can find one that fits whatever I'm posting. But the categories I chose for my own weblog here no longer work. Most of the time none of the categories fit, so it is pretty haphazard what I choose.

Part of the trouble with categories is that most of us don't really organize our lives around clinically neat categories. We don't really get passionately excited about sections of the yellow pages. We usually get passionate about more complex memes or about complex feelings we have inside or about specific activities we do with specific other people. I'm passionate about 'Emergent Social Systems', but even if a number of other people were willing to stand under that same banner, we probably wouldn't all agree on what it meant, or what fit under it, or what was really important about it. My own passion is a compass I steer by, which I can't even adequately describe in writing. If I could write it down, it would be pages long, rather than just a couple of words.

At first I thought that categories naturally and automatically would lead to group forming and collaboration and community. They don't. If several people choose the same category, chances are they'd be more likely to form a group than if they were put together randomly, but none of it is automatic. In NCN one of the first things I did was to announce a number of groups based on certain subjects. Alternative Energy Sources, Alternative Money Systems, Social Rules and Ethics, Spirituality, etc. A number of people joined each one, and there was some initial excitement. Then there were interested discussions for a couple of months. And gradually each of the groups died out. More people joined once in a while and sometimes revived them, but nothing much happened. Why? Because all they had in common was a category. They didn't have a shared outcome in mind, they hadn't agreed or committed to anything, and they didn't share any model for how to think about it, or how to go about it. And because nobody took the lead in making it happen, no matter what.

Categories are still very useful, and might help people find what they're looking for, and I'll probably still look for better and better categories to put on things. But when it comes to forming groups, I think we need to find ways of codifying outcomes, world views, and preferences, so that we might help match up people who actually fit together. And we need to turn on the spotlights, blow the trumpets, and roll out the red carpet the moment we notice that somebody actually is passionately driven to do something great. Because that is what the world is really organized around, whatever label we put on anything.


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