The Onion, Star Trek, and Communities

I found this hysterical:

It made me think of the Product Management implications. Star Trek was saved by a small community of die-hard fans. They have conferences. Some write books extending the series. Others spend endless hours learning fictional languages. This is a legendary, passionate community, without whom Star Trek would never have made it out of the sixties.

And yet, as is common with communities, they also have a tendency to close ranks, to push back against other people’s ideas for change, and to emotionally oppose attempts to adjust the product so that it’s enjoyed by a wider audience.

This is true for all parts of the organization. Everybody has a natural tendency to understand their own area and to tremendously undervalue all the other stuff that other people do. Designers tend to think it’s all about design. Programmers have a tendency to over-engineer, and guys like Joel Spolsky express the programmers’ common opinion that the company’s success is all about them. After all, they’re writing the program. Even within programmers, the guys in charge of performance overvalues that, the guys in charge of front-end, back-end, etc., each overvalue their piece of the system.

Overvalue is the wrong word. They correctly understand their contribution. And they get understandably offended that others don’t seem to appreciate their tremendous contributions. But at the same time, they undervalue other people’s contributions. More on this at Pickle Makers Think Pickle-Making Makes the World Go Round.

An interesting comment by Joel Spolsky in his Google TechTalk was that the StackOverflow community had a tendency to overreact at newbies’ perceived mistakes. We saw this when we tried to check out how their product reacted to off-topic questions. So we asked “Should we buy a PC or a Mac?” The question was quickly flagged as “Blatantly offensive.” Blatantly offensive? Wow. How about a simple message “Off-topic?” But the same way a comany’s SEO expert, legal counsel, QA department, etc. may sometimes get over-conservative on their areas of responsibility, community members can often snap too quickly at newbies. And it was interesting to hear Spolsky mention how he saw this as a problem, but a challenge of UGC sites is how to direct some senior community members who may be guarding their turf too closely. Wikipedia has a similar problem, and has been accused of having a small cabal lashing out at anybody encroaching on their turf. I’m glad to say that at the community takes a tremendous amount of time trying to welcome newbies, and tries hard to establish a culture for itself that is patient and welcoming to newcomers.

Which brings me back to Star Trek. The Star Trek community is an historically fantastic community that was essential to Star Trek’s success. And yet that community was bound to include a small and vocal group that’s a bit overprotective, and resistant to change, drowning out a larger community that would love to welcome an even larger community into the fold. I’m a Star Trek fan, though I’ve never attended a conference nor learned Klingon. And I loved the new movie, and cheer the people who pushed it through.