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On Birth and Extintion of Digital Ecosystems

Our increasing participatory and interactive behavior in the Internet is evolving at such speed that our metamorphosis into digital species feels like it is happening overnight. We are collectively developing all sorts of digital ecosystems and new market laws where things are moving so fast that marketers have little time to find out what are the rules for survival.

As in successful natural ecosystems, in these digital ones we are constantly benefiting from our engagement and symbiotic relationships. But, the important point to note here is successful. On-line communities have been born everywhere and about virtually every subject to a point of saturation and many are being pushed into extinction rather quickly.

I remember how radically different things where just five years ago when I started expanding my knowledge of collaboration into an in-depth understanding of what on-line collaboration is and how its execution differs from on-line cooperation, sharing and coordination. Since then, I have reviewed and participated in hundreds of projects and initiatives that use Internet and Web technology as a communication and engagement mechanism. Most of them are now either abandoned or barely surviving from reasons that range from lack of budget to lack of value or interests from its original members.

But, the most interesting aspect and probably the reason why so many have gone extinct has to do with time in relationship to value: We simply don’t have enough time to invest in all the things that might interest us, but that do not provide an immediate and valuable return on our time investment. How many causes can we commit to at one time and still have a personal life? How many “walled” communities can we be members of? Into how many silos can we split our time and still lead an integrated personal life?

Thus, survival of the fittest applies to the digital world too and the competition for survival and superiority between vendors is becoming fiercer every day.

This competition is accelerating the speed by which many efforts are failing while simultaneously it is speeding up the delivery of devices and new applications that perform as our body parts to navigate the new and expanding digital world. I want to believe that the physical laws will also apply here and soon we will have to slow down just to catch up.

Lots of good things, however, are coming out of all this.

The Internet itself is obviously the ultimate example of a digital ecosystem that will simply continue evolving and growing, which I strongly believe is a good thing for all of us.

The most interesting digital ecosystems to me are those that behave as the body’s immune system, stepping up to solve challenges or address threads when they occur, spending most of their existence in a constant vigilant state. I find it hopeful and inspiring when people come together to solve problems and retreat, without expecting recognition or payment, when they solve the problem.

A great example I truly enjoy is how the North American Network Operatings' Group (NANOG) reacted and solved the attack on YouTube when the government of Pakistan wanted to prevent its citizen from accessing YouTube. Within two hours NANOG's members came together, identified the fake ISP announcement that blocked the access to YouTube and fixed the problem.

Ken Thompson started writing about Bioteams almost to the month when I started actively and aggressively studying on-line collaboration. One of his earliest post is about the Lifecycle of Bioteams. Almost five years later, we can find complex and complete real-live examples of cycle and can even take his points to a deeper and more complex scrutiny.

Anyone trying to design, develop, maintain and grow online communities should make the effort to understand how ecosystems work, evolve and become extinct.

It saddens me to see how so many initiatives and investments have failed, including projects I have been involved with, because the leadership simply didn’t understand the complexity of what enables the survival and long-life of ecosystems. It is not a plug-and-play or built it and they come effort. The fundamentals for success vary according to the desired outcome, but the basics are always rooted on what the value is for the members in relationship to the time and resources required from them.

I have yet to find a thriving digital ecosystem where the three segments come actively together to solve social challenges, but I imagine there are some teams out there that are evolving into it.

What is this all about?
The Collaborative Society Directory’s goal is to collect and understand information from different collaborative projects that bring together as participants entities from the three forces that shape our societies: public, private and
non-profit. The goal of The Collaborative Society is to explore if such information can provide us with insights of what could be the characteristics that make a society or a community healthy.

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