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Installment #2 of “Simple questions to ask when planning a contribution-based project”

(click here for the first installment)

Would you want to contribute to this project?

Many potential projects might seem intellectually interesting and might sound good on paper, but fall apart when you imagine yourself actually participating. It is easy to get excited about the concept of the project as a whole, as a completed collection of many contributions, without taking the time to imagine what it will be like to participate in just one part of it.

What would you anticipate being the best part of contributing to the project?

Is your project like a puzzle? Is the best part trying to figure out a novel or best solution? (For example creating a haiku that explains Christianity). Is the actual act of contributing, the creation of the media, the best part? (For example recording audio of you and your child singing, or filming a power move) Will the best part be seeing yourself included in a gallery? Having your voice heard? Getting feedback? Is it something else? Is it a feeling of contributing to the greater good? Or is it the same sort of satisfaction you get when you alphabetize your books? The feeling of a set being completed? Of order being created?

Are you facilitating multiple rewards for those who contribute?

Some projects can be engaging/fun/rewarding to different people in different ways. Interact with contributors to find out what it was that they responded to, and make sure you are facilitating those experiences. If it is feedback, encourage feedback, if it is the process of contributing – ask questions and make suggestions to make it even better.

How personal or impersonal are the contributions?

I was once told (by a poet) that poems are like photographs: people only get interested if they’re in ‘em.

This may not apply directly to every contributory project, but I think it is good food for thought. Personalization impacts a project in three ways: First it can create desire and inspiration, second it connects the contributor to the contribution (throughout the life of the project), and third it creates another lens through which the project can be browsed/appreciated.

In terms of desire and inspiration: Personalized rule sets allow people to contribute what is specific to them – their image, their voice, their taste, opinion or experiences. The contribution is not judged by some external standard, but rather on what each person knows best – themselves. It levels the playing field.

In terms of connection to the contribution: The most obvious connection is made if someone submits his or her face, likeness, or voice. Revisiting the site means coming across a mirror – you are placed personally into the project - beyond what you have specifically contributed. This also makes it easier to share the project. Other people have no problem spotting you in the work - no explanations are necessary.

In terms of creating an additional lens through which to view the project: People are more interesting than things. Personalizing a project allows viewers to browse people as well as the project itself. Projects that include faces are perhaps the best example. Even if the focus of the contribution is something else: a written sign, something worn, an object held, I find myself scanning faces.

Of course not every project can include a picture of a face - there might not be any pictures at all. But any contribution that represents personal taste, opinion, or experience is a lens through which to explore other people, to try and figure them out, to imagine who they are. Virtual, meta people watching.

For example: if a project asks people to post songs containing the word “garbage” there is little room for people to express themselves. “Post songs that make you cry”, on the other hand, is highly personal - and the contribution, although not a direct product of the contributor, says a lot about them.

There are no hard rules here, and finding a personal angle on a project often takes a bit of work (if it is even possible). It is, however, one of the most useful questions that I have asked myself, and has made many projects more enjoyable and more successful.

Do the contributors know who the audience is?

Are people aware that a larger audience will see their contribution? Do they understand the context in which it will be displayed? In the case of reviews, comments, examples, stories - are they addressing you? or are they addressing everyone else that will experience the media? Do they think they are creating something for “people just like them”?

(I have tried to expand on this in the following post: Awareness of Audience)

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 8, 2009 9:19 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Simple questions to ask when planning a contribution-based project:.

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