The other day I was reading an old favourite of mine ‘The Networking Book’, by Jessica Lipnack and Jeffrey Stamps
In one chapter an interesting observation was made about the nature of networks; should a network be regarded as a salad bowl or a melting pot?
Before you start wondering whether you’ve encountered the rogue ramblings of a wannabe chef, I should explain; a ‘salad bowl’ network is one where the individual members retain their identity and collaborate together, much like a well designed salad’s ingredients do. The ‘melting pot’ network, on the other hand, is one in which the individual members no longer retain their individuality but become ‘one’.
This observation was made about a ‘real world’ network, but it is equally applicable to online networks and communities. My own preference is for the salad bowl, but with a few safeguards. After all, whilst it’s great to have the individual flavours of the ingredients of a salad be distinctly noticeable, if whole cloves of garlic and a few anchovies were to be added to a salad bowl supplying a whole table, those who didn’t want the strong flavours would be rather annoyed. So, it kind of makes sense to not throw all the strong ingredients in to the bowl when only a few may want to have them; why not have a few alternative salad bowls, or even small side dishes with garlic cloves and anchovies in (and a further dish with walnuts for those of us suffering from nut-allergies) that diners can take from at their leisure without inflicting their tastes on others.
Electronically, therefore, the analogy would be create a community that meets the needs of the vast majority of people, whilst either providing sub-sections of the site for specialists, or even pointing those who require something slightly spicier to other sites.
A classic example here is the frequent cry for ‘Adult Sections’ on web sites, or ‘Games’ sections to include Flash or other online games. These would, to me, be the garlic cloves or anchovies; a ‘Warez’ section or part of a site that suggest locations for illegal copies of media would be ‘Walnuts’, as such a section is likely to get you in to big trouble with the authorities, just as a walnut where it’s not expected can cause serious illness for an allergy sufferer.
My own approach is that there are already many sites offering these options for people; rather than re-invent the wheel, it may well be better to direct people away from your salad bowl to someone else’s.