Yesterday, I was talking on the phone with the incredible, edible, Karl Fogel, about our blogging strategy at Civic Commons. The day before, Karl had written a great post on the “platform” approach that NYC is taking re: its Bus Tracking data/api project. The post got a great twitter response, including the beloved and dreaded Tim O’Reilly re-tweet which crashed the Civic Commons server for 20 minutes (we’re working on making sure that doesn’t happen again).
Karl asked what I thought the value of picking up a real blogging effort was for us as an organization. My answer was that it’s critical because public documents such as blog posts are the building blocks for bigger ideas. And these ideas can be ours or others.
In other words, we could spend all day re-writing the About page (which needs a re-write, btw), or, we could make more of an effort to post the nuggets of ideas that we develop through the course of our work.
There are TONS of ideas — small ones, medium-sized ones, and big ones, that we have floating in our collective organizational brain. For us to effectively communicate the big ideas, we need to be able to build upon the small ones (or the half-baked ones, etc.). In order for us to build on those, they need to be out there in the wild (on the blog, on the wiki, etc.).
And more importantly, once the building blocks are out there, we can build on them ourselves, or other people can take them and build on them. This is what Open Innovation is all about. Take Karl’s post from Wednesday — after it went up, someone said to me something to the effect of “wow, I had known bits and pieces of that story, but had never seen it all laid out like that”. That story — that post — is now a building block. Bingo.
Thinking out loud (in the form of blogging) is exactly the same as coding out loud (on github, etc). Releasing early and often, in both cases, creates surface area for others to hook into, fork, and build on. When you do that, you provide value, in the form of ideas in the public ecosystem, while at the same time opening yourself up to receive value back from the community. But even if that community-generated value never materializes, the building blocks become a useful public good, for yourself, your community, and everyone else.
It takes some time to get comfortable with your own voice — believe me, I’ve been trying for 6 years since I launched my own blog — but for me at least, thinking in terms of building blocks helps really clarify and solidify the value proposition of thinking out loud.