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Information Architecture for the World Wide Web, Second Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld

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The Participation Economy

The major challenge faced by every online community is how to get people to participate. Participation requires a balance of give (creating content) and take (consuming content). It’s difficult to ensure reciprocity between givers and takers; it’s often human nature to lurk and learn, while creating good information takes time and hard work. If everyone consumes and no one produces, online communities fail. Those responsible for online communities therefore have a harder job than Alan Greenspan. Beyond tweaking economic performance, they have an even larger job: to create the economy from scratch. And as they can’t force people to participate, a healthy online community economy must therefore err in the direction of free market principles, enabling, not overmanaging, the creation of content in a way that keeps up with its consumption.

Information architecture comes into play here in two ways. First, it provides a critical set of rules and guidelines that make up part of the economy’s infrastructure, much in the same way that the international banking system structures transactions in the global economy. So information architecture is a key part of “setting up” an economy.

Second, information architecture can be used to tweak levels of “transactions” in the participation economy, much like the Federal Reserve Board’s adjustments to interest rates can invigorate or cool down economic activity. Information architecture greases the participation economy by supporting ...

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