Should we be working in teams? Thoughts after translating Sam's video

At LOTE3 [Sam Muirhead] shot a 9 minute video interview with [Ben] getting everybody on the same page on the unMonastery. This is in itself a major contribution to the project; and its value was further enhanced by the community rising up to provide subtitles for the video in several languages. We used a web platform called Amara, sort of a highly specialized wiki that only does translations for subtitles of videos, and does them really well. Wikis work so well because they “packetize” the effort needed to complete a project: you don’t need to have the bigger picture, as long as you can perform the task at hand you know you are helping out. But, as I raise my gaze from the act of translating I cannot help wondering: this is something really valuable. Over maybe three weeks, we had complete subtitles in nine languages, with two more under way. Could we do this again? Could we make it into a sort of service? Did a “translation team” somehow emerge from the act of translating?

My tentative answer is a qualified yes. “Qualified” because it does not feel like a team. The dozen or so people that worked on this did not really talk with each other; in many case they don’t even know each other. They interact by editing each other’s subtitles (when they translate into the same language) and by adding value to each other’s work (when they translate into different languages). But functionally speaking this does, indeed, work like a team. It can do so because it encodes the knowledge necessary to initiate the process and govern the tools (this is mostly in [Lucas G]'s head) and because somebody has the traction and centrality in the community to put the word out and reach people with very diverse linguistic skills (this was mainly down to [Noemi] and the official ER social media accounts). Does it make sense to make it somehow official? We could have a way to sign up for the translation team. The team would be dormant – simply a group on the platform that contains names of people who are up for doing some translation. As translation tasks come through, translators are informed, so they can take up as many (or as few) lines of text as they want. Some of these tasks would likely be paid, others – like Sam’s video – would be labor of love, to be compensated through kudos and hopefully some small acts of kindness at some point.

But then, why stop at translation? An organization by teams of self-selected people agrees with Edgeryders, and with Internet collaboration a large. In a sense, it is the perfect complement of the notion of project that Edgeryders is built upon: a project is a collection of people with complementary skills organized around a goal; a team is a collection of people with similar skills organized around a class of tasks. In the kind of work Edgeryders plans to do, it might make sense to have a foresight team (people interested in futurism), an engagement team (Internet socialites who can drive signup and content resharing), an event team (people that know ho to pull off a Living On The Edge event) and so on. As people in the community lay their hands on paid and meaningful work, which is our main common goal here, each of us is just a few clicks away from mobilizing whole teams with great skills. This means each of us can perform as a whole company, and therefore compete with companies – and that is, indeed, the main Edgeryders vision.

The main roadblock is, as often with open networks, that it is hard to come up with an a priori way to incentivize and compensate participants. We have always insisted on explicit social contracts: “if you do X, you can reasonably expect Y to happen”. This is hard here because compensation depends on a number of independently made decisions. If people manage to bring in paid and meaningful work teams are great: less entrepreneurial (but skilled) Edgeryders can augment the ability of the more entrepreneurial ones to deliver; and viceversa, the entrepreneurial folks can specialize in channeling paid work towards the skilled translators (or whatever). But this outcome depends on the balance between the two groups of people: if you end up with a lot of hired guns serving very few entrepreneurial breadwinners, the arrangement risks being exploitative for the former.

I have no elegant solution save the usual one of tight expectation management and slow, organic growth. If we were to create one or more teams, I would recommend “Join a team just to see where it goes. If you are not comfortable with the arrangement, don’t join. If you do join, you need to give people the space to experiment with creating a piece of our open cnsulting ecosystem, and the permission to fail.”

What does everyone think? For reference, the translation team as of today would look like this:

  • workflow organization: [LucasG]
  • helpline and animation: [Noemi]
  • English: [Lucas G], [Alberto]
  • Estonian: [henri37]
  • French: [Alberto], [Marc]
  • German: Lorenzo (not on Edgeryders), [Matthias]
  • Greek: [Sotiris]
  • Italian: [Alberto], [Bergamo-Hub],
  • Polish: [Justyna Krol]
  • Portuguese: [pacheca]
  • Romanian: [Noemi]
  • Russian: [Elena Karlsen]
  • Spanish: [Lucas G]

Compensation mechanism? Guess I should speak up here :slight_smile:

Taking part in the subtitling exercise was a useful excuse for me to learn a new tool: Amara, the subtitling tool I had heard about but never used. Would I be supposed to help with subtitling regularly, it is just as you say:

“The main roadblock is, as often with open networks, that it is hard to come up with an a priori way to incentivize and compensate participants.”

Enabling compensation for P2P support in cash-scarce environments is exactly what we try to solve with Economy App. With its first public release coming up in January or February (see latest progress), it may be a good time to evaluate a collaboration. Edgeryders is a very attractive first user community for the Economy App since they are (1) tech savvy, (2) can give valuable feedback in testing, (3) all have their own creative projects and skills for mutual support and (4) are patient with less-than-finished websites :smiley:

Here’s what our first public release will have on offer: exchange of tasks and products using the network barter algorithm, and a buy-now feature.

  • Tasks allow to outsource something like "subtitle this video into English". Multiple Edgeryders would apply to do a task, and the user for which the network barter algorithm can find a fitting network barter exchange would get to do the task.
  • Products allow to barter physical or digital items in exchange for receiveing other tasks and products at the same time. This can include pre-packaged services like "I would translate up to 500 words from English to Italian for 7 EUR". In contrast to tasks, where you have to wait for others to apply, there will be a buy-now feature for products.
  • Buy-now are similar to the regular network barter deals, but selected by a user who wants a certain product to be included in the deal, right now. To make this possible, the user has to "catalyzing" a network barter deal with a bit of money (say, paying in 5 EUR in money and 45 EUR in barter for getting 50 EUR worth of things). This is needed to fill potential "gaps" in the network barter deal which prevent it from happening on its own.

The software will be a separate platform, but all its tasks and products can be linked to for integration with another site like Edgeryders. Note that all value will be measured in EUR, but means barter value: no cash money changes hands. Economy App will try to become self-sustainable by charging a commission fee for deals it finds: but like everything else on the platform (except the buy-now feature), this is charged in barter value, so should not hurt. Its core algorithm will be released as open source software, but not (yet) the user interface, since it relies on a SaaS business model.

Does that sound interesting, Edgeryders? If not, tell us what makes it interesting, since we’d really really enjoy you folks as beta users :slight_smile:


Of course!

I don’t claim to completely understand your comment, [Matthias], but this sounds like a natural match: collaboration (let me stress that: not just Edgeryders, all informal, network-mediated collaboration) has a problem. You have got a solution. Granted, it was a solution for a different problem, but there are enough similarities to make it worth exploring. The only question is: it it just me? Would enough edgeryders be willing to give it a try?

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Let’s see then

Yes, I also think it’s a good fit. More reasons include that Edgeryders naturally need mostly digital services for their mutual support, and are already a Europe-wide group of people who are potentially interested in this compensation mechanism. So it works around both the problems of language internationalization (we won’t have that ready for beta), of shipping (not a good idea to start bartering with physical items that need shipping for money), and of finding enough people for initial critical mass even though it’s still beta stage (difficult to find in a local area, but a pre-existing geeky international group is pure gold).

So I’d propose that, when the network barter platform launches in January or February of next year, I will make this well-known on the Edgeryders site here and we’ll see who will join and try it out.

I don’t see it as much of a different problem than creating jobs, for which Economy App was originally conceived: In a barter economy, when you provide what you can and get what you need in exchange, that is your job :slight_smile: Digital P2P support is not all we need of course, but it’s a start.

A discussion that needs doing

Matt, I would like to have a deeper (and broader: the two of us are simply not enough bodies here) discussion on the following matter: once tabs are kept, will people stop asking for help to avoid being indebted? Does translating subtitles to Sam’s video mean that someone (Sam? Ben? Edgeryders?) now owes the community five thousand euros, or goods for a value thereof? That’s a lot of almost-new skateboard tables. You know how time banks fail? Enough people are willing to put in work in return for IOUs in time, but very few are ok signing those IOUs. There is always more supply than demand.

I need to be convinced that putting price tags on quanta of labor is not going to break the workflow. I know you are just using euro as a numeraire, but still.

Shouod we open a discussion in the Economy App group?

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Yep, that needs some evaluation.

I just posted something to the Economy App group about this. So the discussion can proceed here now: “Can Economy App help Edgeryders to collaborate?”.

An ecosystem of teams. is that what you mean?

Hi, thanks for the post Alberto, it needed more than one read, because my first reaction has been: “but aren’t we doing that already somehow?” yes and no. Come to think of it, any achievement we have as a group is based on having put together a team, or having collaborated in some way. But most of the time it’s circumstantial, as is individual Edgeryders availability to get involved.

example: The best coordinated work across teams I’ve seen so far is with organising this last LOTE. But is was highly dependent on the social contract “LOTE is a no spectators event”, “It’s free for everyone as long as we’re building it together”, “It’s our event and we can shape it the way we want to” and the likes.

I agree, before any formalization of the idea into a diversity of permanent teams we need an idea of the availability and interest of more of us in this. It’s one of the reasons our community survey asks respondents if they’d be up for pledging their work to an area they like: some areas have more clearly defined “if you do X, you can reasonably expect Y to happen”, like organising p2p project development retreats, and no wonder this already ranks first in popularity. You organise it, you participate in it, hence you move forward with your project. You can expect to see results in a limited timeframe. Same with collaboration on funding. You help write an application, you bring in partners, you clearly have something up your sleeve if we win.

  • The effort to coordinate these is not as much high as it is limited in time, and in my opinion that helps.

  • The compensation may not be immediate, nor definite, but the intrinsic compensation can replace it (for a while?) : acknowledgement, community kudos, meeting your future collaborators on the way, being go-to person in the community for type of task x when that would be paid for etc. if there would be somewhere where the work is accounted for, for future reference, that would be great. Maybe an “idle”/ “pending” state of compensation on EconomyApp ?

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