Rebuilding a community of practice

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —February 12, 2006
Filed in Collaboration

Last month actKM faced a disaster. On the 15th January YahooGroups deleted the actKM group. It’s a long story and not really the point of this post but it amounted to a member complaining to Yahoo that another member infringed their trademark. So instead of deleting the offending posts, Yahoo deleted the whole group.

I first heard of actKM’s disappearance from David Williams. I’m the group owner so Dave called me to see if I knew anything, which I didn’t, and was then told of the desperate attempts to contact Yahoo. The first couple of weeks were the hardest because we didn’t know why it vanished and while David and Nerida Hart maintained their efforts to contact Yahoo on a daily basis there was no response.

It was time for plan B. I fired off emails to Nancy White, Etienne Wenger, and John Smith. Mark contacted Patrick Lambe, Jerry Ash (AOK), Dave Snowden, Joe Firestone, David Gurteen and many others. We tried to get in contact with everyone we knew in the community of practice and knowledge management discipline who might help out. Fortunately both Nancy White and Patrick Lambe knew some  people at Yahoo, and played key roles in activating networks. The Yahoo contact started to make enquiries inside the  behemoth. Dave Snowden was talking to the member who had complained to Yahoo and smoothing things out from that end.

As actKM convener, Mark Schenk played a pivotal role. He spent many late nights understanding what actually happened, talking to the protagonists and smoothing the waters, and contacting the owners of other missing KM groups (a Malaysian and Indian KM groups vanished too). At the same time Mark and the actKM committee members, with the help of Ron Rogers (IT support guy extraordinaire), started a new discussion list and web-site (including a blog). During this time Mark would have sent 100s of emails to the community, community sponsors and people at Yahoo.

Eventually the Yahoo product manager contacted Mark and said that the growing momentum of the grass roots blogging and email campaign could not be ignored and they reinstated our group, minus the offending emails. Yahoo realises that this was an unfortunate event and are currently looking at ways to improve their service.

There are two lessons for me. First, never underestimate to power of networks. As Nancy said a few times in emails: networks rock! When a group of passionate, smart and dedicated people decide to band together to right a wrong there is nothing stopping them. Second, there needs to be a conductor, a voice of reason, a cool head, and Mark played this role to perfection.

[Update: it looked liked the Yahoo lawyers made the decision to remove the group. As Seth Godin says, the lawyers must see them selves as part of the marketing department and in this case they didn’t.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. “We Reserve the Right to Punt You”

    A knowledge management community of practice that got punted by its online landlord, Yahoo Groups, successfully lobbied to get the information sharing group reinstated on Yahoo’s servers. The fact the group has been active since 1999 and has 1,569 memb…

  2. Rebuilding a Community of Practice – The Power of Networks

    If you would remember a couple of weeks ago I created a weblog post over here where I was detailing an unfortunate event regarding the sudden disappearance from the actKM community of practice in Yahoo! due to some issues with company trademarks. Over …

Comments are closed.