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  • Writer's pictureBassam Tarazi

The Best Online Collaboration Platform….Ever

I guess when you have 3.4 million users and you get $100,000,000 in investment thrown at you by Andreessen Horowitz (the largest they’ve ever made), it’s no wonder that Inc Magazine and Wired Magazine are writing about you.

Say hello to Github. Their slogan is, “Build software better, together.”

Why am I taking time to write about them though? After all, my coding prowess starts at “ctrl+c” and ends at “ctrl+v.” It’s because Github is moving past just collaborative coding and into many other fields.

Or as Github’s CEO Chris Wanstrath said, “We want to enable people who don’t know each other to collaborate on the same thing, toward the same goal. Working with someone else is just an awesome part of being alive. Creating art, creating tools, creating documents, doing homework, anything--it's not limited to programming. I don't see why musicians wouldn't want to work this way, for example.”

Just yesterday, Seth Godin launched his Krypton Community College to “empower people who want to learn, but lack the formal structure to do so. It is a beta project designed to explore a new way of combining online education with in-person learning.”

Learning and collaborating. It’s all interconnected.

Because we’re all trying to grow. We all want to get stuff done. We all want feedback. We all want to help. We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.

But can Github really work for things other than coding & text based projects? Or will there need to be an offline component like Krytpon Community College?

Before we get into that, the engineer in me wanted first to study why Github has been able to get the intellectual, online, crowd-sourcing sauce zestier than anyone else.

So channel your inner term paper and enjoy this mini dissertation.


GitHub works because of the combined measured efforts of individuals working by themselves on someone else’s clearly defined, tangible and solvable project. The expertise and knowledge shared is spoken in a language that everyone on the site understands. There is a low barrier to input and no new social habits have to be adopted for change to set forth.

The coding medium is by nature, buggy. Coding is to software as R&D is to hardware. Mistakes are supposed to be made. If there aren’t any, you’re not doing it right. Furthermore, by being an active member of the community, not only do you get karma points, but you can get real work from it too.

The Problem Is Defined

There is a gatekeeper, a decider of where the project is going. It isn’t a community owned project

And the problems people are solving on Github aren’t hindered by things like money, focus, fear of failure or anything abstract like that. There is a specific outcome that is desired (code needs to do x), and there is a formula of some sort that can be created - absent of feelings or politics - to solve your problem.

The solution doesn’t need you to then be inspired to undertake a new habit or do something else uncomfortable. This notion is so important that you should let it sink in.

It’s like you are a runner and you want to run to a particular part of town but you don’t have a map. You need help getting to the location, you don’t need help convincing yourself to run.

Most every other big scale collaborative enterprise eventually asks us to do something completely out of our comfort zone. Think about someone trying to build a coaching business online. She is going  to need to build a website. But to get a website up she needs a host, copy, design, url, something to say, something to sell, etc. Those are a lot of different things that take a lot of different skills and management.

The Motivation To Use Github

There are a lot, so bullets would be best. We can look at motivation as a 2-headed monster: external motivation and intrinsic motivation.What do they think about me? Reputation society

  1. You owe it to the people spending time on your project to show progress

  2. Sharing of knowledge is valuable and it will benefit you later through the reciprocity rule. I help you if you help me

  3. Sharing of competence. By helping someone solve a problem, you become integral to them and the solution. You stand out and get accolades for it through people “starring” your profile and leaving you commentsWhat’s in it for me?

  4. You can get work if you’re a good programmer by using your profile as a resume. And you get a better/higher profile rating based on how much you have helped others

  5. Our brains like working on things that are 50-80% solvable. We like challenges that have solutions that aren’t impossible.

  6. We like to know that our work will lead to a tangible outcome The Ease Of Use

Access: If you download code, you are NOT obliged to submit an answer. You decide if you think you can help

Universal: Coding is at the same time the common language AND the solution. You don’t need any other inputs. You can think of it like copywriting. We all have access to the same words in the English language but some people are able to use them better than others.

Progress: The problems are small enough and bite sized, and not just, “How do we feed starving children?” Things move forward. People aren’t just looking for more info or more inspiration

Social Anonymity: You don’t need anyone else to help you help someone else. You don’t need to network, schmooze, Skype, call-in or anything. You not only help, you effect change, by doing nothing other than what you do best on your own computer, in your own time

The Culture

A shared skill = Shared pain; You are empathetic to others going through similar struggles. So there is a willingness to be vulnerable, to admit you don’t know. It’s almost a badge of honor that you are working on something you can’t figure out, or that you try to solve something that someone else couldn’t figure out

Due to the solution-based culture of coding, people are more interested in the problem than the person.

Why Am I Telling You All Of This?

It’s fascinating that programmers have created a community where they not only help each other, they continue to practice their trade. If you were part of an online knitting community or a mechanic’s community, you couldn’t get done the things that programmers can do online.

But there are places for graphic designers to crowd source and collaborate, like here,here and here.

And there is a place for writers to collaborate as well.

Open Ideo created a place for people to collaborate on global issues.

Can Github figure out the formula to get musicians, explorers, artists and the lot to jump online, to help each other? Or will Github need to take the online...offline in a manner like Godin’s Krytpon Community College is trying to do?

I’m guessing it will need to be some sort of combination.

So if you’re wondering why your Facebook group or your Udemy class doesn’t have the accountability or the incentive to participate that Github does, it’s probably because it is lacking some of the tenets written about above:

Project ownership, a defined problem, a shared language, ease of use, intrinsic and external motivation and a desire for progress.

This is what makes any community do what it needs to do. And if you can’t get some of those needs in through online means, then you just might have to take it offline to fill in the gaps.

Speaking of offline, for those side hustlers and independent professionals in NYC, I’m co-hosting a co-solving workshop on Saturday, Sept 7. A few tickets left.


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