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The Power of Community - Tim Choate
The Power of Community - Tim Choate

Tim Choate
Choate is responsible for the overall strategic direction and technical vision of the business. As chairman, his responsibilities also include managing the companyís governance and funding.

Choate has led EdgeNet through exponential annual growth since its inception in 1993. He managed several strategic mergers and acquisitions, including the August 1998 acquisition of Electronic Product Information Corporation (EPIC), an information technology company that developed artificial intelligence to simplify complex product selection, configuration and pricing processes. He also engineered the sale of the companyís Internet service provider business in April 1999, turning the companyís focus from Internet services to software development for online communities and e-commerce.

Prior to EdgeNet, Choate worked for three years as a software engineer for a NASA contractor (ERC Inc.), applying neural network principles to the detection of component failure in Space Shuttle main engines. During this period, Choate co-authored several papers published in the IEEE Transactions on Neural Networks describing the use of genetic algorithms for the automated design of neural network architectures.

Prior to ERC, Choate worked for eight years at Arnold Engineering and Development Center (AEDC) in Tullahoma, TN. Here he designed and deployed large mainframe databases and conducted applied research in the areas of networking, client/server computing, computer-aided software engineering (CASE) tools, artificial intelligence, expert systems, decision support systems and neural network applications.

Choate earned a masterís degree in computer science with an emphasis in intelligent systems from the University of Tennessee Space Institute (UTSI) in 1991. He earned a bachelorís degree in computer science from Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) in 1986. Choate, a Tennessee native, has served as president of the Nashville Chapter of the Society of Computer Professionals.

Tim Choate
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Question 1 - I was recently asked to review a product designed as an "easy way for organizations to share and manage knowledge" on the Internet. I was disturbed, however, that the software I reviewed basically treated the reviewer as a technological "hick". "Oh, don't worry, you won't even need an IT person, or an administrator, or how to use HTML code..."

Is this a trend that's developing? Tell management only what you assume it can understand, and no more? Or should management be encouraged to learn more about how their knowledge-sharing applications actually work?

It concerned me as an IT person, and as a person trained in management--I think managers need to have a basic understanding of what goes on in their computers and on the Internet. Have you found this to be the case, or is ignorance sometimes IT bliss? by annemarie on May 30, 2000

Answer 1 - Anne, That is a common selling point for collaboration and knowledge management tools. I think it's because of two things:

1. The most common failure mode for deployment of these types of applications is that they simply fall into disuse by the rank and file due to complexity or lack of perceived value.

2. Management is always leary of introducing any new software which will require extensive training of employees. The initial purchase price is often a fraction of the total cost of ownership over time.

My suggestion is to regard these selling points as just that and understand that most web based packages will allow knowledgeable users to apply their skills within the product to enhance the information they post. by Tim Choate on May 30, 2000
Question 2 - Tim, What is your definition of online community and how is this different from a web site? by tammy on May 30, 2000

Answer 2 - Most web sites are static, meaning that they only change when the owner decides to update the site. In this sense, they similar to a billboard which a company would place in a prominent location and hope that a large number of people view their message. Occasionally, they may change the content of their message.

Online communities are dynamic web sites which allow their owners to form a close bond with their constituency around a niche topic. Most online communities require some form of authentication to access the premium parts of the site. This authentication by membername/password allows the site to form a profile of members in order to provide a higher level of service. Another name for this is personalization.

Successful online communities also facilitate the formation of relationships between members. Communication with like-minded individuals creates value for those members & ultimately facilitates commerce as members discuss their experience with various products and services.

So back to the analogy, typical websites are like billboards and online communities are like a interactive kiosk which prompts for information and connects members with other members with similar interests around the world.

Thanks for the question. by Tim Choate on June 1, 2000
Question 3 - Good Morning Tim, Thank you for including your presentation, very informative. It appears the "community" concept revolves around member participation. I have found that people, especially in a professional setting, are reluctant to participate in online communities. What percentage of your membership should be active to consider your community successful? And, how long does it take to achieve this level of activity? by yvette on May 30, 2000

Answer 3 - Yvette, There are several excellent books which explore the dynamics of online communities. Net.Gain is one of the best. In my presentation posted on this site, I address a stage of development for community sites where member participation really starts to occur. This happens after a site hits a critical mass of members. This number will vary depending on how passionate the average member is for the niche focus addressed by the community. Members will perceive this as an increased level of energy in the site. by Tim Choate on May 30, 2000

Answer 3 - Obtaining this critical mass is the first positive indication that a community is on the path to a full-out increasing returns business model. by Tim Choate on May 30, 2000
Question 4 - Hi Tim... did you study/consider the psychology of the community aspects of online discussion/opinion or did your understanding evolve from products you used and created. It seems the online community provides a venue for ideas... giving a person the ability to open minds to their way of thinking and to have differing perspectives brought to their attention.

A very interesting dynamic in any case. by BenDover on June 2, 2000

Answer 4 - Ben, Good question. I was an early member of The Well in San Francisco back in the early 90's and from that developed an understanding of how members might use forum functionality. The notion of leading with news content and allowing members of a community to comment on that news dynamically is a newer concept & I would like to think we pioneered some thinking there with &

I'm a big believer in developing arch-types for software ideas which allow you to refine your thinking about issues. In human collaboration facilitated by software, it's almost impossible to predict the dynamics.

I have seen some amazing things happen along these lines. One of the most interesting was a discussion thread that ultimately lead to a schism in a community & roughly half of the members left because of a simple difference of opinion. That is an extreme & in most cases the cooler heads prevail & exert pressure on extremists. Like normal communities, virtual communities would be a less interesting place without the contrarians. I think Plato would be proud of what is made possible by online communities. by Tim Choate on June 2, 2000
Question 5 - Tim: What advice do you have for healthcare providers who already have established practices and are interested in beginning a practice-related online community? Where should they begin?

Also, how should a new online community (that is not tied to a particular healthcare practice) plan to support itself financially? How does the initial means of support change as the community grows?

Lynette A. Whitfield
by lwhitfield on June 2, 2000

Answer 5 - Lynette, These are two very different questions. With regard to established practices. I think the primary goal should be to use the community to improve level of service and thus differentiate oneself from competitors. A secondary benefit might be a reduction in costs associated with marketing and dissemination of information to customers.

On the other revenue question, a community centric business model usually revolves advertising, sponsorship, e-commerce, and subscriptions for premium level information. There certainly are hybrid models, but these are most common. by Tim Choate on June 2, 2000

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