Start-to-meta: the meta metric

Seeing this week's Crate Tetris public art piece on the Wooster Collective Web site, installed next to a Melbourne highway as a sequel to Crate Man in Richmond, put me in mind of an old article written for infamous computer game site Old Man Murray.

Seeing this week's Crate Tetris public art piece on the Wooster Collective Web site, installed next to a Melbourne highway as a sequel to Crate Man in Richmond, put me in mind of an old article written for infamous computer game site Old Man Murray. Don't worry, by the end of this we'll be talking about blogs, which appears to be the main purpose of blogs, but I digress. Or do I?

Anyway, in their 2000 feature Crate Review System, the OMM boys devised a new rating methodology for computer games based on the time it takes from the start of the game to where you see your first crate or barrel. The metric thus created is called StC, or Start-to-Crate. Crates being omnipresent in computer games, none of the games they reviewed scored under a minute for StC, many were rated at zero, and some were even given negative scores for particularly brazen usage of crates as a crutch for poor game design.

Traversing parts of the blogosphere for the last week has seemed like running through a warehouse full of crates, although in the case of blogs the crate equivalent is blogs about blogging. The main reason for this was Bloggercon IV in San Francisco, which was filled with elite bloggers talking about blogging while others liveblogged notes, and others then blogged about it afterwards. The whole conference itself was recursive, since it was not a conference but an "unconference" where speakers were audience members, audience members were speakers and each spoke and listened in turn ... and then blogged. Unconference sessions are led by discussion leaders, who jump around the room with a microphone like Phil Donahue, giving attendees the floor to debate in turn.

Bloggercon's raison d'etre is meta-discussion and so its StM, or Start-to-Meta metric, is zero, as it seems for much of the blogosphere. However, corporate communication can't afford such frippery. If you're setting up company blogs, wikis, chatrooms or collaborative workspaces, meta-discussion is a sign that your system is not working. Ideally, you'd have a set time for training -- which is the accepted form of meta-discussion -- and then each employee would use the company channels for constructive communication only.

Meta-discussion can be constructive when kept in its place. Wikipedia demonstrated this dynamic by having a Discussion tab on each of its articles linking to a meta-discussion page for that article. Many of the discussion pages for hotly-contested articles are longer (and sometimes more informative) than the articles themselves. Would such a feature be useful on a corporate wiki? When you're talking about an important policy document for which many employees are given joint responsibility of maintaining, yes it could -- if the discussion stuck to the content of the document, and did not go even more abstract by turning into a meta-discussion about office politics or power relationships between departments. If you're talking about the menu at the company canteen, probably not.

If you're looking for key performance metrics for your enterprise Web 2.0 project, look no further than StM. If your employees spend much of their conversations bitching about how the code is buggy, or how the features of the project aren't up to scratch, or the quality of the network, then you have some work to do. You don't want your Web servers to end up like the Metacorder....