The Future of Online Communities: Knowledge Pills, VR Networking and AI Bots

Written by Luke Zimmer on September 5, 2017

Since I moved to DC, I’ve had a lot more time to ponder and listen to podcasts as I wait in traffic on my way to/from work. While all that waiting can be torturous sometimes (every day I see someone locked in the glass box of their car like an angry mime, beating the steering wheel and screaming silently) I’ve tried to fill that space with TED Talks and Hidden Brain. And in listening to all of the amazing things that people are creating or imagining every day, I can’t help but slip into that same imaginative mind-space and envision what online communities could look like someday.

Knowledge Pills

So I thought I would share a few of my latest grid-locked community vision quests, starting with Nicholas Negroponte. I was listening to his 2014 TED Talk about the history of technology. It traced a series of predictions that he had given on the TED stage over the last 30 years that had come true–despite being patently unbelievable at the time. And so, I’m inclined to think that the prediction he gave at the end of that talk will also come true. If it does, it could drastically alter the nature of associations, online communities, and knowledge sharing in general.

Negroponte’s prediction is that in the near future, we will be able to absorb knowledge via a physical pill. Yes, knowledge pills. If this is true, imagine the possibilities for your non-profit association. Instead of providing a test for your certification, you will offer your certification as a series of ingestible pills. And after you’ve taken the pills, you’ll know everything you need to know to be an expert in a particular field. Or as a student, you’ll be able to learn Spanish or calculus in an afternoon.

Imagine the possibilities this opens up for job training when anyone can become a certified expert. I’m sure this will have some serious consequences for specialists who learned these skills the old fashioned way, and there will need to be an entire regulatory framework put in place to manage this new frontier of knowledge. But the capability to absorb new skills and points of view in seconds opens an entire universe of possibilities for your online community (not to mention humanity) as well. Your association’s online community might soon become a pharmaceutical company, churning out advice as pills–literally a knowledge factory.

Virtual Reality Events

But if you’re not ready to step into pharma just yet, you might follow the lead of Events DC, which may be adding virtual reality tours to its sales pitches for new clients. And associations and meetings planners are beginning to explore VR as alternatives to in-person events. It won’t be long before your online community will be hosting virtual reality happy hours and other networking events–letting people work face-to-face despite being thousands of miles apart.

Wiki-Powered Bots

At this point, though, you’re probably thinking, I’ve heard of VR events and the pill thing sounds way too weird, so this last one is probably in your Goldilocks zone. It’s not quite here yet, but if you’ve used Alexa or Siri, you can probably envision this–a community-powered AI concierge or instructor. Maybe this exists out there–and if it does, please tell me about it–but in the next few years, I expect we will see online community providers releasing AI concierge services as part of their package of features.

This will mean that your community will have its own personal Alexa that members can talk to to get the information they need from your community. These bots will take spoken queries from members, search the available information that other members have shared in your online community, and synthesize it into an answer for the member. As the bot synthesizes more and more information, it will eventually learn answers to basic community questions. And any questions it can’t answer, it will point members to experts in the industry who could provide it. Further, it can reach out to the experts who provided complex answers to prompt them to share their answer on the community for future queries and fill in any gaps in the bot’s knowledge. Let’s hope we can find something for ye olde community managers to do in the meantime….

This article was originally published in the Skariphos blog and can be found here.

On September 14th from 12-1PM EST, Luke Zimmer join Arianna Rehak and Catherine Hackney to host a live, collaborative discussion about handling conflict in your online community. You can register to join them, and find out more, here.