Social Architecture

Book Review: Building On-line Communities by Pieter Hintjens

As of November 2021 there are 28 million public repositories at GitHub. Internet literally runs on open source software. After recent log4j drama there were a lot of debates (here is a very good example) about how critical parts of modern IT world are maintained by online communities and how it can be improved.

So, I asked myself a question – how exactly you can build a thriving open source project and create community around to support and maintain it? I came across the book Social Architecture by Pieter Hintjens (a founder of ZeroMQ project) gives his view on processes and guidelines how to successfully achieve such goal.

The book starts with definition and description of 20 key ideas or tools that online community should have to be successful in the long term. Transparency, decentralization, strong mission and non-tribalism are among others.

After that book moves to explaining the idea that innovation is not done by a small group of people but rather it comes from a well-defined process:

The innovative nature of the Internet comes not from a small, select band of Einsteins. It comes from RFCs anyone can use and improve, made by hundreds and thousands of smart, though not uniquely smart, individuals. It comes from open source software that anyone can use and improve. It comes from sharing, remixing, and scale of community. It comes from the continuous accretion of good solutions, and the disposal of bad ones.

Hintjens, Pieter. Social Architecture: Building On-line Communities (p. 38). Pieter Hintjens.

Basically, the book states that well-defined protocols how community members interact with each other is a mandatory pre-requisite for Collective Intelligence and, as outcome, successful open source product.

The author explains what types of licensing exist today and what are the pros and cons for each type. Other practical explanations about watermarks and how to register them are also in place.

The second half of the book describes how ZeroMQ community has been built and operates today. The most interesting part for me was dive deep into Collective Code Construction Contract (C4) that describes in RFC-like format how community should build, distribute and maintain open source software.

One more refreshing idea that I found in the book is that ZeroMQ community does not use roadmaps and do not release features. They use Simplicity Oriented Design and see a product as an endless chain of patches stack one on top of another. Every patch represents the most simple solution to a very specific problem. This idea, probably, not new but allows to look differently on traditional approach with long roadmaps and constant prioritization of engineering resources.

Overall, the book has number of interesting ideas and real life examples. 4.5 out of 5.

Have a look on my other book reviews!

Levers of Influence

Levers of Influence. Why do we comply?

Humanity social systems can exist because people can collaborate and align on common goals. Without our abilities to influence each other and comply to each others requests our civilization simply would not survive. It is not very important how exactly our ancestors evolved those abilities, probably, being social and collaborative gave significant advantage in Stone Age times. What is important – is to learn what exactly makes us comply. And why?

For sure, we are influenced by facts and rational explanations, but behavioral economics and great book Thinking Fast and Slow prove that people are irrational. There are other factors or levers that significantly impact our judgment and readiness to agree.

I have finished recently a book “Influence. The Psychology of Persuasion”. This book has detailed analysis of main behavioral models (we can call them biases as well) that force us to comply. These biases trigger embedded mechanisms in our brain – skip critical thinking part and jump directly to conclusions and actions. Click and run. Let’s dive deeper into them.


If somebody gives us something, we feel urge to give something back. Favor, gift or our compliance with the next request. There is a deep psychological connection between reciprocity, gratitude and life satisfaction – we feel better when we are participating in exchange of goods and favors. We use this mechanism to influence others decisions and make others feel “much obliged”.

In Japan, normally people say “arigato gozaimasu,”  meaning “thank you”. However, people also say “sumimasen” when they want to express their appreciation or a feeling of regret, guilt, or another negative emotion. For example, when they receive unexpected gift or favor from others.

Practical implementations of reciprocation lever are everywhere. Free samples of products, small gifts after first purchase or a small concession made by one of the parties in negotiation process.


There is famous quote: “People buy from those who they like”. It is a golden rule for every salesperson – in the situation where competing products price and features are the same, people buy from whom they like more. Even if they know that it is just a compliance strategy.

But liking is a vague term. If we will try to decompose it, then we will see that we like people who:

  • Similar to us
  • Give us compliments
  • Easy to contact and ready to cooperate with us.

That is pretty simple to use in real life. Focus on commonalities rather than differences. Show others that you appreciate them and their actions. Be a “go-to-person” who is ready to work on a shared goal.

Liking is the reason why brands go to influencers for advertisements. Because thousands of people like them and inevitably extend their likeness to a brand too.

Social Proof

When I go to a new restaurant, I often ask for the most famous meal in the menu. Collective experience of other visitors cannot be wrong. The same logic applies to product reviews and ratings. We view an action as correct in a given situation to the degree that we see others performing it.

Social proof lever is especially efficient in ambiguous situations. The more unknown environment we are at, the more we rely on others behaviour. I think this is the reason why in a new city I trust reviews at Google Maps completely and blindly.

So, if you need help, don’t rely on others reaction unless it is clear for them that there is an emergency. A lot of us witnessed situation when a person lies on the ground and people demonstrate zero actions to help the person. Why? Situation is ambiguous and everybody rely on each other reaction. And nobody takes a first step.

Another tip I learned – if you are delivering a webinar and want audience to ask questions, you have to break the ice yourself first. Come up with a couple of artificial questions, read them loud and give an answer. Social proof will do the rest for you.

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