I’m going to begin a series of posts that outline my thoughts about how societies and groups function, particularly with respect to KGP.
Metakgp started as just a community wiki, to reduce the cost of access to information, and reap all the benefits that come with it. Cross posting from the original wiki page below:
We come together
To share our knowledge
And our experiences
So that all may benefit
From what one has learned
And to create
An everlasting record
Of our fleeting passing
Through IIT KGP
Often, information about various things in IIT Kharagpur is hard to find, possessed by a few privileged individuals, inconsistent across different sources, or simply anecdotal and unrecorded. I hope that the wiki model will be successful in centralising important knowledge about KGP.
Additionally, vast amounts of information in the form of subjective experiences are lost as students pass out, their precious wisdom unrecorded. A more ambitious goal for the wiki is to capture some of these hard won insights so that other students don’t face the same struggles unprepared.
Finally, the most ambitious goal of the wiki is to nurture an attitude of collaboration, openness, self-improvement and curiosity. By documenting our lives in KGP, we may learn something new about it, and about ourselves. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, we may try harder to overcome our self-imposed restrictions and inhibitions, to be more understanding, and to grow. And if we look back years later at this record of our time here, it will be with the thrill of having created something permanent and useful for generations.
Even if that last one doesn’t quite pan out, it’s okay :)
As a community slowly gathered around Metakgp, we started discussing our other projects and interests. In particular, we began to discuss ways to drive more traffic to the wiki. Thus we started featuring articles, attempted to tune the wiki server to make it go faster, added plugins for all kinds of cool wiki features, and started a Facebook page.
Through the course of these improvements, we began to realise that there was a small but substantial amount of effort required to keep the lights on. The server needed to be configured and maintained regularly. We began to accumulate scripts to automate various sorts of tasks, and started our own Github org. There was, of course, the small cost of running the server itself, which I was happy to pay for to further the wiki experiment.
Right from the beginning, we were always on the lookout for opportunities to do cool things with the wiki, and to boost the amount of publicity it could receive. Vivek came up with the idea for question paper search, and I was frustrated enough with the ERP noticeboard to write MFTP. These were barely two day projects, but they catapulted us into the attention of most KGPians. Traffic to the wiki improved substantially, but we began to realise that we might have discovered an even larger opportunity.
As we added more projects (TKDP, MCMP, Sanjay) and got more people involved in them, we understood that there is a real need for a community of people that helps and supports individuals who want to do cool projects. People across all years showed remarkable enthusiasm for joining existing projects, learning new things, and starting their own projects, indicating that the community value that Metakgp provided was something unique in KGP. We had dozens of discussions, on Slack and in person, and tried to figure out what well-defined role Metakgp should play on campus.
What should Metakgp do?
A succinct way to describe Metakgp is like an incubator. Except it has nothing to do with startups, it has to do with helping people do their own cool projects. It has several factors in common with startup incubators, however. People who join have access to the considerable experience and expertise of the existing community. It’s often possible to find people who are interested in working on the same thing. And you get to meet fun and interesting people who are doing cool projects, which generally motivates you to work harder on your own.
Since you will eventually graduate, or become interested in other problems, your project needs a community for continuity. Metakgp doesn’t guarantee that, but if the project is useful enough, you’re likely to find it here. The wiki is a special case, a kind of shared community resource, not really driven by any one person, but useful enough that everyone chips in from time to time.
The biggest resource we have is the quality of people who choose to participate. That is what must be maximised at all times. Smart people don’t like drudgery, and are generally driven enough to find another way to do something they really want to do, if we get in their way.
Mostly, we should just attract smart, driven people, and facilitate the projects they want to do in whatever way we can. Everything else is fluff, sometimes nice to have, never more important than the real goal. We should measure our success by the impact of the projects incubated at Metakgp, not by the number of seminars we held, or our budget, or anything else.
In the service of attracting smart people to do cool things here, we sometimes need to do drudgery. Attending Hackday is fun, booking rooms for it is not. On this, I think that the person doing the drudgery should have sufficient reason to be convinced that it’s worth their time, otherwise they shouldn’t do it. This means convincing people to do boring work, not assigning it to them through authority.
I’ll go into more detail on some of these issues in future posts. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this too.