Happy Halloween – and November online community presentation

Here are my events at Upcoming: they include Web2point2, an unconference for where people are taking the web.

This is my proposed session: Managing and sustaining online communities for the longer run, especially the evolution of social structures and group needs over time, and how to make business and technical changes in that context. Want to talk about that? There have been recent media stories about social platforms that become fads, and then yesterday’s fads. What do we all know so far?

The prior page includes some ruminating about another issue that interests me, but I don’t want my focus to be too scattered, so if necessary i drop that one.

Also, I got Salon to add The WELL as a sponsor. I’m delighted about that! See you there?


Sustaining Online Communities for the Longer Run

spooky window

spooky window

(photography by me) Happy haunting, all.

I am planning to go to Web2point2 next week, for at least part of the event!

My interests — first something i’m thinking of but don’t know much about yet: How do (and should) communities and their social platforms address the modern, more atomized and autonomous web? Are we still looking inward too much with many of our services and platforms rather than tying in fragments of other networks individuals already have built for themselves? What do we do /could we do with the scraps of tagging, rss, bookmarking, list-making and all the other ways people who “sign up for” something tend to indicate that they are part of other things too? Could this become very simple for newbies who seek out group sites? OK, I have nothing but curiosity in this realm.

More realistically, in terms of convening an interesting session, I am concerned about Managing and sustaining online communities for the long run: especially the evolution of social structures and group needs over time, and how to make business and technical changes in that context. There’s plenty to talk about. How do you avoid flavor of the month (or year) dynamics — where “nobody goes there anymore” because a site is considered too crowded, too mainstream, too cliche? What to do about refugees who leave or arrive or create a site together? What has kept you going back to a place for the long run?

I am curious about trends and plans in the former, and most versed in the latter. Both are big, broad areas for discussion. Anybody have a suggestion about how to approach this… Present/faciliate two things? (Noooo!) Lobby somebody else to bring up the first one? Yours if you like it!

Otherwise, how can I be sure to be involved in some way discussions about both of these areas of interest, if both are viable at the conference, without being a pushy person?

(I may edit this and flesh it out a bit, and am tagging it web22talk as I work on that. Hope that isn’t too confusing. I think I’m behaving in a wiki-ish way on a blog platform. Tsk tsk.)

San Francisco stamen fall

stamen fall

stamen fall
Original photo, uploaded by me as fotogail.

Some large blooming tree dumps red stamens as it goes to seed in late September and October in San Francisco.

Red streets mark the turn of the seasons in my part of town. time passes.

These red stamens and pods are from a eucalyptus tree, and/or a bottlebrush — both seem to be dumping red stamens. I have now photographed red tracings on pavement at this time for three years. Clearly, this obsessive near-daily digital photography intensifies awareness of the seasons, and of life moving along.

artifact on eugenia street


Ah, where does the time go?

Tin Foil Hat Survival Kit

“Protection from mind altering waves”

My foil hat for the evening, shot by pinhole

On Thursday we had a local San Francisco Flickr meetup.

Cygnoir proposed a hats theme – hats and masks for October – and it was easier to bring a roll of tin foil — ok, aluminum foil of course — to work for the day than to bring an amusing hat.

One of my favorite ‘net lore concepts is the tinfoil hat to protect the brain from alien (or government) radiation — and it is so easy to make one. Some clever satirist and/or opportunist has created this illuminating item, now on sale over at Amazon. If you haven’t seen it, the cover, description and especially the reader comments — hilarious customer reviews with differing degrees of being in on the joke of it all — are great:

Or for a simple stand-alone academic website that has just the right tone, see this MIT study: http://people.csail.mit.edu/rahimi/helmet/

Community building strategies in an atomized online universe

passing out candy

This picture was originally uploaded by me over at Flickr as fotogail as “passing out candy“: Danyel Fisher hands out his Microsoft labs community technologies research tool disks and attracts a swarm of giggling attention.

Some of my questions from two days of Online Community Summit:

So far as Community Business Models go, we do seem to be out from under the gun now that community features are the new black again. Before the Web 2.0 excitement, these sessions were full of people moaning about how to convince the bean counters that forums or other tools were of value. That seems to have gone away this year. Just another phase, or a sea change?

When will we be far enough along so that mobile community design and organizing discussions are not half about carrier models and other platform questions? Yet all kinds of sites do mobile uploads or rss reading. Actually making the mobile properties useful for interactive purposes on the hoof is still rare, with dodgeball still being one of the few services that actually plays with group interactions and mobility.

The reputations tools discussion underscored for me that reputation and/or ranking should be used thoughtfully and perhaps not at all… it may be that ranking people is too provocative, and that you want to consider ranking nothing, or only specific sorts of actions or content contributed. (But then again, provocation might be just what you seek in setting up your system.) We seemed to be pretty conversant with the somewhat obvious truism that if you make a system where one can “win” being voted to the top of some category, that becomes a primary user purpose. The only takeaway is to use these tools carefully.

The potential breakout session I thought was most promising didn’t take place (in a modified open conference model the top four breakouts were done, while a few of us really wanted to talk about strategies for community builders in an atomized online universe. It seems like software providers should be all over this, too, but we didn’t get traction and I think the most exciting ideas were not touched.

Where the software folks are going is interesting. Microsoft continues to work on data analysis of behaviors in a complex group environment. We had a presentation from Danyel Fisher this time — a lot of fun, although most of the spectacular features are similar to Mark Smith’s presentations at OCS two years ago. What Microsoft hasn’t done so far, as you may notice, is to bring a community software product to market. Interesting to think about what advantages or ideas they may and may not have in this area where there has been so much innovation under the anarchic opensource and Web2.0 flag Still, the very fact of that dispersed innovation means plugging in or otherwise extending functionality with other people’s code is almost required now. So I wonder who will give that direction a try — if they can step up to the plate in a way that supports making use of new ways to create connections. The major software manufacturers in this space can almost all ask themselves the same questions: how can community members use your tool to stay connected to people who use other platforms? Could turning your community outward — or making it possible for more commericial software providers to enable the ability for users to turn outward via rss &etc – start to confer a competitive advantage, make people happy?

All kinds of interesting questions in the air. It was fun.

Addendum — some public links:

Jim Cashel

scooblog – Josh Legard


And my own prior post on this.

At Online Community Summit

This slide about video tools is from Online Community Summit (originally uploaded by me over at Flickr as fotogail)
Online Community Summit is a small annual gathering in the little town of Sonoma, California. It’s something I look forward to each year as a chance to talk with people who build, launch and manage online community tools and sites.

Yesterday, my big takeaway was in thinking about rewards and accountability or appropriate transparency for donors or volunteers at non-profit sites. Looking at sites like Green Media Toolshed and the McHummer bring up the questions of what my action actually accomplishes. Like a foundation, I as a volunteer want a little confirmation that my work can help. I as an instant satirist want my satirical message to go stir up a ruckus, so why should a bland form-letter go to McDonalds from whomever made this up?

Interesting area for thought.

More interesting discussions: taking video communities beyond You Tube.

Online Communities in India and China. In China it’s a BBS scene, very young, racy, anonymous and gossipy. In India online community is creating the first Yellow pages – there was not a paper tradition to displace.

Today the conversations continue. Great fun to take a deep breath and think about these puzzles, practices and spectacular group endeavors.