Are we a tribe?

Several weeks ago I met with Bill Johnston, Randy Farmer and Kaliya Hamlin in preparation forlast week’s  Online Community Unconference, dubbed #ocu2009 this time around. I have loved the series of gatherings convened by Forum One, (and their powerful and practical affilated group, the Online Community Research Network), and for me they have always been a loose circle of respected social tools designers, subversive online community trend-steerers, researchers, and other online community specialists and practitioners.

Randy posed the big questions. He used the term “tribe” in the sense Seth Godin uses it. Are we — the people who attend and follow those events — a tribe? If so, do we exist outside of those structures? What do we need for our community of people who tend to the many needs of online communities?

It was a juicy idea. People have been trying to figure out the format for loose connections among “the community sector” for some time, and we are getting to where that makes some logical sense to take action. On the other hand, people have tried to create gathering places before. We mentioned some interesting groups like Social Media Club, Community Roundtable (an East Coast originated initiative unrelated to Bill Johnston’s similarlly named events), Bill Johnston’s invitational Online Community Roundtable meetups, and other groups that have formed around people such as Nancy White and Jerry Michalski who are part of the loose Online Community Unconference orbit. Was there something that we could do that built upon the Forum One events and their research projects, but expanded it and made a non-centralized continuing focus?

Problem was, Randy couldn’t attend the Unconference. I offered to pose the question, however, and to get a co-convener for that session. Scott Moore was the one I had in mind, and I spoke to him the evening before.

Scott suggested that perhaps the umbrella is already being created as the peer network called the Community Roundtable. They have a gorgeous peer support site and are as close to a Professional Organization as we have so far.

Still, there is room for other levels of organizational complexity or lack thereof, something that does not compete with membership organizations but might extend beyond them.
The proposal I floated was for a monthly call to blog, write an essay, make a video, or otherwise do something in longer form than a tweetup. Free and expand upon some of the rich material that comes from these events. Surface themes and concerns. Take the opportunity to be considered and thoughtful.

These kinds of calls for commentary have been called “circus” or “carnival” calls for content on a theme before. There are various centralized approaches to them. Here’s an account of making that model work.

If somebody wants to play with that I’d enjoy hearing about it. But I have something more lightweight in mind, if we can make it fly. There are two parts.

First, let’s use #octribe as a tag for short and one-off communiques. Wherever we want to use it. You are invited. If this, or something like it, comes into being we have a way to be an open movement that can encompass other organizations and events that are of interest to our broader tribe.

Second, I want to propose an Online Community Tribal “open invitational.” The name is to be imagined.  The action is a second Tuesday call to write something on a theme, in a monthly exchange of blog or forum posts, wiki articles, white papers, slide shows or other longer-form contemplations on issues and opportunities in the online community sector (hey, I like “tribe” more and more!)

Here is an extension of one of the questions that was posed at one session I attended at OCU2009, and a them for the first OCTribe monthly post:

What are the top three things you do or wish you could do for your community “influencers”? (Define community any way you please — a group of peers, customers, people with similar interests, people using a communications platform, etc. Define “do for” as you wish — support, create a tool, inspire, learn more about, etc.) Why top three instead of top ten? so we can talk about each in a little more depth. What if I can’t think of three? Write about one, or two.

Deadline: The idea here is to have time to reflect and get something that is longer and richer than a tweet, and to read similar and contrasting ideas. Once a month is a good pace, and it’s easiest to choose the Nth weekday of some sort. Provisionally I’d like to call Second Tuesday for this, but all of this is open to evolutionary forces. For July and August, let’s set July 14 and August 10. Posts, articles, etc are to go up on that calendar day where you are. [Upon edit: since changed to be second AND fourth Tuesdays, to better keep momentum!]

Can this be done without a centralized index? I know it can.  There is a model in the craft brewing community called “The Session”. Here are a few pages that show The Session in action:

Announcing a session about holiday beers.

The round-up when all the session posts go up about a month later

That community of craft beer connoisseur bloggers is a passionate niche community, and they are able to self-organize. Somebody eventually compiled an index, but the structure is loose, and the community does not submit through a form. The participants casually and effortlessly aggregate their thoughts.

So, two items, in review: if you want to play in the tag game, just use #octribe for as an umbrella tag for our community.  You can also pair it with a conference or meeting hash tag once or twice, to clue people in that you are at a conference that is related to the interests of this tribe.

If you want to participate in the longer form on the 2nd/4th Tuesday, the first question for you to explore is What are the top three things you do or wish you could do for your community “influencers”?

On the 2nd Tuesday, come back to the initiating page, here, and post your link to your piece in the comments.  Then on the following day I will get to do a roundup post commenting on all the linked pieces. That post would include the link to the next call to action, for the next set of posts, on the site of another member of the tribe.  (Feel free to volunteer and select a month to host, right here in the comments notes.)  Let’s see what the Online Community tribe can inspire in one another.

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