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.


Online Community Summit, flocking to Sonoma

Four years ago I photographed these waves of birds at OCS 2004… and now I’m back for 2008. The morning session is non-profits and social software for good… currently Joshua Gay of the Free Software Foundation and Lisa Petrides of ISKME are leading a discussion about education and open source.

In 2004 we had a powerful IRC backchannel discussion. Powerfully distracting too! At the last few Forum One events I’ve attended there has been a shift to Twitter. So I’ll be delving back into twitterworld.

My gripe about twitter is that it does not support groups and subgroups within my stream.

So this will be odd. My Online Community pro pals talking platforms and social strategies, my craft beer pals at GABF talking beer competition, my photo pals talking lenses and curves and printing papers, political pals talking local and national election, oh, and my own YouTube political satire collaboration… all the different conversations ridiculously poured into one. Here goes, back into the narrows:

Flickr Led Directly To This

Now Showing at the CPUC, originally uploaded by fotogail.

Please come to our party Thursday September 20th. Thanks to the encouragement of talented friends in the Flickr Community and to WELL pals arto & kayo, we’re hangin’ in the public sector.

Art Siegel (artolog) and I are proud that our photos were selected for display at the California Public Utilities Commission as part of their Art on the Walls program. Kay Hardy (yuzu) encouraged us to apply, and we were accepted. Kay has been amazingly supportive of getting out there.

Please come to the reception:
Art on the Walls
California Public Utilities Commission HQ, at
505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, near city hall.
Thursday September 20, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

PS… There will be a little after-gathering from about 8:00pm at Olive Bar and restaurant up the hill a bit at 743 Larkin, near O Farrell Street, since there are no libations in the halls of the CPUC building.

Here are all the photos in their original form and full dimensions:

1. here comes the wet season, 2. grids, 3. bus pool, 4. night ripples, 5. pebbled water, 6. after the cloudburst, 7. evening sky trek, 8. three rocks, 9. sea foam nebula, 10. bucket of sun

Another very good friend from the Flickr community, Bruce Grant, was responsible for me having printed water images from last year’s “Haunted By Waters” show, which made this easier. Bruce is a great inspiration to me in my flickr and vimeo aspirations.

Thanks Kay and Bruce!

Web two point two

Flowing, by me, as fotogail at Flickr.

(Hmm. I have been photographing bubbles from a little waterfall on a freshwater stream for Flickr. Not intentional!)

Reading accounts of O’Reilly’s Web2.0 conference and thinking about the social and experiential side of this innovation surge. Tomorrow and Friday I’m going to attend an unconference called Web 2 Point 2 which I learned about from of course.

I’m curious as to whether this is more of a counterpoint to the Web 2.0 conference, or more me-too. Looks like some of both, protest and emulation, and that seems pretty fascinating.

Looking forward to this!

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.)

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.

Plan Flickr Camp?

Wouldn’t you love to go to Flickr Camp?

(OK, this is a regular camping… er, campingcamp? picture, from last year in the mountains just south of the Oregon border. But can you imagine Camp Flickr? Indoor WiFi environment included, for show and tell purposes!)

A few months ago some of us who go to the SFlickr Social meetup things (every month, usually the second thursday) talked about doing a photo-related “camp” event.

Then pinhole went to barcamp (look it up on wikipedia if you don’t know about it) … and uploaded a planning image from a session he organized about putting together Flickr Camp. I thought that was pretty exciting.
Now the idea has taken another step towards fruition. If you can help plan or sponsor, please jump in to the wiki Mark started:

What else? You can link to blog entries and network; spread the word and spread the work around, and we’ll have something splendid.

FotO2 rescued and reborn as Foto2.0

You are invited to a party at the Brickhouse in San Francisco, Thursday July 6.

Lots I want to write about recently, but I have been busy with this flickr photo show project.

As you may recall, there was a disturbing adventure last time we hung a show: the Oxygen cafe went out of business the day after our big opening bash, and used the cash from our party to give a week’s pay to the staff. At least we rescued our photos without much hassle!

The community went to work, I got a lot of leads to call, and it came down to a friendly place near the ballpark, on a week when the SF Giants are out of town. Brickhouse Bar and Cafe on Brannan, between 3rd and 4th Streets in S.F. hosts the SF Flickr meetup, opening party and show.

Maps and a place to RSVP (not required, but if you like) are at

Please drop by from 7 to 10 the evening of Thursday July 6 for the party, or any time in July.