Beer, community and online social networks

Dots connecting, worlds colliding

I’ve always been fond of walls, doors and other useful boundaries for conversation. It’s nice to have the ability to make subgroups of the populace, and to stay more or less on a topic as you choose.

That limitation pays off when it gives you some idea of who else is “in the room,” for context and shared vocabulary. Last year at the Online Community Unconference I was discussing Twitter with some social networking geeks and gurus who asked me why I was not using the now-famous microblogging site more. I said, “I recently took an exam to become a beer judge, and I want to talk with my new expert brewing and beer-tasting friends about things like flavors in relation to strains of yeast. I don’t want to drop that kind of geeky obscurity into the stream for my pals from The WELL community, for my professional colleagues like you guys, for people I care about who don’t drink or for my obsessed photography geek buddies with their own specialized lingo.”

Sadly, there’s not a ton of general interest in the strains of Bretanomyces and other “wild” yeasts except on a beer networking site, nor about how to reduce visual “noise” in long digital exposures except for places photographers hang out, such as the Photo conference within The WELL or in groups and photostreams on Flickr. These are not communication-technology preferences, they are context preferences, to reduce the chance of boring or annoying anybody.

Frankly, I think older pre-web social software did some of these things better than Twitter and Facebook do now, and that some of the best ideas and mashups to come will look familiar to some online pioneers.

However, today I am connecting a lot of the dots and tossing them into the mixed-metaphor stream. Hopefully happy chaos!

I met Brian Yeager, an enthusiastic craft-beer blogger and author of Red, White and Brew, at least a few times before and during the delightfully ad hoc and vibrant beer-community-driven SF Beer Week 2009. That week he did a reading for my pals in the Mad Zymurgists homebrew club, who I’ve collaborated with in producing beer tasting and evaluation events.

One of the things that we do at The WELL, the classic old-skool online community where I’ve worked for seventeen years now, is two-week author “interview” conversations that (unlike most of the site) can be read by anybody. These leisurely asynchronous talks feature authors who are active WELL members, as well as some invited by community members. I seldom suggest authors to the team of hosts who put the events together, but hearing good things about Red, White and Brew, I decided this could be a good time to mix channels!

So Brian started his Inkwell conversation today! His book is wonderfully readable, about brewers and brewing families in the midst of this gentle and delicious revolution, and it is an interesting picture of America whether or not the beer renaissance matters to you at all.  The permanent archive will live here:   Brian Yaeger’s Red-White-and-Brew discussion, on The WELL

Reminders are sprinkled around The WELL, I’m tweeting and facebooking, posting at Open Salon, etc.   So I am repeating myself in the eyes of anybody who actually reads a lot of my stuff.  That can’t be good.  There are real complexities of mixing too many of your specific interests in general feeds or contexts. I’ll give this a try during May 2009, and see if it is a better approach.  If not, I’ll move (most) all of the beer conversation back to again. (Be sure to tell me if I bore you to tears — don’t just forget me!)