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.


Exciting unconference for online community pros

The best get-togethers for online community professionals are hosted by Forum One. Their sold-out summer 2008 Online Community Unconference was just held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. This year the demand was huge, and the percentage of participants from major institutions was up, too. I didn’t present at this one. I wanted to soak it all in.  I dropped in on some great sessions and sorely wished I ‘d gotten around to others, such as Jake McKee’s sections.
community manager brainstorm - worst case scenarios

I’m interested in best practices, all kinds of group behavior and tool-design patterns and also in pitfalls and worst case scenarios. I jumped in to session on what happens when things go terribly wrong from Heather Champ of Flickr and Derek Powazek of the edgy and elegant magazine, Fray. The discussion led to a list of things to remember in the midst of conflict. The items on this big list vary in applicability, based on the culture of a community … and can that ever be different!

My suggestion for the list was to try to let all parties have a way to save face in a dispute. This is one of the ways to do what Derek had advised: avoid creating motivated super-villains. Or noble martyrs, as they may feel if they do not think they were very villainous. I think that in most cases respect and the ritual conveyance of respect through good manners are key in resolving these matters. Even if expulsion is the resolution, there are advantages to having the exiled member accept that they won’t continue to have access to the gathering place for the group. While being all casual with peers works just fine in the good times, courtesy becomes bizarrely important when relations are stressed. That’s just one reminder I sometimes need! Continue reading “Exciting unconference for online community pros”

Online Community Business Forum in Santa Fe 2008

I’m writing up my notes incredibly late for this event, primarily because I ended up with a free evening and some thoughts on the gathering. One thing that is obvious after going to multiple events organized by Forum One is the nature of the ongoing community around these small conferences. Any successful run of conferences tends to create a community of regulars, and in this case they are regulars who know and care about how online community works. I’ve been fortunate to be on quite a run of attending Forum one events. The chicken and the egg of course is that I really enjoy the people who come back, as well as the new voices and thinkers who turn up.

I had thought I might be out of town this summer for another in the series, but last minute changes made it possible to sign up for the next one, the Online Community Unconference, next week. Last year’s unconf was terrific, and I can’t wait for this one. An unconference has the advantage of being almost utterly flexible, allowing all kinds of formats. Visionary presentations given to a handful or a crowd of other event-goers. Open round-robin discussions or brainstorms of any size addressing specific issues. Little breakout conversations that are the conference, and that others may wander into. An unconference will not be terribly interesting if there is not a lot of experience, enthusiasm and intelligence in the room at the start, and that’s why the community that has formed around all the Forum One conferences (including the more formal and the informal unconferences) leads to such satisfying events. It’s all about all the interesting and interested people there.  So what did we talk about?

Continue reading “Online Community Business Forum in Santa Fe 2008”