TARDIS, Collective Memory, and Meetings

Gerry Gleason taught me a new word today: TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. It was used in Doctor Who for time and space travel. It looks like a phone booth on the outside, but it’s got infinite space on the inside. It sounded to me like infinite closet space, a place where you might store all of your belongings and never look at them again.    (2G6)

My hard disk sometimes feels like a TARDIS, the Internet even moreso. In order to have Collective Memory, we need to have better indexing of this infinite closet space. And search engines are not the end all and be all of information organization. We need to constantly refactor and distill information, a manual process that helps learning and also helps us find things later.    (2G7)

With this in mind, here are some guidelines for high-performance meetings:    (2G8)

  • Always scribe in real-time on a Shared Display. After-the-fact minutes are better than nothing, but they’re not better than real-time distillations. It helps focus conversation, and it gives you an artifact to which you can refer later. These days, when I attend gatherings where no one is at the whiteboard, I start to squirm.    (2G9)
  • There needs to be a medium for building on relationships you make at a meeting. This could be as involved as a mailing list, and it could be as loose as an attendee list with contact information.    (2GA)

E-Advocacy Brown Bag Discussion

Emy Tseng invited me and about 10 others to join her at the Community Technology Foundation in San Francisco for a brown bag discussion of e-advocacy, especially relating to underserved communities. The folks I meet through Emy are always interesting, and I especially appreciated the ethnic diversity of those attending this meeting. I don’t get too caught up with race when it comes to my work, but I’m definitely conscious of the fact that most of the folks in this space are white men.    (2FS)

Some quick takeaways and thoughts:    (2FT)

  • Advocacy tools need better multilingual support. It’s not enough to localize tools; you also have to make them usable.    (2FU)
  • There’s certainly a lot of room for folks in the e-advocacy space to collaborate. But the real problem is not choosing tools, but knowing what online capabilities exist and how they can be integrated into an overall advocacy strategy.    (2FV)
  • Many small to midsize nonprofits struggle simply to keep their computers running and their email working. Transitioning to using more sophisticated tools is a big, big step.    (2FW)
  • Some people brought up issues regarding in-fighting within coalitions over who owns or controls mailing lists. Identity Commons offers an interesting technical solution to this problem, in that it gives control to the individual.    (2FX)
  • Several folks talked about the need for techies to avoid jargon and speak in a language these organizations understand. I disagree. Shared Language is not one over the other; it’s different communities developing Shared Understanding. There’s no one-to-one translation between technical and nontechnical concepts. Techies have to work to understand users, but users also have to work to understand technology. Only then does Shared Language emerge and coevolution becomes possible.    (2FY)

Online Community Summit: Friday’s Sessions

Notable talks and comments at last Friday’s sessions at the Online Community Summit:    (2F4)

  • Soren Kaplan described iCohere’s work with World Vision, a billion dollar nonprofit with 20,000 employees worldwide. There was an online collaborative process leading up to a conference, using iCohere‘s software.    (2F5)
  • Dave DeForest discussed the online communities at the Motley Fool. There’s a 40:1 read-write ratio on their bulletin boards. The Fool’s strategy for monetizing the communities was to get the readers to pay, and to comp the writers. The comping process is transparent in that participants know that some people are being comped, but the actual process for comping people is not concrete. When the Fool went to a pay model, it had a 90 percent attrition rate. 73 percent of its community participants are also likely to perform another transaction on the Fool.    (2F6)
  • Mark Williams discussed Apple’s support forums. Right now, he’s handling everything — management, development, etc. His managers tell him that the objective is to reduce phone volume, but he sees the two audiences as separate. Robert Labatt noted that Apple does a great job of converging threads on its support forums.    (2F7)
  • Anne McKay posed the following theory, citing last year’s The Atlantic Monthly article on introversion: You need extroverts for a successful online community. I would argue the opposite, although I have no numbers to back me up. We had an interesting discussion about this very topic in the Collaboration Collaboratory about a year ago. It would be interesting to do Myers-Briggs analysis on online communities in a future case study.    (2F8)
  • Steve De Mello told stories of “bad behavior” on some of ezboard’s online communities, and noted that hosts should only deal with black-and-white issues. The best pressure is peer pressure. Gail Williams agreed with Steve’s assessments, and noted that while paid communities helped filter out trolls, they didn’t eliminate them entirely.    (2F9)
  • During a breakout session on metrics, Gail suggested that our biggest problem is understanding and serving lurkers. (See my previous entries on lurkers.)    (2FA)
  • Tom Coates informed folks on the IRC Backchannel about Wiki proxy, a cool little proxy that automatically links terms to Wikipedia.    (2FB)

Finally, Reid Hoffman and Ross Mayfield gave a quick walkthrough of Social Software. I was amazed at the blank stares in the room during this talk. These folks seemed to have some awareness of Social Software, but certainly not a deep understanding. The previous day, Marc Smith said that threaded forums aren’t going away. I agree, but the common wisdom in the group seemed to be that threaded forums tend to be the end-all and be-all of online communities. I strongly disagree with this assessment. Dave asked what Wikis offered that threaded forums do not. That question missed the point: It doesn’t have to be one over the other. (Ross enjoys needling folks by claiming that email and threaded forums are dead, but I don’t think he actually believes it.) My response to Dave was that there’s great potential for integrating Wikis and threaded forums (as I and others do with blogs).    (2FC)

Online Community Summit: DeanSpace

Zack Rosen, Zephyr Teachout, Nicco Mele, key contributors to Howard Dean‘s presidential campaign, spoke about their online efforts last Thursday at the Online Community Summit. Some key points:    (2EP)

  • As Dean volunteers started using MeetUp regularly, the campaign started hosting regular conference calls with MeetUp leaders as a way of disseminating information through its communities.    (2EQ)
  • One of the early grassroots activities was distributing flyers as PDF. Nicco recognized this and decided to distribute official flyers as PDF also. Once this happened, the grassroots flyers largely dried up.    (2ER)
  • Related to the flyers issue was the vetting process. Initially, the campaign reviewed contributed flyers, but on the advice of its lawyers, it decided not to officially approve of any outside work to avoid liability. This was not a problem, and according to Zephyr, the community tended to be more risk-averse than the campaign. After all, they wanted to elect Dean, not hurt his chances.    (2ES)
  • The cross-pollination between the different mediums was relatively low. In other words, folks who blogged didn’t necessarily participate in MeetUp.    (2ET)
  • Replacing volunteer organizers with paid organizers tended to kill communities, regardless of how good the people were.    (2EU)

The theme of this talk was that the campaign was reactive, not proactive. It tended to watch things happen and to try and facilitate the good things, rather than start things themselves.    (2EV)

My takeaway from the talk: You can’t organize self-organization. There are things that you can do to catalyze it, but in the end, if the circumstances aren’t right, it’s not going to happen. What you can do is get out of the way when it does happen. This is an important lesson for folks trying to replicate the success of the Dean campaign and other self-organization success stories — Open Source, MoveOn, Indymedia, etc.    (2EW)