Authentic Empathy and Trust

The Kathy Sierra fiasco seems to have reached a nice conclusion. There was plenty of thought-provoking discussion and some personal bridging between the parties involved. Perhaps this will catalyze a higher-level discourse on the Web. Even a microscopic improvement is better than nothing.    (M2X)

I don’t know the parties involved personally, although in this business, you’re two degrees away from everyone. I was also in the middle of work hell when the madness started. Yet somehow, I found myself following the various threads closely. I was especially struck by Lisa Stone‘s analysis (including a mention of BlogHer‘s community guidelines) and Min Jung Kim‘s commentary.    (M2Y)

Empathy, diversity, and humanity are values that are core to me and my business. It’s easy to toss these words around without really thinking about what they mean or, more importantly, without living them. For whatever reason, this particular incident struck a chord and reminded me of several stories, including one that happened a few weeks ago.    (M2Z)

I was having lunch with my friend, Nick, who was describing his short-lived Second Life experience. Nick is a public interest lawyer, but he spent many years in technology, and he’s not naive about these things. However, he doesn’t spend eight hours a day in front of a computer either.    (M30)

A colleague convinced him to try Second Life, so he logged in and started exploring. Almost immediately, someone approached him and handed him a penis. Nick was not amused (then), and he couldn’t figure out how to get rid of it. That was the end of his Second Life experiment.    (M31)

We both got a good laugh out of the story. However, I couldn’t help wondering how a woman — especially one who had previously experienced sexual assault — would have reacted under the same circumstances, despite the fact that none of this was technically “real.” I know I certainly wouldn’t have been laughing in that situation.    (M32)

Truth is contextual. Is it possible to make misogynistic or racial comments without being a misogynist or a racist? I’m certain the answer is yes, but it’s a tricky line to walk. I’ve laughed at Asian jokes told by some (sometimes even me), and I’ve been miffed by the same jokes told by others. Am I a hypocrite, or is there something truly different about those two situations? The difference is trust. I trust that certain people are not racist, and hence, I tolerate, even laugh at the things they say. But that trust is not universal, and it’s not always mutual.    (M33)

The bottom line is that we need to learn how to walk in each other’s shoes and truly understand and value what people who are different from us feel and experience. It’s easy to be satisfied with our individual levels of tolerance and empathy, but all of us can do better. I’m not advocating a culture of extreme political correctness, either. What I’d like to see is authentic empathy, a greater understanding and appreciation for the worldview of others. With that empathy will come greater trust, and in turn, a much richer society.    (M34)

HyperScope Release Party Thanks!

Thanks to all of you who came to the HyperScope Release Party on Tuesday night, and many thanks to Jack Park and Adam Cheyer of SRI for hosting, and to Jeff Rulifson for picking up the first round of drinks at Oasis. Some photos are up, with more to come and hopefully some video as well. My presentation is also up, HyperScope-enabled of course.    (L5I)

The past few days have been wild, with the blogosphere chattering about the release. I’ve said all along that we wanted to initiate a conversation about bigger and better things. Well, that conversation has started and then some, so now the onus is on me and my team to respond. Give me a few days to catch my breath, and I promise, I’ll have plenty to say.    (L5J)

My friend, Min Jung Kim, wrote a really nice post about the party, about the Bay Area, and about faith. I’ve been saying for a very long time that I’m a closet-optimist. A few years ago, I dropped the usual line, and someone responded, “You don’t seem to be too far in the closet.” Working on things that you care about and working with people who also care about their work, these things have a way of outing you.    (L5K)

The most gratifying thing about working on the HyperScope and all of Blue Oxen Associates‘ other projects is that the folks we work with care about the bigger picture. It’s not about creating a nifty piece of software. It’s not about throwing great events. It’s not about writing cute essays. It’s not about helping any single organization. It’s about bettering the world we live in. When you’re around people who truly believe that, it’s intoxicating and it’s motivating.    (L5L)

BAR Camp 2005 Redux

Thoughts on BAR Camp. Yeah, yeah, a little late, I know. Less late than the rest of my Wikimania notes, though.    (JQX)

Many Hats    (JQY)

The most bizarre experience for me at BAR Camp was the number of people I knew from different worlds. My brain was constantly context-switching. It made me painfully aware of the number of different hats I wear, all in the name of Blue Oxen Associates.    (JQZ)

  • Purple Numbers guy.    (JR0)
  • Wiki geek.    (JR1)
  • Identity Commons contributor.    (JR2)
  • Doug Engelbart translator.    (JR3)
  • Usability guy!!! Obviously because of the sprints I’ve organized, but awkward for me, since I have no actual background in usability.    (JR4)
  • Pattern Language hat. I’ve been doing the collaboration Pattern Language dog-and-pony show the past few months, and some folks who’ve heard me speak on the subject were there. I’ll be doing a lot more of it too, so stay tuned. Patterns are damn important, useful, and interesting.    (JR5)
  • Facilitation / event organizer hat.    (JR6)
  • Nonprofit hat. The lack of nonprofit contingent was disappointing, but I had a good conversation with Ho John Lee, who’s done some great work in that space. (We were also both wearing our Korean hats, along with Min Jung Kim, a rarity at events like these.) I also met Phil Klein, a nonprofit guy who also participated in our usability sprint the following week.    (JR7)
  • Ex-DDJ hat. Some fogies, young and old, remembered me from my magazine days.    (JR8)

All this was testament both to my ADD and to the job Chris Messina, Andy Smith, and the other organizers did in only one week. Three hundred people walked through the doors over the weekend. Amazing.    (JR9)

Talks    (JRA)

The best part of the event was strengthening familiar ties and building new ones. I met lots of great people, including folks I’d only known on the ‘net. I wasn’t blown away by the talks for the most part, but some stood out.    (JRB)

  • Ka-Ping Yee did two talks, one on voting methods and another on phishing. Sadly, I only caught the tail end of the latter, but the Wiki page is fairly complete. I’ve never seen Ping do anything that I didn’t find interesting or, in many cases, profound, and these talks were no exception. (I’ll have more to say on Ping’s latest work in a later blog post.)    (JRC)
  • Xiong Changnian presented some interesting quantitative analysis of the Wikipedia community. I didn’t have as much of an opportunity to talk with Xiong as I’d like, but for those of you who have interacted with him, try not to be turned off by his bluster. He’s doing some good work, and he seems to mean well.    (JRD)
  • Rashmi Sinha and I did a roundtable on Open Source usability on the first night. Afterwards, we both agreed that we didn’t learn much new, but simply having the conversation and especially listening to a new audience was valuable. One unintended outcome: A participant (who shall remain nameless, but not unlinked!) complained about Socialtext‘s usability, which I dutifully reported on the Wiki. Adina Levin and Ross Mayfield quickly responded, saying they’re looking to hire a usability person. If you’re in the market, let them know.    (JRE)

I was so busy chatting with people, I also ended up missing a bunch of good talks: Rashmi’s tagging session, Rowan Nairn on structured data for the masses, and Tom Conrad‘s Pandora talk, which seemed to generate the most buzz at the camp.    (JRF)

Throwing Great Events    (JRG)

I toyed with the idea of doing a techie session, but in the end, the talk I should have done was one on patterns and throwing great events. BAR Camp was great, and as with all great collaborative events, there were some common patterns:    (JRH)

  • Food. One of the most critical and, amazingly, most overlooked element in an event. Lots of credit goes to Kitt Hodsden, who made sure there were enough snacks to feed a small country, and the sponsors, who kept the beer flowing and underwrote the party on Saturday night.    (JRI)
  • Introduce Yourself. The organizers borrowed the FOO Camp tradition of saying your name and three words to describe yourself, and they did it each day.    (JRJ)
  • Shared Display and Report Out. Folks did a great job of documenting on the Wiki and on their blogs and Flickr. BAR Camp owned the foobar Flickr fight.    (JRK)
  • Backchannel. I’m not a big fan of IRC at face-to-face events, and there were definitely times when I thought it detracted from the face-to-face interactions. But, it was there, and it was useful. It wasn’t logged, though.    (JRL)
  • Permission To Participate. Lots of Open Space techniques were present — again, borrowed from FOO Camp — like the butcher paper for scheduling sessions. Lots of this was also cultural, though. I think this is the hardest thing for folks who do not live in the Silicon Valley to get — the spirit of sharing that comes so naturally to folks here.    (JRM)

I’d do two things differently at the next event:    (JRN)

  • Incorporate a ritual for new attendees to make them feel welcome and to avoid clique-formation.    (JRO)
  • Add slightly more structure. Now that the organizers have done it once, they can use it as a template for the next event — for example, publishing the time slots ahead of time, and actually enforcing them, at least as far as room usage is concerned. Also, I like scheduled Report Out sessions.    (JRP)

In the postmortem, we talked a bit about what BAR Camp is supposed to be, and I really liked how Chris positioned it: As a model for organizing grassroots, free (or very cheap) alternatives to more expensive gatherings. I’m toying with the idea of incorporating BAR Camp-style alternatives to complement some non-free events I’m organizing.    (JRQ)