Friday, September 30, 2005


Esquire magazine recently completed an experiment with wikis and journalism. Specifically, A.J. Jacobs used Wikipedia to write an article about Wikipedia by gathering feedback, corrections and the like. Not too shabby. Turned out much better than the LA Times experiment with wiki-torials.

Wikis are interesting things. They give ultimate power to the community. Depending on how it's done, it could help write an article, or destroy an editorial. Talk about pushing power to the edges.

This notion of engaging a group of passionate users (as opposed to "volunteers") and then enabling them to do x, y, or z is quite common with online communities. That there can be such varying degrees of success seems to indicate a need for a more managed approach when tapping into a passionate user base. Why did the wiki-squire work and the wikitorial fail? In part, I think it has to do with the scope and focus of the "task" at hand. For example, the scope of the wiki-squire article was a tightly focused, "bite-sized chunk." Basically the author called for any edits, comments and suggestions, and the payoff was clear -- the finished product would be published.

Contrast this with the wikitorial where it was more open ended and several editorials were open to the concept of wikification where anyone could add, edit or remove it. The broader focus, and perhaps broader audience (?) resulted in content spammer and trolls.

Would a more narrow focus helped? Perhaps.

Alos, to what extent did the nature of the communities in the first place factor into the vastly different results? Wikipedia seems to attract a certain type of user who understands the concept of a wiki, and participates through reading and editing. There is a constant stream of passionate users eager to make a contribution about a particular topic. The LA Times website, on the other hand (pure conjecture here) reaches a different type of audience, where the focus is on a city, and the site is ad and subscription based. I would argue that a general newspaper site for a major metropolitan area attracts different users than that of wikipedia.

Another factor to consider is the nature of the articles/wikis. The LA Times focused on editorials while Esquire focused on the Wikipedia community themselves. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that editorials are typically controversial in nature, and articles that profile a user or group are easy to accomplish as who doesn't like to talk about themselves? They say a good conversationalist speaks very little and instead focuses their attention on you, making you feel like the star. That is what the Esquire article did for the case of Wikipedia users, as opposed to the LA Times which opened themselves up for controversy in the first place by stating an opinion.

The difference in scope, audience and ego seem to have been the key factors in the relative success or failure of these experiments. Kudos to both publications to taking a chance. I look forward to seeing more of this in the future.

Overall, my key takeaways from the role of wikis are:
  • know your audience
  • present focused, small, bite-sized chunks
  • offer the audience a chance to share a bit of themselves with you

sticking your neck out...

Phew, finally had some time to think about the event from the other night. I think I needed some distance to think more critically about what all I saw and experienced. That, and I wanted my reflections to be relevant to the overall theme of the site.

Anyway, the Giraffe Heroes project was started over twenty years ago as a means of recognizing heroes in our midsts. No, these are not the types of heroes you'd necessarily see on the local evening news, but rather these tend to be people all over the world doing bigger things. It is not the intent to demean the efforts of the every day heroes, but I think they tend to highlight those who go way above and beyond what all heroes do.

The philosophy of this group is nothing new, and as they mentioned, it harks back to the notion of storytelling and myth building. Just about every culture has them, and this organization wants to highlight our modern day heroes and myth makers in hopes of inspiring others to act.

Sound familiar? It should. To me, this is not so different from an online community highlighting their steller community members. It's part modelling the way for others in the community, part user recognition, part furthering the mission of the organization (if done well). While their stories were no doubt inspiring (indeed, I used a few of these stories as examples the other day at work), I must say the technique is rather familar and fairly typical to strategies in online communities.

It is possible that I'm oversimplifying. They do afterall, profile giraffes widely through multiple sources of media (print, radio, web, tv), and they build toolkits that help people become giraffes in their own community. In one sense, the Giraffe Project takes the notion of member recognition and expands it ten fold. There certainly is something to be said about that.

Sorry if I don't sound ultra-excited about the experience. It was a pleasant event, afterall. I think that has something to do with my expectations of wanting to be wowed, and I left with a just a mini woohoo. Much of what I heard was the same -- find your passion, doing something meaningful and all that. I *think* I'm close to honing in on what makes me passionate. Now it's a matter of fine tuning, getting some sort of plan and the like.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

43things (people and places) high level review with a little day dreaming

These sites, interesting by themselves, can present a potentially powerful tool for helping people organize.

43things -- what do you want to do with your life.

This site is designed to help people list their goals and post progress on them, through a blog-like interface where you post and others can comment. If you want, you can get notified when people respond directly to one of your posts or comments via email.

You can also invite others to join your goal, and they can either do it with you as a team member, or they can do it on their own. Multiply this to the whole world and you see all sorts of people wanting to do similar things.

The team functionality lacks a bit, and it's purpose in the site seems fuzzy at best. More on this later.

Each goal also has an option for a person to say "I want to do this" or "I've done this already." Users can also post as to whether or not it is worthwhile to pursue that goal in the first place.

Goals can also be tagged with common words to help others find goals of importance to them. Through use of a tag cloud, you can find the most common tags, and by extension, the most common goals of the moment. To find the top 10 goals, all you have to do is click on "Zeitgeist" to see what is the most current goal.

Ok, but so what? (invoking my best Ron Popeil imitation) "But Wait, there's more!"

43people -- who do you want to meet?

Similar to people listing their goals, users can list the people they want to meet. They also have the option of using some stock entry headings such as "Why I want to meet," or "I like so and so because." Anything that is posted about another person has to be approved by that other person to help prevent abuse.

Now what works well here is that 43people can be hooked into 43things. Take for example a goal you have and a person you've met or want to meet. It's possible that the person you've met or want to meet has some connection with one of your goals. They are then essentially a collaborator, or mentor depending on the relationship. Likewise, a person can be a connector to other people if one party met the person someone else wants to meet.

Looping back to 43things briefly, the people you met or want to meet are, by default, in your subscriptions list. This means that rather than searching for each of them individually, you can see all of their recent activity. In a sense, this ties back with the notion of a team goal and ties it up nicely. If they post on a paricular goal you have in common, it will appear on the subscriptions list and on the goal page. In theory the team on 43T should send you notification of a teammate's activity, but I haven't seen that just yet (bug, design, user error?)

43Places -- Where do you want to go?

By now, you have a sense of how these sites work. You list something, others chime in and share thoughts, reflections, etc. It's all tied into your profile across the sites, and can show how your desire (in this case a place to travel to, or a place you've been) relates to another person.

Blog integration

These sites seem to integrate well with existing sites or blogs, so you can list any of these sites (people, places, things) on your own site and keep others up to date as to your progress. Think of it like a Flikr plugin for your site, except these are people, places or things.

How do I see these working together to help bring get people involved? Mostly I think it comes down to people. I like the fact that the goals are all public for the world to see. You have the opportunity to get a glimpse of the person behind the goal. You also have the ability to cheer each other on (a very natural thing to do) to show encouragement. By connecting the people with a goal, and tying them to a location, it would seem there is the potential for action to occur. Sure, it doesn't guarantee it, just as standing next to a stranger on a corner won't make you friends, but it does increase the odds as you (potentiallY) have something in common with one another beyond standing on a street corner.

The role of 43 things, people and places can also help with the notion of critical mass / momentum online. By integrating the information on those sites into blogs, you could get a wide exposure of a particular goal. Additionally, if a concerted effort were used to ensure activity with a particular goal/tag, it could help raise the overall visibility of that goal, essentially drawing in more people.

Of course, it's not a perfect model. Posting of resources or documents is limited to linking a post and tagging it as a resource. Additionally, there doesn't seem to be a way to schedule something or view a calendar of related items in that area. I could see how those would be beneficial in group goal planning, though I also understand why it is not there at the moment. In spite of this, the 43family, by the Robot Co-op, does seem to present potential in helping people and groups acheive their goals. Good job! Can't wait to see what else you have in store for us!

The New Generation...

This fits into the purpose of this site, though I'm not sure how at this point.

I ran across a series of mp3 that capture a recent conference where "a top set of innovators offering youth outreach and support, empirically and philosophically demonstrate the tremendous potential for empowering youth leaders." See and hear for yourself here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

is momentum all hype?

how much of action is momentum? i think it helps get it on the radar, but ultimately it's not *the* deciding factor. people always talk about gaining critical mass, but look at the recent anti-war protests. Call me a naysayer or what you will, but I don't see how protests such as that will change the situation we're in right now.

it could be argued that the critical mass of anti-war protests doesn't do anything on a national level, what about a local level? does the squeaky wheel get the grease? i need to research this some more, but it seems that there isn't a clear yes or no on this particular issue on the local level.

ok...that's the offline scenario, but what about online? if there is momentum online, could it then translate into action? reflecting on what happened with the Howard Dean 2004 Presidential Campaign, it seems that all it needed was the momentum online. There seemed to be a constant flow of activity, and it seemed to be contagious. People started forming meetup groups all over the country and Dean For America groups were created by all types.

what about google, and do the page rankings matter? in this case, i would most certainly think so. how else will a particular issue ever get seen? if you have an issue and no one knows of it, does it really exist?

So if page rankings are king, what do you do about it online? well, there are tons of folks who know the ins and outs of page rankings, key words and the like (feel free to add resources in the comments)...all the ways to trick google into putting you at the top without paying for page ranking. the unknown factor in all of this is how the notion of social search, as we've seen with yahoo will impact this notion of tricking google. one would think that helps to make searches more relevant, as you find out the most popular saved pages by the world, or your peers. note, google has a "personalized search" that sounds similar, but i haven't tried it much. regardless, with either of these can you do specific peer group page sharing/tagging? that would be interesting.

somewhat related, an interesting report called "Pushing Power to the Edges." the report provides an "overview of the state of online democracy; what it is, where it is headed, and what it means for activists and those who support them." well worth the read. as i was typing, this resource popped back into my head. time to re-read it, i guess.

leadership styles...

This is not so much tech, as it is a reflection on leadership and action. i haven't been online much the past few days as i was travelling for a friend's wedding. the wedding itself was fun, but what was interesting was talking with an old housemate of mine living in chicago. she is working with an organization called the Interfaith Youth Core. Conceptually it is very basic (aren't some of the most powerful ideas, the most basic?) in that it connects religious young people to strengthen their religious identities, foster inter-religious understanding and cooperate to serve the common good. We then spoke about the work that I've been doing in Seattle to inform, connect, and inspire people in their 20s and 30s to take action in our community.

I've known this from living with her, but it struck me again that we have very different strategies for how we go about similar things. She is very much more a hands on person, running and doing. On the other hand, I seem to prefer thinking, research, dialogue and the like. Is one better than the other? I don't think so as long as the strategies actually accomplish what they set out to do. Of course, I've been feeling that itch lately that I've been thinking, learning and the like for it's time to put my money where my mouth is.

In part, this blog, and eventual website is a more active version of how I go about things. True, I intend on hosting a site with the intent of playing, experimenting and the like, but it will be towards the goal of using those skills to help others get to where they want to go.

In the mean time, I plan on going to a reception for some giraffe awards tomorrow night at Town Hall. I'll let you know how it goes and whether or not there's any stunning insights to take away.

More info below:

CityClub presents: John Graham
Tuesday, September 27 , 7:00 PM
Founder and president of the Giraffe Heroes Project and author of Stick Your Neck Out: A Street-Smart Guide to Creating Change in Your Community and Beyond, John Graham and local heroes about the rewards and risks of civic participation. This is the culminating event of Civic Participation Month. Dessert will be served. Downstairs at Town Hall, enter on Seneca Street.
$7 - $10 Tickets & info
Tickets are $10/$7 under 25. Call 206/682-7395 or visit for tickets and more information.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

a new beginning

The first day of autumn, where everything is in balance. It seems fitting that today I start blogging in more earnest than before.

Today is also noteable as it is more or less, my six year anniversary working with online communities. After spending so much of my professional life with it, and learning about this sort of thing, I thought that it was time to apply it to my own life.

This blog will be an ongoing experiment with different strategies, and technology. I would not be surprised if at some point these posts get ported to multiple platforms, or new platforms are used as a continuation of this experiment.

As this is an experiment, what is the theory that I'm testing? I'm testing the role and influence of online communities with regard to local involvement. No, this is not a meetup type thing, but rather with all of the different ways communities exist online, how can we take the best of them to help foster greater participation on a local level -- civically, philanthropically, etc.? mostly it's a space for me to learn, and share my thoughts throughout this process.

Anyway, this is it. Welcome to b2ix