GriefNet is an Internet community approach to on line grief support, providing support to people working through loss and grief issues of all kinds. Cendra Lynn is the leader of the organization, and I had some small technological part in starting it back in 1993 when the appropriate technology of the day was Gopher, not the World Wide Web. The system hosts dozens of moderated mailing lists for people who share a common loss like the death of a spouse or the loss of a child.
I had a nice conversation with Cendra last night about how hard it is to build a community where people who are going through a lot can have a place where they can trust each other enough to share what are not easy feelings to share. It takes active moderation, careful planning, and a constant attention to the details of online identity. The technology is not fancy – they are using the Mailman mailer, which is now 15 years in development – and the key community insight is that it's utterly crucial to keep people's identity pseudonomous (first name only) so that people can focus on working through grief and not get distracted by the rest of people's real lives. This is so completely unlike the over-sharing Google Plus and overtly commercialized Facebook as to be worthy of note.
Thinking about collaboration and community leadership, since it seems to be something that I do.
The examples that come to mind share some common traits.
- there is a mix of online and in person communications, and not solely one or the other
- for routine everyday communications you use whatever everyone is using in your field; be that email or facebook or twitter or phone or sms, you adapt to the existing norms to start at least.
- the successful communicator is good at more than one network and can move between them, pulling ideas and people along for the ride.
- somewhere at the center of the network there's a culturally appropriate publication process that generates an external memory of what has been communicated, whether that's a ritual behavior, a database, something like a wiki, or some book or printed artifact.
I think that if you can manage to satisfy all four of these factors that you can get alongwith a wide range of technologies. The working amateur radio clubs that I know fit the bill, as do some networks that are coordinated by prolific bloggers or that have sprung up around civic wikis.
The thing that emerged from writing this was realizing that ritual behavior could be the external memory that you get from community leadership, and that doesn't necessarily need to be written down. Just knowing that there's some component of a community that gathers in an orderly way regularly and that follows a pattern that's not much different from the time before, that's a powerful synchronizing pulse that can feed all sorts of other informal collaboration.
Thanks to Kevin Doyle Jones for the conversation that led to this.
Thanks to +Gyll Stanford, +Steven W. Cornell, +Joel Vergun , +Patrick Haggood , +Dan Romanchik , +Linda Diane Feldt, +John Hritz, +Roger Rayle , +Dan Friedus, and +Brian Rice who made for good conversation at lunch last Thursday.
In no particular order, we talked about the +a2b3 Amateur Radio Club (with Dan Romanchik as the likely point of contact), since we had a couple of people who were online listening to +Skywarn for the last tornado. There was also good discussion of fruit trees and the impact of unseasonable weather on the fruit crops, and at my end of the table some neat talk about underground clay irrigation systems. Joel had a good reception from a Ypsi civic group about his DishFish project.
Events of note for the coming weeks:
Linda Diane Feldt on herbal health for men (Thursday)
Huron River Water Trail meeting
A2A3 Soap Box Derby (Saturday)
Brick Bash (Saturday)
+Grange Junior Makers
Thanks to the 11 (of about 450, or 2.5%) who showed up, and to the 97.5% of you who didn't for whatever reason, it would have been crowded!
What to watch on CTN is the City of Ann Arbor's weekly programming guide to public access cable. Download this week's flyer as a PDF. Here's show listings for April 1-7, 2011. Note that several of these are also available on demand over the Internet at http://a2gov.org/ctn .
Edward Vielmetti is certain to make it big in television if he ever gets a chance to break in to the big time.
The scuttlebutt is that delicious is going to be axed by Yahoo.
Once upon a time, I bookmarked everything interesting that came across my path to delicious (back when it was del.icio.us). It was part of my routine, and a daily summary was posted through to this blog.
Delicious was from the tags era of the Internet, where in addition to noting that a thing existed you could add your own tags to describe it. Sometimes these were straightforward tags, like the 1533 pages I marked as "annarbor". Others were idiosyncratic, like the 5 pages I marked as "attention-to-irrelevant-details".
There are other, better ways to bookmark things so that lots of people see them. The facebook "like" button gets more page views without consuming any cognitive overhead about how to tag, whether to tag, and what you've tagged before. Actually writing about something is quite a bit better than just bookmarking it, because you get to be yourself for a little while and not just an automaton forwarding on links automatically.
Every bookmark I ever did on delicious, up until now, is archived for posterity here: vielmetti.typepad.com/vacuum/delicious-20101216.htm . As I review it, there really should have been more of them marked "attention to irrelevant details". It's hours of reading, though some of it goes by fast because the site that was linked to has disappeared, leaving only the bookmark and whatever clipping I managed to care about.
edit: now with more cognitive overhead
Les Orchard, Let a million bookmarks bloom. "Use the web. Host your own, pay for it, or find someone who values your data."
Stephen Hood, We can save Delicious, but probably not in the way you think. "The Delicious user community could organize to save the data themselves via a coordinated harvesting project."
Edward Vielmetti is http://www.delicious.com/vielmetti.
Aardvark is vark.com – as of February 2010 they are owned by the Google. It's part of a genre of question asking sites where the answer comes back partly from "your network" and partly from the random parts of the net that you don't know very much about. If you think you have an interesting question, you can ask it on Aardvark and see what you get. My practice efforts have been pretty dismal, but I might be asking for things outside of what it's capable of doing.
It might simply be that I've been at it too long and my non-random sources for answers to random questions are just better. If you've collected enough mailing lists full of local people or topical experts or reference librarians, the appeal of asking an unspecified audience is limited. Ditto the comparison with asking the same question to Twitter where it might ping-pong into someone's news stream, or asking a network full of PR people on HARO in the hopes of luring in someone's publicist who is happy to answer.
I'm trying to figure out how to retell stories about a place that I only know a little about. The particular spot is a one time grocery store, now a bicycle shop, that I am guessing was a center of a neighborhood in its time. If there ever was a lore around it, it circulates among a group of people who I don't know. The owner of the store was notable in his day, but that day is about 60 years ago.
My usual routine is to find an interesting idea, do searches in unexpected locations that get uncommon results, and assemble a story from clippings of things already written. This can be a fast way of going from scattered and fragmentary information about something to a composed account that makes sense. Clippings are easy to assemble, someone else has done the work, and you can sit down and be done when you're done.
What's harder for me is to write about something that no one else has written down, especially something which you in turn have only limited knowledge of. The quotable information from print sources may be locked up in materials that are not scanned in, and perhaps never scanned in unless you scan them in yourself – that is, if you can find anything at all. The real stories of how things were might only be tellable if you can locate someone to tell them to you and if you write the stories down carefully for them.
If you are interested in something and want to publish something about it to mark that interest, you might end up with only a fragment to start. There are some media where it's acceptable to tell a piece of a story that's an incomplete image, but only a very few. "That's not news" and "what's your point" are typical reactions when a newspaper behaves that way. The encyclopedia's defense mechanism says "that's not notable". "Too long, didn't read" is the reaction in the blog world. So you need some place to dump fragments that don't have to be complete that's safe so when it comes time to tell a story you can extend your memory.
Nothing gets around the problem that the real stories can only be told by people. That's an opportunity and a challenge.