Thursday, July 03, 2008

Remembering my first time

Phil Plait, the Bad Astronomer, asks "What was the first [celestial] object you ever saw through telescope" and in leaving a comment, I realized that it was pulling up some memories that strayed from the original question. So, what the heck. Here are a series of my "firsts".

I am pretty sure my very first was the moon, but what I remember more is the telescope. It was a WWII-era US Navy 16x spyglass. Nearly 3 feet long, wrapped in black cord, heavy as all get out and no tripod. As a 98lb weakling, I could hold it up to the sky for only a minute at a time before I gave up and just pointed out constellations.

Beyond of the moon, my first look through a proper telescope was in a summer class on astronomy with Dave Olsen at Merced Community College. He set it all up so we could see the sun safely during a period of sunspot activity. He also offered community astronomy viewings where I saw saturn for the first time.

Despite wanting a telescope for myself, my parents always balked at the cost. By the time I had my own paper route, I had turned back toward the earth and computers. (Actually, it was because I wanted a computer that I got a paper route. I'm not just a geek, I am a nerd!)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tish Grier on Effective Community Managers

Who says Friday the 13th is unlucky? And to underscore that point, Tish Grier, Chief Community Officer for Placeblogger and Online Community Developer for NewsTrust offers us Seven Traits of Highly Effective Community Managers

Mainly aimed at news organizations considering engaging their readers beyond being readers, there are some great observations are hidden within each of Tish's listed habits:

"...if your site's mission is primarily to drive traffic to your site, you should rethink creating your online community in the first place. Site traffic tends to be driven more by better site design and search engine optimization than by getting all interactive on the citizenry."
Online Community is not a hammer looking for a nail. Experienced folks know what community is good at and what is it not. Tish's advice to reconsider your community strategy even before you hire is sound.

"...your potential community manager should be open, congenial, and can handle difficult situations with tact and diplomacy (not like a cop or Marine sergeant)."
There are exceptions to this, but mostly when working with young teens in a competitive (gaming, sports fans) arena. I personally love Optimus Rhyme's nerdcore song "Obey the Moderator!" but I would not hire someone with attitudes of controlling the community from the top-down.

"...don't confuse liking technology with loving it beyond everything else."
This is especially true for those of us living close to cities that innovate technology. I am considered a bit backwards because I don't have an iPhone yet. When interacting with your community, your community team will likely be giving a leg-up to others who are experiencing networking, connecting, trust and community online for the first time (or giving it a second try after a bad online experience). Knowing when to dial the techno-lust back several notches is vital to not alienating valuable people.

"...any editorial work or reporting should be secondary to the community, because community work can be very demanding."
Recent discussions with people considering hosting community or networking online have shown me that people still underestimate the amount of work that can go into fostering trusting relationships within a community and with your organization.

"7. Life experience trumps youthful enthusiasm."
I quoted only the header for this last one because the entire paragraph is worth reading. In fact, it should be the first paragraph you read.

I'll add to it, though. It's not as hard as you might think to teach people how to use technology. It's harder to teach people how to manage conflict, build trust, recover and learn from mistakes. When looking for a community manager, look for activities that include group leadership, improvisational skills and the ability to handle projects with large groups. The best community managers I have seen and hired are people who had some aspect of these in their past experience: improvisational theater, leading volunteers, organizing long-term groups based on a hobby or activity.

I'm wondering if a session on hiring a community manager might be a welcome for next week's Online Community Unconference.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Open Comment Season on John McCain site

While riding home from another excellent Online Community Roundtable, I read this tweet from penguinasana: "Someone left the john mccain store comments unmoderated:".

Yup. Take one part political candidate, one part open review system, and two days of not moderating said commenting system and you get a repeat of the 1997 Amazon Family Circus reviews.

When I took these screen shots there were over 60 reviews along these lines:

"Set expectations regarding when the review will be published."

Which implies that reviews will be moderated. Not an unreasonable expectation.

UPDATE: I checked the morning after this post and they yanked all reviews and killed the reviewing system. My only comment is that you, dear reader, do not make similar mistakes because while McCain voters likely approve of this kind of authoritarian control, your customers or clients likely will not.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

My 2008 Conferences

If the list seems heavily weighted toward Forum One Communications, that because they tend to be local to me and, in the area of community, provide more bang for my conference dollar.

Oct 2007
Online Community Summit
Sonoma, CA
Okay, not 2008, but I lead a group discussion on "Community Growth Strategies".

March 20, 2008
Mobile Communities Unconference
Palo Alto, CA

April 14-15, 2008
Online Community Business Forum 2008
Santa Fe, NM
With Gail Williams, we led a group discussion on "Community Management Best Practices".

May 12-15, 2008
Community 2.0 Conference
Las Vegas, NV

May 27-28, 2008
NetSquared Conference (N2Y3)
San Jose, CA
I will be presenting/leading a session on "Measuring Impact in Online Communities - Lessons from Schwab Learning".

June 18, 2008
Online Community Unconference
Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA

Jul 30-Aug 2, 2008
Romance Writers of America 28th Annual National Conference
San Francisco, California
I will be leading a workshop on early modern surgery. Details TBD.

Oct 9-10, 2008
Online Community Summit
Sonoma, California
This is an invitation only event so my attendance is TBD.

Last Wednesday of every month
I'll be bouncing between two local meetings of community-minded people:
The San Francisco Online Community Report Meetup and
Online Community roundtable (links to facebook group).

Meanwhile, back on the ranch

A quick post to update what I have been up to.

Getting laid off - In Sept 2007, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation announces they will close their operating websites and New homes for both sites are found and transition work begins. I learned important lessons about coordination, strategy, resources. Considering the parent community ultimately fragmented between the official host,, and at least 3 other community spaces, I can say I also learned difficult lessons about working within overly structured organizations and sudden losses of decision-making.

Reinventing myself as a consultant - I been keeping an eye out for jobs in online community and there are a lot of them out there. Unfortunately, most of them are for managing communities under the direction of a product manager or VP. These are too limiting given my experience in handling all aspects of communities including control over UI and feature design and mining the data for information directly. I've had a few people express interest in hiring me and I have been offering contracts for more foundational help rather than accept permanent work in a limited role.

I've had good luck so far and will be doing some work for a couple of non-profits and a health-oriented for-profit. None of it is long-term, but it involves helping the organization get the most out of a community strategy and plan for features, staff or skill sets they will need.

Attending conferences - To keep myself connected and relevant, I've been attending online community round tables, meet-ups and conferences. I'm even getting a chance to lead small group sessions at some. I'll turn that into a separate post of both past and upcoming 2008 conferences.

Enjoying myself - I got a pretty sweet layoff package and I've been taking advantage of that to sleep in, clean my house (I have half of my back office reclaimed as an actual office - go me!), spend more time with friends, and a road trip through Arizona and New Mexico (with an important stop in Bakersfield, CA, pictured right). I've been listening to The Thomas Jefferson Hour via downloads, twittering, walking and reading in preparation for a presentation on early modern surgery for a group of historical romance writers. Somewhere in there, is also losing weight (35 lbs since last Nov), roasting coffee and playing games on the computer and Nintendo DS.