Tag Archives: Online Communities

On BarCamps, unconferences and why we shouldn’t do BarCampLjubljana3

At #CLS09 we had a bunch of discussions and talks about unconferences and things related to them. To the ones that are new to this space – unconference is essentially a conference where the talks are given by the participants. BarCamp is a brand of general conference, mostly in geek space, that is done in unconference fashion. The history is richer than that, but you can read more about it in the wiki.

A ball brick at Citizen Journalism Unconference.

When I first started talking about BarCampLjubljana last year, it was mostly out of frustration that we don’t have barcamps. The us too wish and the general frustration with the perceived lack of geeks in the area. So began the process of education enough people about unconference style of event and finding people that helped organize the event as well as participants.  I feel that this process was valuable in so far to teach the community about these types of tools and ways of interacting.

The real problem with this approach was that we focused too much on the tools and the process and not enough on the main thing – the content and the topic itself. Just like we can talk all the time about the development tools and programming languages that we use instead of the things that we’re actually building with them.

This showed in the pitch for BarCampLjubljana 1 and 2 – “lets meet and talk about whatever. Show us your recent work and the things that matter to you”. To make the things even worse, we didn’t think too much about who we invited as we basically distributed the message across a few of our usual channels: blogs, Facebook, Twitter and limited mailing lists and forums.

Looking at it now, the result was exactly what you would expect: about 100 of our friends gathered, they talked about their current projects and obsessions and they’ve got to know each other. It was interesting to listen about new projects, but there was only that much that kept community together. Lucky for us, the friends that we invited were fellow geeks from within the industry so there was enough of common ground that they understood each other and could talk to between themselves.

Unconference

The second BarCampLjubljana presented this in clearer fashion – the talks had even less things in common, as the audience was largely the same, there was not much development in the 3 month period and the general feeling that something was missing was in the air. Everyone still had a great time, but we didn’t the fulfill the promise of BarCamps that we were supposedly bringing – pure and epic awesomeness unconferences.

So what now?

As we’ve learned how to do an unconference, I would propose that we let go of BarCamp’s all together and instead focus on topical unconferences. Instead of trying to force all topics on everybody we should start focusing on different topics and communities around them.

While Slovenia is small, different communities are still large enough that they can sustain an event or two on a yearly basis.

Instead of having BarCampLjubljana3, lets call it what we really want it to be – WebCamp. Lets not be afraid to talk hard-core tech stuff, with a bit of workflow and personal ranting about the industry mixed in. There is a whole range of topics from amateur sports to personal development that could benefit from such unconference.

While doing these events, we need to take into account a few things:

The grid at BarCamp Bangalore

Smaller can be better. Thirty engaged individuals can benefit much more from each other than 300+ crowd. There is enough space in event space for both types of events.

Lets not be afraid of small communities. While we might know everyone in our field, we often don’t take time to actually talk to each other. Lets create opportunities to do this and we might discover a few new peers in the process.

Experiment with new things. Unconference is still a very abstract idea and lets see how different groups of people shape it.

We should build support framework for unconference style events, while still keeping it open and vague enough that the community has to make their own flavor.

Conclusion

So what’s left for BarCamp then? I see three possible ways that it can take shape:

  • As a meta unconference of hard-core unconference visitors. Just so that we don’t have ‘unconference about unconference’.
  • An unconference of thinkers and doers from different fields that want to see alternative view from different fields. We would probably still need a theme.
  • It will go away. Topical unconferences will provide enough information exchange.

As always, open discussion on this topic is encouraged so let me know how you feel about these ideas, either in comments or in one of the gazillion other places (blogs, twitter, etc.)

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You should do Tech support on Twitter

Tech support is something that you have to do as you build and distribute a product or just provide a service. Most of the time, having support email address in form of support@companyname.com and startups like UserVoice and GetSatisfaction make great tools for creating positive environment where discussions and support can happen. These are all very passive forms of support, you sit there and wait for somebody to come by and throw a problem towards you.

Day 328/365 : The Red Wheel
Image by ~jjjohn~ via Flickr

Good news is that Twitter allows you to be proactive in your support efforts as you can monitor/eavesdrop on different conversations and engage with these users, providing helpful suggestions and answering their questions.

This requires a lot of effort on a part of support team, as they need to actively reach out to the people that mention you brand and find the right balance between helpful and annoying or even creepy (a lot of people don’t realize their Tweets are public and searchable).

A few reasons why you need to actively search Twitter, instead of just waiting for support emails:

  • It’s much easier to write a quick Tweet with a rant than write an email
  • You can ask people to send you email with further description of the problem, so you can catch much easier weird problems
  • Honest feedback because they’re friends are listening.
  • If you manage to help them, their happines/satisfaction will be visible to their followers.

Remember to find a balance and that not every Tweet that mentions your company or product should be answered.

What are your experiences with doing tech support via Twitter? Too much effort for the output?

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Personal branding, social media and pretty pictures

In spirit of eating my own dog food, I’m publishing the presentation that I’m giving tomoorow at my old faculty to undergrad class about things I live and breath – twitter, social media and branding. Probably not much for veterans reading this blog but I was surprised how many good case studies I could do from your blogs. Kudos to @anjarenko, @anejmehadzic and @jernej 🙂

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The importance of identity in online communities

While on the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog (or at least until you turn on your web cam), there’s still a matter of online identity. Even though you can constructy any kind of identity you want with nicknames, avatars and everything – at the end of the day, you’re still playing the role of that persona.

Look at them, troll mother said. Look at my so...
Image via Wikipedia

As your participating in your favorite online community, you’re slowly getting reputation points for the things you say or do. With time the community will either embrace you and you’ll start climbing the ladder with more privileges or they’ll shun you as someone who’s not wanted there.

With this in mind, we can ask ourselves an interesting question – what would happen if we took away online identities of forum participants? What if the forum would be completely anonymous?

That’s exactly what Slovenian tech community site Slo-Tech did. Being a moderator there, I’m having an unique chance to see how this experiment is progressing.

First the setup:

  • separate section of forum where everything you write is anonymous
  • nicknames are gone, your identified by sequential post id (e.g. a343546). There’s no way to know who wrote what.
  • Moderators operate in the area, but they can only delete and the deletions are not signed, allowing them to be as trigger happy as they want. Nicknames of people who can moderate are known.
  • Basic rules of forum are still valid.

The idea was to create a space where you could discuss things without hurting your only identity and not another 4chan.

Two weeks later, how did it develop?

Slo-Tech Anonimni Eksperiment

Screen shot shows thread listing. White and blue ones are normal threads while red ones are deleted. Content of typical thread doesn’t look much different.

That’s on a forum that typical deletes less then one post per thread and very rarely whole thread, mostly in connection with piracy.

What essentially happened is that a small of group of people started misbehaving, posting trash as much as they could. Massive quoting and answers like “just kill yourself LOL” appeared in every thread. The topics of threads are often just trash.

Since you don’t know who’s doing this stuff you can’t do much about it, other than delete it faster that they can write. Sooner or later they’ll get tired of it.

LEEDS, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 30: A cave troll ...
Image by Getty Images via Daylife

There’s also a positive part of the whole experiment, after we manage to clean away all the thrash, we are left with a handful of interesting topics, mostly dealing with political and personal issues where people post long and insightful answers. As long as we get to delete trolls from there topics soon enough, interesting alternative debates crop up where nobody is worried that their statements can be later used against them or their name.

I wouldn’t recommend repeating this experiment for communities that doesn’t have powerful moderating force and enough of good seeds. If you can afford it, it’s a fun experiment.

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