Tag Archives: community

crowdsourcing patronage

Just what is journalism going to look like in the future?

It’s a question that’s been bouncing around my head for a while, and articulated in various pieces by Ben Thompson (in a nichification process), my friend Eric Hydrick, and others.

Eric brought up the idea of supporting “special” journalism through services like Patreon.

I think that’s a start … but still limits – as do paywalls, subscriptions, etc – informing the populace to those who care enough to pay intentionally and specifically for that publication / journalist / etc.

I think an improvement upon that is a bucket approach. I outlined one such possible technique in my recent critique of Pi-hole:

Maybe there needs to be a per-hour, per-article, per-something option – a penny for an hour, for example (which, ftr, comes out to a monthly fee of about $7)- so that viewers can toss some scrilla towards the creators, but aren’t permanently encumbered by subscriptions they’ll soon forget about

I’ll go out on a limb and predict “journalism”, as we have known it for hundreds of years, is going to completely disappear in the next 10 years. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s completely going away (though, with the general willful ignorance of people…maybe it will). It does mean, though, that it’s going to be radically different in form.

With the rise of decentralized (and, nowrecentralized) publishing with widespread adoption of the world wide web, everyone can (and, maybe, should) be a publisher.

The overwhelming majority of publishers are not receiving anything from their writing – except personal satisfaction (that includes myself .. in 20+ years of having websites, blogs, etc, I’ve made about $35 online). And publishing for “free” (ie, self-funded) should always be an option: as a content creator, it should always be up to you as to whether you wish to charge for what you’ve made.

But if you want the possibility of getting paid for your work, that should be an option, too: and while you might be “worth” subscribing to, the odds are very good you are not. And that leaves a quandary: how can you get paid for your work (if you want), without encumbering your audience into either leaving instantly, or succumbing to pressure to subscribe.

Which is why I think a bucket approach could work well – you’d know how much you had available in your balance, recharging would be simple (could even be automated – hit a threshold, recharge to some preset amount), and you’d know exactly who was getting your money, and, more importanly, for what – it’s not some ambiguous “subscription” to a “site”, but paying for precisely the content you see (or want to see).

In many ways, it’s extending the Patreon idea, which is really just a modern reimagining of patronage, from mere individual shows, sites, etc, down to a granularity of specific pages, articles, images, etc.

And let’s not even talk about the analytics that could be performed on payments and page views under such a model: identifying regions that are interested in certain content, audiences that like certain things, what are immediate turn-offs, etc. Incorporate some form of solid feedback/interaction mechanism, and you could possibly develop healthy gamification of your site: maybe even waiving monetary contribution if you hit certain levels of interaction on the site.

Active community building via people who actually care (and that just happens to fund the service).

Now that would be something.

how to turn a google+ community into a quasi “mailing list”

Spurred by a recent question from an acquaintance in town, I asked on Google+ whether or not you can enable emailed notifications for a Community. This led to the elaborate Settings page for G+.

It turns out that if you combine enabling a Community’s “Community notifications” vertical-ellipsiscommunity-settings (under the specific Community’s settings (which you find by clicking the vertical ellipsis button on the Community page) with the following tree in your general Google+ settings, Notifications -> Email -> Communities -> Shares something with a community you get notifications from, notifications-emailyou get a “mailing list” of sorts from your Community, which, niftily enough, also allows you to comment on the post via email (at least on the first notification of said post)!

group admin in the era of facebook

Along the difficulties of initially building a good group/community, comes the hassles of managing said [virtual] community – especially on the book of the face.

I am a coadmin on the Ontario & Western Railways Historical Society Inc Facebook group. My friend Peter is a coadmin of the Linux Mint group.

Something both of us have noticed is the ridiculous spam problem Facebook groups have developed over the past 1-2 years. It’s not a new problem, of course – Stack Overflow has had problems since very early on, too: they printed A Theory of Moderation to outline the issues they were seeing, and how they planned to handle it.

The real problem at the root of all the spam lies, though, not in technology, but in people.

Even with active community self-regulation, moderators occasionally need to intervene. Moderators are human exception handlers, there to deal with those (hopefully rare) exceptional conditions that should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt – if you don’t have human exception handling in place.

Spam doesn’t arise on its own – it’s all developed by people. Until the people problem of spam can be addressed, it will continue. Sadly, technology, in and of itself, cannot deal with the people problem.

So instead we have human admins and moderators whose [typically volunteer] job is to ensure that the communit[y|ies] keeps to a general standard, as defined by the community itself. By assuming technology could be made that would fix the problem, we’re asking the wrong question: human behavior needs to be addressed and improved; while technology is wonderful and can aid in the process, it is no panacea.

Encouragements for moderation teams can come in the form of gamification (the SO model), community accolade, or just the individual admin’s personal satisfaction.

The drawback is that this task can become so overwhelming at times and in places that it those tasked with caring for the community, when the community itself won’t do anything about the problem(s), give up because they adopt the view that it’s everyone’s problem, and presume that since it is everyone’s problem, it’s not “theirs”.

What are the solutions to these issues? I can think of a few – but many remain yet unanswered:

  1. the community must encourage the admins
    • if the community isn’t doing something to make their admins feel appreciated, the admins will, eventually, leave
  2. better tech
    • it’s not possible to solve all problems with technology, but there are certainly many areas that can be improved in this regard
  3. community engagement and education
    • seasoned community members and admins alike need to take the time to “mentor” new community members to make sure they stick to the guidelines of that community
    • community members need to be proactive in assisting the moderators when inappropriate items are posted, or conversation degrades below the stands of the group
  4. a willingness to say “no”
    • admins and the general community needs to be willing to tell some people they are not welcome
    • this should [almost] never be in a hateful, grudge-bearing manner, but it must be done to ensure the integrity of the community in the long-term
  5. a willingness to morph
    • the flip side of (4) is that the community needs to be willing on a regular basis:
      • review its own guidelines
      • change / modify rules
      • find new admins
      • welcome new members who aren’t yet versed in the ways of the group ( related to (3) above)

I am sure there are many many more items that can be added to this list. But this is the starting point for every successfully-maintained community I’ve ever seen.

What others would you add, or what would you change?

community building is hard

Establishing and building a community around a common interest is hard.

After exhausting your network of friends, coworkers, neighbors, etc – the only way of getting new folks into the community is to aggressively campaign and advertise to them.

Let’s say you’re a technical user group (like a couple of the ones I’m a part of). And every month you have about 5-7 folks who show up on the Appointed Day™ for the regular meetup. You can either be satisfied on the size of the group, or you can try to grow it.

Growing it, however, is never easy: there are scheduling conflicts, personality clashes, lack of contacts, etc.

What are the best ways – or even just “ways”, ditch the “best” – of growing a community after you have gone through everyone you know?

redecentralizing school

I have a very longterm interest in education.

As I look at the current public education “system” in the US, I can see a variety of major problems.

The biggest problem, endemic of any system built around the premise that the only people who should be together all day long should all be “similar”. Somewhere along the way, we decided it would be a Good Idea™ to split children into monocultures of more-or-less indentically-aged groups called “grades”, and then batch them into groups of 20-30 and herd them through a variety of subjects every day.

We have lost the concept of learning as exemplified throughout history in the “apprentice” or “disciple” model.

Before the monoculturification of schooling, whole (but small) groups of children were taught together – it’s how my dad’s uncle was taught. From 1st (or K) through 12th all in one room. At any given moment, all ages were either being reminded of earlier work, or hearing about later work, or doing their own work.

This model is still used by the large segment of the population that homeschools (presuming, of course, they have more than one child).

What if we re-adopted this approach to school in the public system? What if, instead of having schools which housed hundreds of students in just a couple grades, we had schools in every neighborhood that had a few dozen students that represent all the grades of the community?

What if schools became “migratory” – in the sense that as the demographics of the community change, the location of the school ‘building’ can shift. Perhaps, for example, in a suburban community the school could be usage of a development community center – but if and when the community has fewer or no children, the school locale could be removed or shifted to a new young demographic area.

Some of the myriad benefits I can envision in such a scenario:

  • reduced overhead for any given school in terms of hiring, maintenance, etc
  • reduced school board / district overhead – elimination of now-unneeded positions
  • increased teacher-to-student engagement
  • lower student-to-teacher ratios
  • increased student retention as they are continually being reminded of old concepts
  • teachers becoming more generalized, rather than [potentially] myopic in their teaching
  • team teaching – cutting across disciplines and seeing an integrated view of the world
  • improved teaching flexibility
  • reduced union strength
  • improved connections between teachers and the community they serve
  • more well-rounded graduates
  • reduced / eliminated busing
  • decreased prevalence of bullying
  • increased likelihood of teachers living near/in the communities they serve

Some of the antibenefits I could envision:

  • loss of school sporting teams
  • forced generalization of teachers
  • more complex IT support infrastructure (if managed by a central authority such as the board or district)

I eagerly anticipate your feedback – what do you think?

asymmetric communication – the facebookification of society

The first communication method we ever learn is the interaction between ourselves as infants and our caregivers (just to cover the possibility of a parent, foster parent, day care worker, orphanage employee, etc).

They speak to us, hold us, and in general take care of us while we cry, burp, laugh, and gurgle in response. The communication is symmetric: there is a give and take, and it all happens “in real time”.

Eventually we learn how to read and write, and the possibility of communicating asymmetrically becomes possible – the ability to communicate our thoughts, and receive others’ communications, at the leisure of the recipient.

Asymmetric communication is wonderful – it’s how we learn of ancient peoples, news stories from around the world, etc. But it has a major drawback, too.

Because asymmetric communication takes less effort on the part of the communicator, they can refuse to engage with their audience in a focused fashion. Indeed, that is the benefit of being able to write: being able to reach an audience without having to focus on them while you are talking.

However, because it is unfocused, and because it is easy, we can develop a preference for communicating on our own terms, which can lead to a loss of community and relationship and a creation of a narcissism (that even metastaticize into paranoia) in which we believe we are the best thing that ever happened to world, no one else matters, and face-to-face, or even microphone-to-earpiece conversations become a thing of the past. We can, instead, become hermitized into either our own worlds, or into virtual “communities” in which we adopt pseudonyms, speak in anonymity, and feel no concern over our audience’s feelings, thoughts, or interests.

I can see this as a problem with tools like facebook. Yes, it is wonderful to be able to keep-up with friends and family far flung in this modern era. To know what they are thinking and doing just with a click of the mouse. But how many of those “friends” are truly people we would want to spend time with or have a symmetric conversation?

Certainly this is also true of environments like LinkedIn – whereas some people only truly connect with those they know (and know well), others connect with whomever they can, and other connect with those have a “reason” to connect with .. but might not know “well” (personal improvement, “street cred”, ego boosting, sales/work potential paths, etc).

Services like Klout play to this overt self-interest we have in the modern era of self-branding.

The problem with symmetric communication is that it is harder – it takes time, you cannot multitask, and the person you engage with has to also be interested. You have to pay attention to them, and hope they pay attention to you in response.

In the modern, technology-driven world we live in, things that take time and effort are not as valued as the quick solution: we’d rather microwave than crock pot; we’d rather txt than call; we’d rather IM than email (or email than IM).

There is no going back to the way things were – and I wouldn’t want to even if we could: the way things are now is [in gestalt] far better than they used to be … or at least not worse (yesteryear had their problems that we’ve merely replaced/upgraded).

You can see communication asymmetry affecting our towns and communities – how many of us know our neighbors? Of those we “know”, how many are “wave at”, how many “smile at”, how many “say ‘hi’ to”, how many we would eat a hot dog with, how many we would invite into our home?

Symmetric communication needs to be made a larger focus of our busy, hectic, asymmetric lives – I’d wager that it would reduce our busyness and make our lives a lot less hectic if it took a larger role.