Monthly Archives: April 2012

More revolution, less retrospection – from the conference floor

Multi-coloured diagram setting our literacies, etc covered by Howard Rheingold in "Net Smart"I got the impression from some people attending the Connecting Up New Zealand conference last week that they wished the genie would quietly slip back into the bottle.

The torrent of opportunities and demands unleashed through the web is just too much. Could we just return to the uncomplicated days pre-Facebook, pre-twitter, pre-everything web!

This attitude was most evident in a keynote address by fundraiser and management consultant Kitty Hilton. Enumerating the many sins of an always-on, always connected world, Kitty emphasised the many bugbears she has with new-fangled technology (sigh).

Truthfully, deep down, I am not surprised by such views. Yet I still feel dismayed when I hear them. Here I am, listening to a bunch of prejudices at a supposedly forward-looking community technology conference.

The murmurs of agreement at Kitty’s outpouring suggested not everyone is taking the disruptive nature of the web in their stride. Admittedly it takes a fair bit of effort to get your head around the changes being wrought by an increasingly networked world.

Since I got home I’ve been thinking and talking about what will help people to grapple with the transformation going on screens around us. I’d suggest stepping back from the ever expanding flood of tools and the early adopter success stories to consider the underlying dynamics.

I’d probably skirt around to the classics, such as the “The Cluetrain Manifesto”, “Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything” or Clay Shirky’s “Here comes everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations”.

Instead I’d jump straight into “The Networked Nonprofit” by Beth Kanter and Alison Fine (see my review from December 2010). It’s a helicopter view of the social media enabled, hyper networked society for good causes, with the configuration of tools left to others. Some two years after its release, Beth continues to share the concepts in the book around the globe, most recently in Pakistan.

As well as an understanding of the web world, Beth’s work supposes a set of literacies for getting by online. Without them the internet sweeps people away, time and time again, as if relentlessly dumped by breakers pounding into St Kilda beach. Rather than being knocked over by the incoming tide, we need to develop skills and knowledge to stand firmly.

A starting point for understanding the literacies required to thrive online is neatly provided by online denizen Howard Rheingold. The insights from this 64 year old virtual community pioneer are more than enough to start with.

Captured within the 272 pages of “Net Smart”, released March 2012, is a set of interlaced literacies we need to hone. These are: infotention/ attention; crap detection (after Ernest Hemingway); participation; collaboration; and network awareness.

I’m finding even a jaundiced long-time internet addict such as me can learn from Rheingold’s approach. Of course, you don’t necessarily need the book, which I’m reading on my Kindle, as you can go online to find a tonne of stuff from Mr Rheingold, including articles, videos and even course curriculum.

It’s taken a few good sleeps and being back at my desk to put two and two together. Pondering out loud, I wonder if people could gain more control of their organisation’s online presence by understanding the networked environment social media operates in, along with the practical literacies needed to thrive.

I’ve already dabbled a toe in this pond. Last April I ran a workshop that touched on some of the material Rheingold so adroitly outlines (see the notes from my Harvesting information online workshop).

The next time I meet on the topic of community and ICT, I’m hoping we’re not dragged into wondering if a free and untamed web is a good thing. I’m much more excited by the idea of discussing topics raised by reporters such Wael Ghonim in “Revolution 2.0” who believe that the power of the people is greater than the people in power. Lets shift the focus forward, and ride along the wave of this ever so unruly medium.

NetSquared for Wellington?

NetSquared button: net2, with tagline share, build, collaborateThere is lots of great sharing going on at the monthly Wellington NGO webmaster networking events which got underway in November last year.

We’ve touched lightly on a heap of topics, and dug into depth on a few. Hot topics include choosing a content management system, email newsletter distribution options and analytics. At yesterday’s session Julian provided an overview of instant website builders Weebly and Google Sites – opinions were mixed.

Getting out from behind the computer to swap notes in person seems valuable for those that participate. What is obvious to me is that many more people could benefit from the korero. Plus the topics people touch on range far wider than just websites.

Watching the recent broadcast of the online Nonprofit Technology Conference beamed in from San Francisco I caught a short lunchtime interview with two local organisers of NetSquared networking events.

One of them was the enthusiastic and friendly Elijah van der Giessen who I conversed with at the Connecting Up conference in Melbourne last year. His vivid description of how the regular Net Tuesday Vancouver networking events really benefit NGOs convinced me to look into the net2 movement further.

Bringing together people with an interest in using technology to promote social benefits is at the core of NetSquared. It’s an initiative of the TechSoup software donation and capacity building organisation. They promote innovative uses of the web to help NGOs through challenges and events, along with support for loose, local networking events (called Net Tuesday).

Seeing all this makes me wonder if we could run NetSquared here in Wellington?

It would mean broadening the scope of the nascent webmaster network. This is probably no bad thing as few people in the NGO sector identify as being a webmaster. As well as those working in NGOs, Net Tuesday would be open to interested professionals, people going online for things other than websites (which is most people), and individuals with a passion for social justice.

NetSquared aims to support people “to connect locally with all those interested in the intersection of social technologies and social change”. This definition is a good description of what participants coming to the existing networking events are actually doing.

I like the idea of a network where the philosophy is centred on network members organising stuff for themselves. As well as a monthly Net Tuesday meet up (which I’ll happily convene along with any other willing organisers), people could run other events. NetSquared pay for a Meetup subscription to support spontaneous networking.

I notice in Vancouver there is a Salesforce sub-group. So webmasters or any other specialist group could keep meeting under a broader umbrella. And of course events could be run in weekends or over breakfast (no thanks!!).

When I raised this idea at the networking event yesterday, there were nods of support and a few good questions. I promised to canvas more widely before arriving at a conclusion.

So, Wellingtonians wanting to remix the web for social change, what do you think about the idea of setting up a NetSquared network? Your thoughts?

Update: the first Net Tuesday will be held on 19 June. Register and get update dates on NetSquared Wellington.

A sobering read – “The End of Growth”

Cover from "The End of Growth" by Richard HeinbergIf you get depressed thinking about the long running economic crisis and pending ecological meltdown, then Richard Heinberg’s book “The End of Growth: Adapting to Our New Economic Reality” is probably not for you.

Within a succinct 288 pages Heinberg provides an update on the Club of Rome’s 1972 critique of the ludicrous oxymoronic notion of perennial economic growth. He also covers at length the impact of resource scarcity on society (not only fossil fuels but other resources including precious minerals, water and soil) and the negative impacts of pollution on the biosphere.

As the book contains page after page of depressing statistics, I couldn’t bring myself to slog through it during my summer break. It was only over Easter that I finished the book.

I’m pleased I did as it is in the last two chapters that Heinberg sets out his prescription for citizens to respond to the end of growth.

If you don’t want to read through all the hard stuff, you can view a dazzling infographic presenting the book’s core thesis. Allow six minutes to get to the heart of “The End of Economic Growth” on YouTube.

It might seem alarmist, but I’m convinced that if we (ie humans) don’t consciously plan for a no-growth future, we’ll hit a wall. I’m not terribly keen to witness a crisis unfold, so I was particularly interested to understand what Heinberg rates as the top priority for action by citizens.

Number one is everyone making and sustaining meaningful connections with neighbours, friends and family in the area where they live. In other words, build social capital. Heinberg also suggests there are some big picture policy oriented measures within global financial markets that could buy some time, and things for individuals and families to do to get prepared.

For those committed to playing an active role in social change he suggests a number of areas to build connectedness. This isn’t really a prescriptive list of things we must do. It’s more an offering from a seasoned thinker, and doer.

The main initiatives he proposes are:

Given the magnitude of the changes confronting us, I find it hard to hold at bay my cynicism about relying on community initiatives.

From past experience I know how much it takes to successfully run things at the grassroots. There tends to be an over reliance on a core group, who won’t be taken for granted forever. Despite easily used, free tools, it takes a lot of effort to communicate within loose groups or networks. All this happens in a context of people with full-on home and work lives.

Yet, deep down I know this is the way to go. I’m drawn back to Mark Roseland’s work on sustainability, which I’ve quoted before:

To a considerable extent, the environmental crisis is a creativity crisis. By soliciting the bare minimum of public ‘input’, rather than actively seeking community participation from agenda-setting through to implementation and evaluation, local and senior-decision-makers have failed to tap into the well of human ingenuity”.

(Quoted in a think piece I wrote in “An e-government response to the climate change crisis: tapping into citizen creativity”, 2007.)

Getting to the bit about where these global concerns intersect with what I can do. It’ll come as no surprise, but to sustain and inspire my creativity I go online. Through the web I get fresh ideas, get challenged see things from all sides and learn from projects, successful or not. Examples I’ve come recently include The Story of Stuff and Do the green thing.

Part of the reason I decided to write this (long) post was an increasing sense of urgency about taking action. This is particularly so given the current political climate which I’d describe as being about BAU until our head, neck, torso, legs and feet are all in the sand.

I’d be the last person to urge anyone to read such a difficult book as “The End of Growth”. However, I’d say it’s important to engage in the ideas, Heinberg presents. Have you had the a chance to think about where we (ie humans) are heading? What does it mean for you? your family? friends? Is building social connectedness the key, or other there other priorities? This conversation didn’t start with this book (or post), but I hope it carries on with some vigour.

PS I’ve half a mind to share inspiring and hopeful projects, ideas and creativity I find on my travails travels on the web. Series working title: “Reasons to be optimistic”.