Category Archives: Virtual meetings

Post NetSquared Downunder ‘virtual’ camp wrap-up

Jon from onstage in WellingtonWhen Evan from Adelaide’s voice distorted, warbled and crackled, I thought the show was over. Would our brave experiment bringing together four speakers in from four cities one hour come to an early end?

These sonic hijinks caused the only anxious moment in our NetSquared Downunder virtual camp held last Thursday.

We used free Google technology and standard webcams to successfully share innovative web projects between the four live and online. People watched from venues in Adelaide, Auckland, Melbourne and our very own wee capital city. And beyond in the wider world.

Over the previous four months the event’s four organisers played our way into being relaxed with Google’s online meeting place/ service/ tool. Google+ Hangout is user friendly and robust.

We also depended on uber fast broadband actually working on the night – something only reliably available in big cities for now. Even when one of the venues lost its wifi connection, thus the aforementioned warbling, the broadcast was able to continue using a tethered cellphone to stream in the internet.

It was the sharing the substance of the four projects that made the whole event worth it. People stayed behind talking about each of the four projects showcased.

It’s been really enjoyable virtually working alongside three talented and energetic organisers generously giving their time to make the event happen. I tip my hat to my co-organisers Richenda Vermeulen in Melbourne, Lindsey Talerico-Hedren in Auckland and Ben Teoh in Adelaide.

There’re rumours of more sharing using a similar approach within the regional NetSquared network and beyond. I’m definitely keen to use free tools and my freshly tested knowhow to contribute.

Read some more about NetSquared Downunder ‘virtual’ camp

  1. Photos from the NetSquared Wellington event, 29 November 2012 – thanks Stephen and Mihn
  2. A write up about the topics and tech by Ben Teoh
  3. NetSquared Wellington meetup group – open to anyone interested in using the web to make the world a better place
  4. The live broadcast via YouTube was started early, jump to 58:54 to get to the heart of things.

Photo credit: Aggregatormag

Don’t choose your online networking space(s) first

I invariably try to frame whatever I’m writing or talking about in a resolutely positive way. Turn the statements around. Glass half full. And all that.

As I feel strongly about this topic, I’m going to stick to a negative assertion that struck me as I was thinking about this blog post. If there is one that might stick it’s this: whatever you do, don’t choose the tools or spaces for an online network first.

It feels trite to say it’s necessary to begin by understanding the particular needs of each organisation (or amorphous network) and what people are seeking to do.

Isn’t this so, so obvious? Does it really need saying? Aren’t all online groups basically the same away?

For a number of reasons, we do need to reassert a fairly predictable starting point.

We’re bombarded with sales pitches, free ways to form groups at the drop of a button, and hear of countless others setting up groups on this or that platform. Why don’t we do the same?

Under pressure to do something, getting started is better than doing nothing.

I’m writing about this now after making just this point to the Comm2Comms network in Wellington last week. (See my “Choosing the right online spaces to support your unique network(s) presentation” notes.)

In brief, I recommended people think about practices and activities first, and then match these with online tools or spaces. In the end we didn’t directly address what can be a very long list of tools. But we certainly talked around the rationale for networks. (BTW: for a jumbled list of tools, take a look at my delicious links listing online networking and related applications.)

I am grateful for the work of community of practice luminaries Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John D Smith who have given anyone wanting to successfully use technology to support learning networks some sound guidance in their book “Digital Habitats: stewarding technology for communities” (2009).

Leaving aside the approach to technology acquisition, ongoing support and all that jazz, Wenger et al, offer a useful way for understanding the different foci of groups. There starting point is with what they call orientations. These are described as:

“a typical pattern of activities and connections through which members experience being a community”.

Orientations could be described as the things people actually do (or want to focus on) within a network. This could be: holding meetings, online or off; having open-ended conversations; running projects; accessing expertise; enabling individual participation; forming and maintaining relationships. This is by no means a definitive list, rather it’s offered as a starting point.

To get to the point, if you are clear on the orientation(s) then everything else will follow. Included in “Digital Habitats” are useful guides for each of the nine orientations. Each of these matches the types of things people want to do with the practices that will keep them alive, and, yes, the tools.

During the workshop I did say that anyone running a network shouldn’t expect people to be monogamous. Thinking people will loyally participate in just a single online space or place is unrealistic.

With the exploding demands for our attention every online network needs to be relevant. Even with a group different people with varying levels of technology nous will want to interact in different ways. Better to accept this than fight against the flow.

Somehow I’ve ended up saying much more than my heading. In hindsight, perhaps I should rename it “Setting up thriving online networks – where to start”.

Is this relevant to your organisation or network?

Below are the slides of my presentation, plus I’ve listed the links I referred to about online networking resources. I am available to repeat or customise this presentation for your unique network. Contact me.

A good time for a webinar

Just as I was about to sign-up for an hour long session on the new Google web analytics package, it struck me that I couldn’t make it.

The presentation by Avinash Kaushik, a Google Analytics evangelist and trainer at Market Motive, will cover new features of the web statistics tool. He reckons the new customizable dashboards, changes to naming conventions, new ways to report and more, will mean “this tool is even more powerful and flexible”.

As the webinar is being run at 9am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT) I’m going to miss out – I’m not willing to make the sacrifice to get up at 4am on Thursday 21 April.

It’s not the first time I’ve missed a session that I thought would be really informative. Most of the webinars I’ve heard about are run in USA, or Europe.

I actually think the way of delivering presentations and informal training over the web makes a lot of sense in New Zealand. As people working in the same field are widely dispersed by geography and because of the relative high cost of travel not everybody who could benefit from face-to-face sessions can actually attend them.

The online webinar format is somewhat of a halfway house. People can access live content and participate without having to leave their desk. It’s not fully-fledged online learning, which is possible, but short interactive sessions on detailed topics. Short and to the point. It’s not as good as being their in person, but does enable knowledge transfer.

Of course, you can often watch or listen to recordings of presentations. But these lack the edginess of live events, and of course there’s no chance of joining in, or asking questions.

For anyone involved in using the web to engage their community, I’m planning to run webinars later in the year. Topics tumble off my lips: choosing and using CMSs, accessible design, content strategy, usability techniques, and more.

As well as deciding on content and speakers, I have to select a platform to run the webinar. Rather than opting for the big corporate ones, such as Webex or GoToMeeting, I’ll probably use ReadyTalk. It has all the necessary features, is easy to use and as a NTEN member I can use it for a very attractive price.

I’ll also be doing Andy Goodman’s “Webinar on webinars”, which promises to teach in one hour how to run a successful webinar. That’s if it’s not being run at some crazy hour.

What I don’t know just yet is the level of demand for learning about specialist topics around use of the web from community organisations in Aotearoa New Zealand. If you’re interested, leave a comment. Or fill in my uber short poll on the right or link here: what is a good time for you to join in a webinar?

Offering webinars at a convenient time might help people to see the potential of this way of learning and sharing. Perhaps I can even get someone like Avinash to get up early to share with people working in community groups in our time zone.

PS Sign-up to my newsletter to be notified of details of my first webinar.

Yesterday’s webinar – learning the hardway

Stressed out bride to be, tearing her hair out

It wasn’t exactly hidden in the fineprint. The guidelines for running a mini-conference session clearly included something called a back-up plan. Most of my other classmates on the Facilitating Online Communities (FO09) course referred to some sort of alternative should things go astray during their session.

Based on intermittent access to Elluminate, the online learning environment, during the course and numerous technology hiccups with software on a weekly basis, I should have realised the importance of a back-up plan.

Yesterday, during the session I facilitated on using online tools for conservation planning I didn’t have a plan. So when things went wrong I was out on a perilous limb.

At 1.55pm I saw new people trying to enter the meeting room, but not gaining access I got a sense something was not quite right. Several emails alerted me to a message people trying to sign-in were receiving: the web meeting room is full.

Quickly searching the web I quickly realised I’d exceeded the limit of the trial account. How could I have not looked into that!! In hindsight, I know more indepth reading of the terms would have uncovered this basic condition.

Without a back-up plan I wasn’t really able to juggle the dozen things that needed to happen simultaneously. With some swift action by our tutor Sarah I did manage to find an alternative meeting space using Elluminate. My guest presenter Caroline Lees (co-covenor of the Conservation Breeding Specialist Group) not only was able to login in, but she very quickly adapted to unfamiliar software.

The supportive words from my classmates and Caroline’s insightful presentation meant I feel we salvaged something. A recording will be available soon.

However, without a list of email addresses I wasn’t able to contact people who hadn’t been able to join in. Unfortunately, I lost many participants along the way.

Somewhat humbled by the experience, wistfully wondering if perhaps I was somewhat overconfident, it’s a true understatement to say I’ve learned a few things. I’m going to note a few reflections here.

  1. Have a back-up plan. Not just some notional one, but a properly tested one. In this case having quick access to the list of email addresses so I could notify people would have helped.
  2. Try to have a second facilitator or support person. When things went wrong, I just didn’t have a enough time to send emails, communicate in the first software programme, set up Elluminate, coach Caroline on the new software, etc. This is a good idea even if when things go well. It’s quite a handful keeping an eye on the chat thread for questions, noting down URLs, contributing follow-up questions with a guest, and technical problem solving.
  3. Practice. Practice. Practice. Learning in this space takes more than reading or listening to good advice. Take every opportunity to learn.
  4. Have guidance on likely technical hiccups on hand, eg how participant’s can connect their microphone. An instruction document or screenshots would be a big help. If it’s really important to have all participants join in, coach people through this before the meeting proper through one-to-one sessions. This is something Caroline said was relevant to the mala online workshop process.

I’ve been really been fortunate to make a stumble running my first webinar within the supportive environment of the FO09 class. The encouraging comments and joint problem solving means a lot. A thread running through our discussions, made very visible last night during a session hosted by Catherine, is that making mistakes is a learning strategy.

Despite this rather stressful formative experience I still believe online learning has a lot to offer community and voluntary groups. I’m going to quietly look into running a series of webinars in 2010 about using technology powerfully for good causes.

Photo credit: Brittney Bush.

How come?

Tweet from Adobe Connect Pro team -

Out of context the question “how come?” may sound innocuous. That’s why I’m replying on my blog to the question from Adobe’s Connect Pro team, not via Twitter. I’m adding some much needed context, something Twitter posts are invariably oblivious to, so my reply exceeds 140 characters.

Where to begin?

Last week I fired off a bon mot tweet bemoaning the difficulties of accessing Adobe’s web conferencing software in New Zealand. After a month of searching and a second evaluation of the product Michael and I decided it was the best of the web conferencing tools available (see my earlier post “Does the tool really do the job?”). Videos play clear and crisp, the interface is relatively intuitive, and video input from an external source has been thought through. These are areas the other products we looked at fell down.

As we’re just running a one-off event (at this stage), the pricing advertised on Adobe’s Asia Pacific website is very attractive: $55 for a month’s access allowing 100 simultaneous participants. Whether it is US, Euro or Australian, this price represents good value for the quality of the product. Though I’d have to say this price is unaffordable to most grassroots community groups I work with.

Unfortunately, at the moment casual month-by-month access is not offered directly by Adobe to customers in Aotearoa. This isn’t stated anywhere I could find on their website, but is something I only confirmed after a call to the customer support line.

Buying the software outright is not an option, as the costs of running a server with system administration support and license fees is prohibitive. Especially for a one off event.

The one Australasian supplier I found gave some excellent advice, but quoted several thousand dollars to use their system when I asked for a price for our one-off event. Bemused is the most polite word I can think of to describe my reaction.

At this point I tweeted: “Adobe customer service excellent – the answer not so rosy: no easy way to get Connect Pro in NZ. Drats!” The glass half empty perspective is well founded as I was told by Carla from the customer support team that “We are still in the process of widening the horizon of our service to reach out to as many customers as we can. Please feel free to check our website for latest updates and so that you may be guided accordingly.”

I hope this answers “how come?”, with some context thrown in, but without a wider, excoriating rant about the sins of capitalism and proprietary software.

As I want to end on a high note, I can report the earth has rotated a few times since my tweet and I’ve found an organisation that can help out with our online launch requirements in a spirit of public goodness. I expect a few more ups and downs, but it looks like everything will work out.

First steps in Second Life

Visiting the Friends of the Urban Forest & Permaculture Project island in Second Life.

Visiting the Friends of the Urban Forest & Permaculture Project island in Second Life.

For some reason I’ve been dreading the next couple of weeks on the FO09 course. After the safeground of looking for community in forums, wikis and blogs we’re moving into the virtual world. It’s off to Second Life we go.

The fact that I know I’ll be in good company as demonstrated by the presence of the Nonprofit Commons, Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) project and many other reputable outfits (including hundreds of universities), doesn’t dissolve my wariness. This is particularly accentuated as I don’t have a lot of time to devote to coming to a deep appreciation of what is offered. So, I’m likely to be both tentative and superficial. What a combination!

Anyway, I’ll set aside my reservations, without losing my skepticism and I’ll trudge off to the front gates of Second Life. I’m writing up my experience, using a diary format, after Earl at Groupings said he’d be interested to hear how things go.

Wednesday 14 October
4.12pm: I open the Second Life application I downloaded a couple of weeks ago. It’s pretty obvious what to do – create an account.

4.35pm: The name of the avatar I choose could stick for a long time, so I really should deeply mull this over. I don’t. Instead I enter a first name that pops into my head, then have a choice of 50 odd surnames. Nothing really appeals. I run a search on a few of those offered: Halaan is a of type clam. Exotic food, sounds fitting so it’s now a part of my Second Life persona.

4.37pm: I try logging in with my new name but it doesn’t work. Rechecking my email I find made a typo when searching – oh dear, my assumed identify refers to a character in Golgotha. Should I stick with it, or start again. I can’t bear to kill off my new identity so the name stays.

8.38pm: I don’t always read the fineprint of terms of service before accepting them (ahem). This time is different. My suspicions about Second Life are so deeply entrenched I’m actually going to read what conditions I’m entering into.

9.48pm: Being brutally honest, I’m not actually that much clearer about the conditions having spent the last 10 minutes reading them. Be careful is probably the sum of it. Regardless of intellectual property rights you may have in content you create or otherwise own, Linden Labs (which runs Second Life) owns all the accounts. I guess this means they can shut you down your business and lock you out. I’m reassured by both the Privacy and Harassment policies about the protections available.

9.05pm: My search for “Second Life scams” on Google reveals lots of examples of shysters and rogues plus some deluded folk making awful mistakes, but I didn’t see much about the architecture or what Linden Labs does that is worrisome. Time to take the plunge – click “Accept”. Will my life ever be the same.

10.25pm: Not so scary. But I’m stuck on the god damn help island where I first land. Read the start guide again. Look on the knowledgebase wiki. Finally, back to searching on Google: “basic start Second Life”. Where did I miss reading the bit about double clicking to ‘touch’ objects and then have the option of ‘teleporting’.

11.02pm: So far I’ve got a free Linux t-shirt, visited a memorial to John Lennon, strayed across a desert island. Barely seen a another ‘soul’. On Friday I know there’s a presentation on digital storytelling offered by TechSoup. Maybe there’ll be some likeminded avatars to chat to. Anyway, I’ve put the avatar to sleep… when I reawake I’ll be wandering into a class room.

Thursday 15 October
9.15pm: Not quite the first thing that I do, but before I dive into work I decide to see if my avatar wakes up with a crowd of people around it. 30 seconds to load and I’m looking at my avatar in Friends of the Urban Forest & Permaculture Project island. It’s deserted. How pleasant waking to a gentle back bird song soundtrack wafts over me. I resist the temptation to get a Pohutakawa, on sale to raise funds for the permaculturists.

9.27am: Bump into another bald avatar – we try to work out how to regain our hair. Another 10 minutes wasted but I triumph. I’m able to control where virtually every follicle grows. I’m manipulating buttons and sliders on the screen using my real body by hitting keys and moving my mouse to change things on screen to represent a likeness of myself – this is weird, other worldly. A kind of dissonance sets in. Eyes are glazing over.

9.40am: With a glimmer of my younger self on screen it’s time to sign-off and do some productive work. One of my fears has been somewhat allayed – you don’t necessarily wake in the morning with people screaming in your avatar’s face. Indeed, I’ve found out if there is any trouble there are lots of options: mute incoming chat, sit, teleport elsewhere (I don’t think avatars can be followed), quit, shut down.

1.54pm: I receive a request by email: Would you be my friend in Second Life? I don’t have to do anything immediately as I can respond to the request when I login to the virtual world. I’m pleased to a see visible instructions on how I can stop receiving similar emails. It’s really the last thing I want cluttering up my inbox.

8.00pm Five students turn-up for the introductory tour of second life… after some scene setting, we all login into Second Life. I accept the request to ‘teleport’ to where our tutor is standing on Koru island (here’s the SLURL for it).  It’s owned by the Nelson Marborough Institute of Technology where a Masters student is creating a wonderful learning environment: part funfair, part campus of the future.

Somewhere along the way two others have gone astray – without any easy way of contacting people outside of the Second Life we proceed without any idea of what has happened to them. Later we find out a software problem prevented them from logging on.

It was great to try out all the communication tools (chat and voice, plus one-to-one instant messaging) and befriend people. When I go ‘in-world’ I can see who of my friends is also there. Coming to grips with our inventory of map coordinates, facial features and spare underwear is essential, as you never know when your avatar will need this sort of stuff.

Aside from many laughs as we stumble around, the highlight of the visit to Koru was obtaining a free tuxedo from the Rapungakore learning space. This “The Skill Mastery Hyperdome” is part of the SLENZ project. Accordng to the blurb this is a space where “students can learn, develop and practise skills that will help them progress on their career pathways and achieve their life goals”. Heaps of outfits are hanging up for people to try as they simulate different interview situations.

9.40pm Quit. Re-immerse myself in reality reality – Dilmah black tea with milk thanks.

Friday 17 October
11.10am Arrive at Nonprofit Commons (NPC) meeting space with a friendly greeting from Brena Benoir. Unfortunately I missed the weekly meeting. To join in means sitting at my computer at 4.30am! Brena said they generally have a good turn-out (the meeting earlier had 34 people attend) and cover a wide range of topics (see meeting notes on the Nonprofit Commons wiki). Quite a few people turn up for dances on Tuesday and Thursday evenings,  plus there are other events I see from the NPC calendar.

Wednesday 21 October
8.45am Opening my email I’m reminded about Second Life – something that hasn’t been on the top of my mind in the few days. It’s advertising junkmail promoting a shallow consumerist culture:

“Looking your best is important in Second Life, which is why our Fashion Showcase offers limitless ways to show off your style. Plus, meet new friends who share your taste in clothes while you shop!”

I’m wondering if I can get some free wrinkles with a tan thrown in from the Male and Female Skins store. A chance to play I guess.

Much to my relief, in the last week I haven’t found I’ve got an unknown addiction for Second Life escapism. Nor have I come to any harm. There’s much to like about the imaginary, playful alternate reality – there is amazing creativity on show and a chance to talk with people from many walks of life. I can see some potential for education, as I glimpsed when visiting the employment training centre set up by SLENZ.

But there are real barriers, particularly if you don’t have a newish computer. Some of my classmates on the FO09 course have not managed to enter Second Life at all. And the learning curve is steep. When I was stuck for an hour trying to move from the first island I landed on, I was almost ready to delete the whole application and terminate my avatar. Buying stuff, finding a home, creating art works… to find out how this all works and if it’s worth it means more time in front of the computer.

For all my tribulations and doubts I’ll actually keep exploring, if very slowly. If you’re ever in SL, look out for my avatar, Tipene Haalan.