Dags and dingleberries

Bringing up dags around the dinner table is, if not frowned upon, is really rather crass. Especially if you really start exploring the meaning.

But when dags came up during a conversation with Nancy White, an online facilitation specialist from Seattle, they were a bridge to cross Pacific understanding. And utter hilarity.

It didn’t take much to encourage Nancy to share the North American term for dag. It’s dingleberry she proclaimed. We couldn’t stop laughing.

The rest of our session was very cordial and good humoured. This moment of irreverence established a very friendly rapport and tone, in what had previously been a group of strangers.

In the online world it’s far harder to cultivate this environment. But it’s exactly what Nancy has been working in and around as a trainer, researcher, presenter and learner. She was visiting Wellington to share her experience at the DEANZ conference.

The difference between building community online and in the real world looms very big. Nancy suggests we need to articulate new roles such as technology stewards – less geek more translator – and information filterers and organisers. Chairpersons and secretaries are less relevant online.

She says its particularly important to pay attention how people are invited to join online communities. Not only the language and how a website is designed but who makes the approach, is it specific and will it touch people deeply.

In a forthcoming book Nancy is co-authoring with community of practice guru Etienne Wegner and John D Smith, there’s a chapter on the orientation of online spaces. In Stewarding Technology for Communities she shows how different spaces and tools suit different purposes – if you get the wrong tools your community won’t be supported. This seems obvious, but it’s working out the purpose and knowing what tools that match this that’s the trick. There’s a handy diagram in the book which matches tools to different purposes.
A lot of what Nancy talks about is finding ways to bring to the surface the dynamics of online spaces. As existing roles and processes just don’t apply, new ways of operating have to be reflected on. Making assumptions about what people are able to do at the other end of the Internet can easily mean people are excluded. So lets talk about our assumptions.

We’ll still in the early days of understanding how online community works (if it does), and what skilled facilitation is required, so it’s wonderful that Nancy is very generous sharing her knowledge. Be sure to check her blog and resource site FullCircle Associates, her presentations on SlideShare and the Online Facilitation Yahoo Group, established in 1999.

I’m pleased I learned about Americanese for dags, and all the other stuff. If you’re reading this Nancy, thanks for stopping by.

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2 thoughts on “Dags and dingleberries

  1. Nancy White

    Stephen, it was a lovely afternoon with you and your colleagues – and I had to giggle when you reminded me about dags and dingleberries!!!

    By the way, just to be clear, the orientations chapter is not something I wrote alone – it was the work of all three of us.

    Reply
  2. Laura Sommer

    hi Stephen, I too had the opportunity to meet with Nancy during her visit. An excellent discussion about online communities. I agree that the translator role is fundamental – particularly when encouraging participants to operate in new online spaces.

    Reply

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