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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Quote that Ate an Hour or Why Blogging Takes Time

"The object of life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, 'Holy Shit, What a Ride!!!'" -- Mavis Leyrer
This quote arrived this morning in an email from a friend. Damn, was it apt, I thought, as I looked at myself in the mirror this morning.

So, I wanted to share the quote, but it came without a source. I like a source. So to google I went. First return, there it was, in a person's blog. My morning's adventure had begun.

1. Jody posted it, and credited her friend ...

2. Katja who has a really cool avocado in her blog, which itself is quite a remarkable statement about disabilities, who had this ...

3. very cool map showing where visitors to the site IP's originate which reminded me that a link could take me across the world, but I had to go back to my...

4. Google search to see if the attribution hit on the first return was accurate, so I checked more site, where the quote seemed to travel around discussions of ...

5. motorcycles and more motorcycles...

5. which leaves me sitting here, wondering who Mavis Leyrer was, a motorcyle person? Back to Google. ..

5. According to a few sites, Mavis Layrer was an 83 year old woman from Seattle. It seems Mavis' quote has been very popular in blogs this fall, including this one, where the author ">went to Google Answers to find the source so...

6. I poked a bit further and found out Mavis was married to George, who has since passed.

Wow. So my story ends, for now, back at google.

And people wonder why blogging takes so much time! Now, to work!

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Monday, November 29, 2004

The Online Facilitation Blog Turns 6 (months that is)

On Friday 26 November this blog turned a mere six months old.

I've been thinking about this, wondering about the blog's worth, how it complements and competes with other things I do and other such sundry questions. Should I narrow my focus? Not obesess about posting frequency? Learn more sophisticated management and tracking tools and features?

I realized I really don't know the answers to my questions. But so far the 6 months of this have taught me quite a bit and, most importantly, connected me to some wonderful people.

I guess I'll continue, even with unanswered questions!

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Don Tapscott tells Toronto's "Listening to the City" to take it online!

The Toronto Star ran a piece by Don Tapscott, Breathing e-life into democracy, taking the upcoming "Listening to the City" F2F event to task for not doing it online. I agree with almost everything Tapscott has to say except the assumption that a fully online event would cover the territory. I don't think we have ubiquitous online interaction skills and more importantly, habits, across the diversity of a city like Toronto. The same could be said for the F2F event - there are people who won't go for lots of good reasons. On the balance, I'd bet that going online could probably increase the participation level. More importantly, it could start fostering a new practice of online participation in local issues. Here's a bit from Don's article:
It's time Toronto dumped limited, costly meetings and started online talks with its citizens, By Don Tapscott

This Sunday, Toronto City Council will host a $110,000 "Listening to Toronto" session at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where 1,100 residents will form small discussion groups and brainstorm about how to improve our city. Let's hope their top suggestion is that the city should never again spend the money, time and energy to host another of these events.

Today, we live in a wired world and the Listening to Toronto exercise belongs in cyberspace, where it would be far more effective. Toronto is a plugged-in city in one of the world's most plugged-in countries, and City Hall should exploit this technology to the hilt.

By moving discussions online, we would have a process that is cheaper, could involve tens of thousands more citizens, could be ongoing, and would achieve more substantive results.

To see how digital tools could bolster voter involvement, we could harness the tremendous innovation in information technology that has come to light in the past decade .

New digital tools have paved the way for profound transformations in how companies function.

He goes on to say some key things about online polling. Critical, IMO:
But there are right and wrong ways to pursue e-democracy.

Last month the city's technology committee said the city should explore online polling. "I think this is long overdue," said Councillor Jane Pitfield, a member of the e-city committee, which asked for more research on online polling. "The public needs to be engaged and I think it will help our city council and our mayor do a better job."

This would be a mistake. First, as an indicator of the public will, online polling is next to useless. Organized groups can hijack the process to do the equivalent of stuffing the ballot box. If politicians want to know the public's mood, a reputable pollster is the best choice.

Second, online polling does nothing to tap into the citizenry's knowledge and expertise. Citizen engagement isn't a matter of clicking Yes or No on an online ballot.

We deserve a system where we can discuss issues, brainstorm, raise everyone's knowledge level, and come to more informed decisions.

So, is Don over idealistic? (I hope not. I fear so.)

Rather than being skilled in belligerence and demagoguery, we would see the rise of conciliators and those who encourage public participation. They would feel comfortable and not threatened by the idea of an emboldened and active electorate.
[via Alexandra Samuels]

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Sunday, November 28, 2004

Using Blogs for Collaborative Document Review/Writing

I'm still catching up on blog reading and found Stuart's post on Iterative Blogging: BlogDoc 1.0

I tried to leave a comment for Stuart on this but there is comment foo tonight, so putting this here as I know Stuart, that you are vigilant and tracking trackbacks and such! (That I could figure that one! Oi!)

Stuart, I'm about to do a two day online meeting with folks in Africa which will require document review. I'm very interested in seeing if they want to try this. I believe I am dealing with low tech experience/saavy and bandwidth issues, so I have to figure out a very lightweight interface. And this is not a html saavy bunch as far as I know, so no fancy formatting.

I'm very curious!

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Thursday, November 25, 2004

Ignore This - Just trying to fix my feedster feed

No Need to Click Here - I'm just claiming my feed at Feedster

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Wednesday, November 24, 2004

My Email Woes

Well some spammer is spoofing my email address to send spam and all the bounce backs are hitting my email. 4000 yesterday, and we are getting past that today. It is bringing me to my email knees. The cost of changing my email address in terms of my network is painful. I'm considering some of those obnoxious filters that ask people who email me to log on to a website so I can approve them. YUCK!

Has anyone experienced this and found a reasonable solution? HELP!

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News from Everywhere - Another Perspective

My friend Bev pointed me to News from Everywhere, produced by Rhys Evans. Evans believes that having multiple perspectives on issues is a good thing... especially in education. This week he wrote about the "The 'know-do' gap."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said this week that academic research into cures for diseases which affect millions of people world-wide is not enough to make them work in practice. It claims that time and money is spent on work in laboratories, discovering new drugs, inventing new machines and tests, at the cost of finding ways in which this vitally important new knowledge can be brought to the people who need it.

73 billion dollars are spent every year on health and medical research, and 95% of that goes on laboratories, research and the people carrying it out. Much more needs to be spent on the sick people themselves, on developing public health policies in the countries concerned and on putting them into practice. As things are, the enormous progress that has been made in medicine in recent years has quite often not reached the areas where they are most needed. There is what is called a 'know-do' gap, a gap between what people know (knowledge) and what they actually do (action).

Good public health systems mean hospitals which are well equipped and function efficiently; having enough doctors and medical staff; making health care affordable to the people. There has to be good information and communication, so that the health of the whole population can be monitored; good training, and money to pay salaries to the health professionals involved. This aspect of medical research, says the WHO, not only is less well funded but for young students is seen as less glamorous than academic work. Systems need to be researched to help governments target more money at strengthening their health care practice. In Tanzania, for example, malaria caused 30% of deaths amongst children in 1996-7. As a result, more money was then spent on ways of preventing malaria, such as making sure children slept under mosquito nets, and child deaths from malaria dropped by 40% in the following years. How do you think that the know-do gap can be closed, and the millennium target of achieving better health for all can be reached?

[Source: Inter Press Service]"
I wonder if he'd ever consider doing this as a blog. I'd add it to my newsreader in a flash.

OK, time to stop blogging and time to go get my teeth cleaned. Which do you think I'd rather be doing?

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Lee Felsenstein at ETech '05

Tech That Helps the World is the title of Lee Felsenstein's (Co-founder, Fonly Institute) presentation next spring at the O Reilly ETech conference. I don't go to these conference much due to cost/time and the primarily business focus of the events. This is the only discernable NPO/NGO offering, but it looks juicy:
Widespread perceptions that the technologies embraced by industrialized countries do not help--and in some ways--hurt the large number of people in underdeveloped countries presents a fundamental source of danger in the form of terrorism. The events of 9/11 have brought this point to the world's attention.

Industrialized nations therefore have a self-interest in fielding technological systems which perceptibly improve life at the grassroots level in underdeveloped countries, inhibit or reverse migration from rural to urban areas, and raise the level of education and literacy, particularly among women. The challenge is to build an industry whose products enhance individual and community life in a sustainable, locally-controllable way, primarily through communications.

Pilot projects are under way in various locations which combine low-cost computers, telecommunication, wireless, and alternative energy technologies to meet expressed needs of people on the margins of the global economy.

We will discuss several of these projects in this session, including the Jhai PC System (or 'Pedal-powered Internet'), the 'Motoman' project linking five Cambodian schools to the Internet through mobile access points carried on motorcycles, the Ecopartners projects in the Dominican Republilc, as well as others.

Systems of this sort combine low-cost, high-reliability hardware with open-source software and high-volume, low-cost wireless equipment. They must be designed to be operated by members of the local community and require substatntial community buy-in and understanding of choices.

We will discuss the design process, particular problems presented by the environment, and the opportunities presented for growth of a self-sustaining industry which serves this vast potential market.

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This has to be one of the more unique CV's I've ever, um, experienced. If I'm reading Alexandre's blog, theSpoke, correctly, he's had over 200 fan mails and 30 job propositions.

The internet can connect, eh?

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EPIC 2014: Imagine Media in 2014

EPIC 2014 offers an 8 minute future scape. Find out what EPIC is. Worth 8 minutes. Liberating and scary at the same time. Work of the Museum of Media History.

[via judi]

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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

AOK_K-Net Discussion on Online Community

Online communities! Of course, one of my favorite topics on Jerry Ash's AOK list. Last week and this, the AOK guests are Joe Cothrel and Jenny Ambrozek. Lots of meaty posts and I think we are moving past the definition stage of the conversation. Cool folks, thought provoking conversations. Check it out. You have to join (free). AOK_K-Net

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Ourmedia: Online Storage for the World

Working with folks in the two-thirds world where bandwidth is limited, many folks don't own their own computer (think internet cafes and schools) and hotmail and yahoomail are the mail services of choice, finding a way to store and share files is a big deal. Have great music or photos to share? No way with hotmail. So it was a kick to read about Ourmedia, a collaboration of folks from "the creative community, technologists, educators, librarians and others interested in spreading digital culture are backing the ourmedia project. Leading the effort are Marc Canter, a well-known technologist and open standards evangelist who co-founded the company that became software giant Macromedia, and J.D. Lasica, a veteran journalist, editor with the Online Journalism Review, and evangelist for participatory media."

From ourmedia Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): "What's the big idea here?
The idea is pretty simple: People who create video, music, photos, audio clips and other personal media can store their stuff for free on ourmedia's servers forever, as long as they're willing to share their works with a global audience.

Backed by the Internet Archive, ourmedia's goal is to expose, advance and preserve digital creativity at the grassroots level. The site will serve as a central gathering spot where professionals and amateurs come together to share works, offer tips and tutorials, and interact in a combination community space and virtual library that will preserve these works for future generations. And we want to enable people anywhere in the world to tap into this rich repository of media and create image albums, movie and music jukeboxes and more."

[via my SON!]

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Sorry Everybody (I love this site)

Sorry Everybody is a prime example of the power of visuals. Text and faces. Settings. Scroll through some of these pictures -- a collection of apologies from US folk to the world post-Bush election and the acceptance of the apology from our friends across the world.

Very human. Very warm. Very electronic.

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More on Successfull Computer Supported Collaboration

This one seems sort of "no duh" to me -- of course a team performs better when there is shared understanding of goals, plans, challenges and resources. This is true for all types of teams. What is interesting here is the concept map approach: how do we keep these things on our radar as we move through the work. What amused me was that the test subjects were 6-8th graders. In my more cynical moments, this seems a perfect simulation of adult workers. Smirk.

"Shared awareness key to successful computer-supported collaboration:
Tuesday, November 9, 2004
Chicago, Ill. -- Team members can collaborate more successfully and create better solutions to complex, ill-defined problems by using software tools that support members' shared understanding of long-term goals, plans, challenges and allocation of resources, say Penn State information sciences and technology researchers.

In a paper titled 'Evaluating Computer-Supported Cooperative Work: Models and Frameworks,' John M. Carroll, Mary Beth Rosson and Dennis Neale propose an assessment framework for computer-supported collaborative systems based on 'activity awareness.' The three also have developed a variety of tools-a timeline for document histories, deadlines and project status as well as a concept-map interface-to enhance activity awareness.

In the researchers' model, activity awareness includes such variables as context, communication, coordination and whether the structure of the work is tightly coupled-dependent on frequent communication-or loosely coupled-less need for frequent communication.


While researchers have well-established models and procedures to evaluate single-user systems, there is no well-articulated framework for assessing multi-user, computer-supported cooperative systems, Carroll said. To fill that vacuum, he and the other researchers are proposing 'activity awareness.'

'Awareness is both a process and a product,' the researchers wrote. 'The more aware people are, the less there is a need to coordinate activities.'

The researchers studied sixth and eighth-grade students in two Virginia middle schools during 2002-03 and 2003-04. Both years, the students collaborated on science projects with peers from the other school. The project used a Java-based system called Classroom BRIDGE with features including a real-time interaction editor and an integrated chat tool. In addition to studying how activity awareness influenced collaboration, the researchers also introduced new system features in 2003-04 to support improved awareness.

Observation, interviews and questionnaires revealed that in the first year, students had difficulty collaborating with their remote partners. That breakdown occurred largely because important information known by one group of students wasn't shared with the remote partners. Planned activities were disrupted; schedules weren't followed; and ability of the teams to work together was compromised.

'In the second year, we had better and more stable software that included the timeline version and concept-map interface, and those gave the students a better awareness of what their collaborators were doing,' Carroll said.

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Zephyr Teachout and the Internet's Unlit Fuse for Political Action

GREAT article, linked around tons of blogs (yes!). Come Together, Right Now: The Internet's Unlit Fuse
Time for a Group Hub

To call this “bottom-up” isn’t exactly right, because what I’m talking about is a productive tension between leaders and end users. Just as Ebay is better than a thousand separate auction sites, and each auctioneer on Ebay is happy that Ebay advertises and improves its user interface and sets good rules for all to follow, the most powerful political network needs a center and something of an ideology. But if it’s built right, the imagination, language, and work can all come from the edges. Not just individuals on the edges, but groups and communities on the edges.

All powerful networks have hubs. In the best case, the hub is responsive, but even in the worst case, an evangelist at the core allows for networks to grow and coordinate -- and the individuals in the network to know each other and feel powerful.

I believe the collective-action solving power of the Internet can transform politics, in the best way, creating possibilities for localized but connected political communities, but I don't think it's a sure thing. Simply put, we face a battle between three interests--corporate interests, radical theological interests, and the interests in building civil society. Arguably, whichever group can best use the Internet to create new channels of power and community may well define the next couple hundred years. So this is mildly terrifying, but it creates a tremendous opportunity. We can seize the opportunity to transform public life --international and national -- in a civic, deliberative, democratic way.

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Gumption: Representations of Identity: Digital and Physical

Joe McCarthy writes about a cool session at CSCW 2004! I love that the session broke from session convention. Gumption: Representations of Identity: Digital and Physical
CSCW 2004 was a great conference on multiple dimensions (for me); personal highlights include participating in a great workshop, exploring Chicago, co-presenting a paper, co-organizing a panel and being inspired by the closing plenary. I'm going to post separate entries for each of these, starting with the workshop.

The workshop was on 'Representations of Digital Identity', in which we explored a range of issues relating to how people represent themselves in the digital world and the physical world. The organizers -- danah boyd, Michele Chang and Liz Goodman -- used a number of innovative approaches to facilitate the discussion at the workshop that I think made it a particularly engaging experience, and were rather well-suited to the topic(s) we addressed.

We started out randomly selecting handicaps from a handicap bag (danah's hat) to influence our initial presentations of selves (introductions), e.g., blindfolding, plugging ears, no use of pronouns ... I had the unenviable distinction of picking the 'You've been bad. Go stand in the corner while you introduce yourself' handicap. Our intros included name & affiliation, and an instance of when we experienced some disconnect between our perception of a person's digital identity and our perception of their physical identity.

We then were invited to bridge the gap between our own digital and physical representations of selves by writing our email address, domain name or mobile phone number on our foreheads, and study the reactions to these temporary tattoos by those in the room (other workshop participants) and those outside the room (participants of other workshops whom we might encounter during breaks) and even those outside the hotel. "

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Work groups perform best when expertise is judged from task-relevant cues

Catching up with some good links. No time for comments! Sigh!Work groups perform best when expertise is judged from task-relevant cues
Bunderson's study shows that people rely on these social cues as well as specific, task-relevant characteristics such as experience and education — which are much more valid — in inferring the expertise of fellow group members.

"People are more likely to rely on valid cues when the group has been together longer and when the group has a more democratic decision-making style," Bunderson said, based on his study findings. "And my work confirms that groups perform better when they rely on valid cues."

The study also looked at the issue of influence and power within work groups. Bunderson found no evidence that status cues have any affect on influence within the groups except through perceived expertise. "This finding raises important questions about the nature of influence in task groups," the study states. The results support two routes to influence in task groups: influence through recognized expertise, and influence through legitimate authority, signaled by a formal leadership role assignment.

"Why is this important?" Bunderson said. "In an increasingly knowledge-intensive economy, organizations are becoming more and more likely to rely on groups of specialized experts to perform complex knowledge work. These groups simply can't be effective unless they can identify and utilize the expertise of their members."

"If we are going to crack this nut, we need to understand how and when different member characteristics will lead to expertise attributions," Bunderson said.

Bunderson's paper suggests several future research topics, including whether the hypotheses apply to homogenous groups such as same-sex teams or groups of one ethnicity, or to virtual teams where there is no opportunity to observe social cues.

"More work in this vein should yield important insights into the management of expertise in groups of knowledge workers," Bunderson said

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Operating Manual for Social Tools

Stowe Boyd, danah boyd, and David Weinberger have teamed up for a blog that looks HOT! Here are a few snippets:

David's comment today hits home:
"the fundamental units of an artificial social network are not users and perhaps not even people, but are groups? A design that makes groups happy will make people and users happy, but if a design makes individuals happy but not groups, then the ASN has failed."
"The ways in which tools for mediated sociability are conceptualized and analyzed must shift. No longer can we simply study how the user interacts with the tool, but instead we must consider how people interact with each other and how the tool plays a part in that interaction. Note: people, not users. The tool is not a primary actor in sociability, but a tool that mediates. People should not be framed in terms of the tool, but the tool framed in terms of their use.

This means focusing first on the types of social interaction desired and THEN on the technology necessary to instrument that interaction. A technology first approach is a crap-shoot. It can work simply because people may find a way to repurpose the tool to meet their needs. But without an understanding of the social behaviors that should be supported, one should not expect the technology to be valued simply because it is good technology."
Here's the site's premise:

Operating Manual for Social Tools: About The Project: "The Operating Manual for Social Tools project is sponsored by ZeroDegrees, an online service that enables individuals to leverage their relationship connections with other individuals and organizations for business, career, and personal success.

ZeroDegrees has agreed to sponsor this site for the next four months to provide a forum for the discussion of rules and expectations for online social networks that will make social networks more useful while respecting the needs and privacy of their members. ZeroDegrees has agreed to exercise zero influence over the content of the discussions. The paid contributors are working for a fixed, non-renewable term. ZeroDegrees has further agreed that if the contributors feel ZeroDegrees has tried to influence them in any way, they can resign from the project but will still be paid.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Which MP3 Player Should I Buy?

I'm ready to dive into podcast listening. I realized I need an MP3 player and good members of my family are asking what I want for the holidaze. Oi. Which one to pick. One son says iPod. Another says iRiver.

I *think* I'd like the ability to record onto the little thingie as well as listen. Any readers have recommendations? If I do all the research myself (and I started to!) I will never make a decision. This stuff paralyzes me. (Should I mention I also need to replace my digital camera and that I like small ones that take decent pictures in low light for when it is utterly rude to use a flash?)


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Labels are for Jars & the Power of Online Connection

I'm on a roll this afternoon with stuff I'm generating and haven't even caught up with all the draft material I have sitting in the queu: links, references, comments on other blog posts. So be it. The curse of a blogger. That said, this one is worth a side track: Labels are for Jars. From their home page.
What is this Labels are for Jars thing anyway? It’s a state of mind. Do you look at a person and automatically, consciously or unconsciously, label them as a loser...or homeless... or hungry... or an addict?

If so, you’ve just made a judgment about them without knowing what’s inside. That works fine for jars, but it doesn’t work so well for people. People deserve better than that.

Have you ever walked down a street in a major city that has homeless or hungry people and rejected their request for money or food? Have you whispered under your breath “get a job” when you walked past them?

What labels do you have for people who need food?
Homeless? Crazy? Welfare Case?

Labels create distance between “us” and “them,” making their problems seem less and less like our problems. Close the gap. It is your problem. Help feed the hungry.
How Labels helps feed the hungry is through the sales of clever two sided T-Shirts, packaged in plastic jars that they then ask their customers to fill with change to donate to local feeding programs in Lawrence, Massachusetts, the poorest city in the state.

So what does this have to do with online interaction? It is an interesting story. Around 5 years ago I did an adolescent health project here in Washington State (USA). In my research I found a bunch of interesting interactive teen sites and created a page to share them with people involved in the project. I mostly forgot about that page in the every growing miasma of my website. But a couple of times a year I would get requests from non profits serving teens asking me to add their site to my list. But I kept wondering, how did people find this old, rarely updated page? Search on Google and, boing, the page comes up #1! So this connection to me kept occuring.

Earlier this week I got an email from a Label's board member/volunteer Will Newton. Actually, it was his second. The first one must have gotten lost in the spam filter. So Will instantly got my attention from his persistence. This guy was serious about promoting his project. And he was a board member walking his talk, not just going to quarterly meetings. YAY!

I emailed Will and have since learned more about the project and wanted to share it with you, dear readers. And then I wanted to share Will's email because it is exactly this kind of interchange, that comes out of basically a "cold call" email, that can blossom into an opportunity for connection, learning, action. Just the sort of stuff I was rambling about in my last post. (See, there IS a connection here!) Will said it was OK to share his emails, so here are some snippets. And by all means, go to the Labels site and read more. Then do something -- like buy a T-shirt for $19.00 USD (I think my sons are getting one for the Holidays!), and gather some change for Lawrence, MA.

Will's First Successful Email to Me
Good Morning Nancy,

I am writing to follow up on an email I sent to you a few weeks ago. As you may remember, I am on the board of directors for an organization called Labels Are For Jars. Labels Are For Jars is raising money to fund the construction and ongoing operation of a meal center in Lawrence, MA. If you are unfamiliar with Lawrence, it is the poorest city in Massachusetts, and is rampant with crime, drugs, prostitution, homelessness, and hunger. It is a community so poor that often times working families must chose between paying the rent and buying groceries. Of Lawrence's families, 21.2 percent live below the poverty line, compared with 6.7 percent of the statewide population. An overwhelming 31.7 percent of children under age 18 in Lawrence live in households below the poverty line, as compared to 11.6 percent of children under age 18 statewide. Unbelievable conditions for a city just 25 miles north of Boston. I work with a group of volunteers who have come together in an effort to help improve Lawrence, and improve the lives of its men, women, and children. Our goal is to raise as much money as possible to feed as many hungry people as possible, and to do so we have designed a thought provoking black t-shirt, which in addition to looking great, helps to undermine societal labeling. The shirt is adorned with a commonly used negative label, such as "addict", "troubled teen", or "mentally ill" on the chest, and "Labels Are For Jars" across the back. The shirts are sold from our website and through direct sales by high school and college students, who have a unique power to affect change in our society. Labels Are For Jars is comprised completely of volunteers, so every cent we collect is used to help feed the hungry in Lawrence. Our target audience are teens, and we encourage them to not only buy the shirt, but also to help us by becoming street team members in their communities. We not only want to help feed the hungry, but we want to make young people aware of this issue and show them that they can make a difference in a positive way. I am writing to you in the hope that you will be willing to allow us to post a link on your Full Circle Interactive Teen websites site, under the specific issue-related teen sites section. I am happy to discuss our project with you, and also happy to discuss needs you might have in order to create a link from your site. I encourage you to check out our website and learn more about our project. Labels Are For Jars is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization.

Thank your for your consideration, I look forward to hearing from you soon. Best wishes, Will
And I responded:
Hi Will

Sorry I did not respond to your first email. I did not see it and caught this one in the spam filter today (no perfect solution, that's for sure.)

Sure, I'd be glad to add a link. I'll also blog about it in the next day or two at

I'm curious, what kind of response are you getting to the campaign? Do people write you about it? I'd love to know and include that in the blog post. I'm not a top blogger, but some of my readers ARE top bloggers. If they pick it up, it can get some good exposure

Will replied (quickly, I might add!)
Hi Nancy,

Thank you very much, you are going above and beyond anything I could have hoped for. I have been part of this project since inception, which I think would put us somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 months. So far we have been getting a great response from 99% of the people that hear about the project. The only exceptions are from people that don't really "get" the concept and are turned off by the negative connotations of the labels. But, like I said nearly all the responses I have seen/heard have been very encouraging.
I don't know how thoroughly you examined our web site, so let me tell you few of our success stories. We have been adopted by two area high schools, and a few area colleges, whose students have formed what we call street teams. These teams go out into the public to raise awareness for our project, and help to sell t-shirts and encourage people to visit the site. I think this sort of "street" marketing is really mutually beneficial for the project and the kids. It helps us by having our target audience talk to our target audience and explain what we are trying to do. It also, and I can say this because I have seen this first hand, has really served as an eye opener for a lot of kids who otherwise might not get involved in a project of this nature, and has served as a powerful lesson that they can really help others and influence positive change.
We have also been able to catch the eye of several local papers including the Boston Herald, which has featured a few articles about Labels Are For Jars. Additionally, we have been allowed to participate at a Boston area radio station's (WFNX) Christmas concert, and sell shirts. Hopefully this will be a great event for us because this station is very popular with high school and college aged kids. Our most recent accomplishment has been the ability to order our second batch of shirts.
We need to raise about $1.3 million to build and operate the meal center, so our goal is certainly lofty, but with some hard work I really believe we can make it a reality, and help some very needy people.
Again, thank you so much for your support. If you would like any more details about the project and the accomplishments of the street teams, etc, please check out the "buzz" section on our site, One last thing, when you have a chance to post our link, please send me the address so I can have our web team input the information. We list all of the sites that support us by link, so hopefully you will receive some increased traffic as well.

Thanks again for your support,


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Building Relationships Online

I am in the midst of more than one interesting conversation (see previous post) this week. I'm also participating in iCoheres online conference on Virtual Organizational Development. I was sitting in on a telecon/chat today with Frances Long of KnowPlace, listening with one ear while I multitasked on today's deliverables. Near the end, someone asked about what we thought about relationships built online. My ears perked up.

I think about the relationships I form and nurture online all the time because there are a lot of them and they are significant to me. At the sametime, my non-online friends still look at me with skepticism.

I think you can and we do form significant ongoing relationships with people online, some of whom we may never meet F2F. In someways I think it is easier to develop these relationships than, lets say for example, someone you meet at a F2F conference and with whom you do not have an online interaction.

In online relationships we can build identity and deepen the relationships through a series of smaller, frequent communication interations. For those of us who spend a lot of time online, this fits smoothly and seamlessly into our daily practice. It may be emails, blog comments, discussion boards, IM, or skype. But it is a fabric that gets woven over time and which can be revisited with a few strokes of the keyboard.

For the fantastic people I met at the AI conference in September, I did not have this ongoing, persistent connection. I have emailed them, but alas, not a peep in return. What felt like the start of a new connection has faded and without significant rekindling from one side or the other, it will evaporate and remain one of those one time connections.

Now some of this is clearly an indictment on my habits and practices. No question. And the ease with which I do form online relationships has an obvious downside: volume. What kind of quality can I maintain after a certain threshold. Serious questions.

But the nubbin is that I can and do form serious connections with people online and maintain a larger network of connections than I did before I went online. This is because I can build relationships with frequent, small, iterations of communication that fits into my daily practice. I wish I could have done a social network analysis of my network pre online and now. I'd love to try and see if what I believe is really true.

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Defining Our "Communities"

On Jerry Ash's fine AOK list where there is a two week focus on Joe Cothrel and Jenny Ambrozek's Online Community Survey results, Jenny wrote:
"...a number of researchers are looking at "community" building around blogs. I just noted a related conversation on Denham Gray's blog talking about some of the techniques Lilia Efimova is using to quantify this phenomenom. "

I responded on the list. I also thought it relevant to post here and crosslink to Lilia's and Denham's musings.

The example of this "KM blogging community" is a nice way into this conversation (about the field of online community) -- a concrete case to think about how we define this field moving forward -- how it is evolving into an interesting, complex social environment containing diverse social structures mediated by a fluid set of technologies and processes.

How does Lilia define the community of KM bloggers? Denham asked his readers how they see themselves within that community?

To see (situate?) myself, I have to "see" the KM blogger community in some way. The social environment.
  • Without saying virtual, my assumption is that this is a dispersed community.
  • My assumption is that while the publishing of blogs is one of the boundary definitions of this "community," it may also include readers and “commentors” of KM blogs.
  • As Denham mentioned, back channel (or use of multiple group and private communication vectors) plays a key role in the practice of this community -- very hard to visualize.
  • Because this “thing “ is hard to really visualize, is as much a construction of what I _think_ or perceive it to be as it actually is. (_If you could_ picture it concretely.)
  • If there was a social network analysis of this "community" would it look more like a network that contains communities? The distinction for me is that a network does not have clearly defined membership boundaries and persistent participation by members, but a community does in some sense (not absolute.)
  • I'm sure y'all could add much more. ;-)(And please do!)

Once I figure out “what it is,” then I have to situate myself within it: position, identity, role. Again, this has become far more complex than the early days of online community -- and even more so when we think about how many groups we can now potentially belong to online. I’ll leave my comments on that for a subsequent post . I'm already alarming myself at the length of this post!

What emerges is a complex social structure that may be perceived in diverse ways by the people within it and around it. This ain’t simply a “community,” is it? Bottom line: with the constant evolution of technologies, processes and the ever diverse and numerous types of groups, we have the emergence of complex social structures that contain many of the complexities of F2F social structures PLUS particular elements mediated by the technologies and constantly the blurring lines as the interaction shifts between technologies and online and offline. We are just now trying to figure out how to define these systems, let alone optimize them for specific purposes.

So how can the exploration of this case help us define the elements of the field? What would you say are the key emerging definitions and practices to answer Lilia and Denham’s questions around the “KM Blogger Community?”

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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

OpenTap Home

TappedIn, the vibrant, global online community for k-12 educators, has released its software as an open source application. Fantastic news! If you aren't familiar with TappedIn, pay a visit. Not only is the virtual world they created interesting from a platform perspective, but what makes it sing are the people. Become a member (free) and log on. See how long it takes before someone offers to lend a hand in your orientation.
OpenTap Home: "OpenTap is the open source system that underlies Tapped In, an online community of educational professionals developed by SRI International with funding from the National Science Foundation. It features a geographical metaphor of campuses and buildings with public, group, or personal rooms, integrated communication tools like chat, threaded discussion, and private messaging, and many other features."

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Monday, November 15, 2004

BloggerCon: Mary Hodder Notes on Values Session

I was doing work avoidance (hm, blogging, and reading blogs is now a key work avoidance enabler in my life!) and came across the notes from the recent BloggerCon.

I appreciated the notes Mary Hodder posted on her session on values. This is near and dear to my facilitator's heart. Practices often stem from values. But if we don't talk about the values, the practices often misfire. I also think values has gotten another strange reputation after the US presidential elections, which concerns me. But I'll not drift there right now. I am posting an extensive quote.Summary of Core Values of the Web Session at Bloggercon
We started out with a rule: if you mention your personal value system, that you relate it to the topic at hand, and if you go on too long about it, I might have to redirect the session to the next topic. But I was very lucky to have such a thoughtful, smart group of folks to discuss this issue, and the rule never was invoked.

I read the first couple of the items in a list (at bottom)... folks commented sharing their experiences. Periodically, I would throw out another issue. Many other issues came up from the discussants: online trust, reputation, why we care about transparency. Because people shared different needs they have as they write or read blog posts, it became apparent that different value systems come into play, and we need different levels of transparency. In reaction to some of this, people suggested either legal or technical controls. I feel that controls like this are often heavy-handed and I prefer community moderation, but didn't want to say that. I wanted to see if people would come up with that on their own, and within a half hour of discussing various control scenarios, among other things, and sharing values and the subtleties of face-to-face interaction verses online interaction, people began to express that legal and overbearing technical controls to reduce unsavory behavior felt bad. They wanted to use the community interaction to ferret out bad behavior, discuss it as it comes up, and then moderate it down. And a couple of folks expressed that they feel this currently works in the blogosphere. This is often what I see in online behavior with groups. I watched our discussion take on really interesting issues and decide that trusting the community to moderate behavior, trust and the value of information was better than heavy handed centralized controls.

We also talked about how our social norms might shift as the blogosphere grows, what it means to feel cheated by someone apparently giving their own opinion, after which we find out they are being paid to write. We want disclosure and the chance to evaluate the biases people have. We want more subtle ways to understand bloggers we don't know than simple inbound link counts, and I pointed out that top 100 lists don't mean very much to me. There was a request for a categorization system for blogs similar to DMOZ, so that we can more easily find people talking in smaller communities.

We talked about whether the values we were discussing applied to the whole web, as the title suggests, or what aspects might just apply to the blogosphere. We talked about finding new voices and how power laws might be disrupted. We also noted that with podcasting, there is a need for more than just metadata to search, so that more than just highly linked or known authors can be found based on content and topics, if the author is not known already. We also talked about the internet as a place (metaphor) verses as a delivery system for content that includes the metaphor of shipping reflecting the old analog content system, and why the place metaphor may need more thought and integration into the digital.

We described why anonymity works in some situations, and why it doesn't work in others, and why it's very necessary in some circumstances. We talked about the assumptions we make, based on certain social and informational cues online, and whether these assumptions make sense. We agreed that relationships are very important, and behind them are various kinds of trust about the person and the information, and we need trust, good information and reputation to varying degrees to maintain our online relationships well.

At the end of the session, we made a list of things we value:
Transparency – disclosure
Knowing who people are
Editorial Independence

Things we devalue:
Power law economics
Lack of Attribution
Links for money

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Rebecca MacKinnon: Blogger Corps?

Blogger Corps?:
"At various sessions of Bloggercon III, I opined that we need to think more about how blogging tools and the blogging process can be used by the non-profit and activist community - not only in the U.S. but around the world. This is not merely a matter of blog-evangelizing to the uninitiated. It's also about adapting blog tools and blogging techniques to the needs of people who want to go beyond online conversations to real-world action. For early blog-adopters, blogging was an end in itself. For the activist community, blogging has to be an effective means to a concrete end.

...I suggested that socially conscious members of the blogging community (of all political persuasions) might want to organize a 'Blogger Corps.' Through it, bloggers could donate their time to help poorly funded activists or non-profit groups to figure out what blogging tools are right for them, set up blogs, and develop effective blogging strategies.... what do you think would be the most effective and efficient way to organize a Blogger Corps? Please share your ideas in the 'comments' section."
So what do I think? I think this exists in some ways that I know of, and I presume many that I don't know about. I think about how I was taught by other bloggers via a page set up by the folks at SocialText. I think about the work that goes on in a spate of "ICT for Development" groups.

Do we need a Blogger Corps? Or do we need to continue to do a bit more overtly what already happens: help each other. Post short cuts and tips. Welcome each other. Point people to free resources. Read and comment on new bloggers' blogs as a form of coaching and encouragement.

Working in the NPO/NGO community, I get a bit jaded about yet another group. Maybe we need to simply plug into existing groups? On the flip side, creating a service identity in the blogosphere has value as well.

So yeah, I think the intent is fabulous. I think the practice of helping folks in the NGO/NPO sector is fantastic. (I'm thinking right now of Ethan Zuckerman and BlogAfrica! And the many similar sites which aggregate in the NPO world.) I am conflicted on the format.

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Sunday, November 14, 2004

The Power of the Note Taker

I've always been a note taker at meetings. It started because I was in a lowly support position way back when. I gained skills at agenda creation, note taking and highlighting ACTION items. Then when I became an online creature, my typing speed accelerated to the point where I could take nearly verbatim notes for a different style of reportage. Now note taking is a common practice with colleagues, particularly when working on the phone (which I don't love, but do a lot of these days.) It is a key virtual working skill and practice.

I have always been struck by the power of this position of note taker, and its continued lowely status. Then I saw this from Tom Peters: 100 Ways to Succeed #24: Agenda-NoteTaker-Notes Publisher "Spin" Power!
He/She who writes the Agenda and Summary Doc (innocently called "Meeting Notes") wields ... Incredible Power!

Believe it!

The question is innocent, "What should we cover at the Weekly Review Meeting?" The response is not. The "agenda" is in and of itself a Group "To-Do" list. (More important than any pretentious "strategic plan".) And: A "To-Don't" list. (What's left off ... to the Supreme Annoyance of many Power Players.) Moreover, some stuff will be at the Top ... some at the bottom (and probably won't get covered, or be given short shrift). Hence a "mere" agenda Establishes & Determines the Group Conversation for, say, the week, or even the Quarter. And ... the lovely catch ... concocting the Agenda by soliciting members is typically a "crappy task," unwanted by one and (almost) all.

My message: GRAB IT! (And chortle as you do.)

Of at least as much importance is the grubby-demeaning "Notetaker" (and Publisher thereof) task. Talk about ... UNVARNISHED POWER! Everybody is so damn busy preening, interrupting, bullheadedly pushing their pet peeve, etc ... that they seldom hear what actually goes on. Only the meek & quiet Notetaker knows the story; and long after the participants have washed the memory of the meeting clean from their crowded lives, the Notetaker's Summary comes along explaining what transpired ... Carefully Edited.

You get my drift, I presume. The "powerless" soul who agrees to "develop the agenda," "take the notes," and "publish the notes" ... may just be the ... TRUE POWER PLAYER!

(I believe this so strongly and fear it so greatly that I religiously publish my own version of notes, in summary form (never more than 4 or 5 lines), within minutes of the end of a meeting—just to try and co-opt the damned notetaker. I call it ... Spin!)
Yup, the note taker is a powerplayer. If you work or facilitate online groups, this is a key issue. Take note!

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Useradio (and I still haven't dipped my toe in)

I continue to have a fascination from afar with web and audio. Work overload is clearly a barrier for me. I have not even dipped in a toe, let alone dived in. But I'm fascinated what people are doing. Here is another one...

August Black:Userradio:
"Userradio mixes the new technologies of personal communication with ``old'' broadcast radio technology. It is a set of tools for collaborative networked audio production, where an unlimited number of individuals can mix multiple channels of audio simultaneously and together from anywhere on-line using a standard flash-capable browser. The audio output of the application is broadcast on terrestrial FM radio and the users are ideally within the broadcast diameter."

[via Robin Good]

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Saturday, November 13, 2004

Learning in Small Businesses

Worth a look: Learning without lessons: supporting learning in small businesses
"This report presents the main findings, conclusions and recommendations from a study of informal and unstructured learning in small firms. The research found a wide range of formal and informal learning of different types taking place in the firms participating in the study. Many interviewees talked about the value of prior experience equipping them to do their jobs and the phrases ‘trial and error’ and ’learning by mistakes’ were mentioned frequently. There was also a preference for individual coaching and mentoring, rather than for more structured learning leading to national qualifications." LSDA (Learning & Skills Development Agency), October 2004

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Friday, November 12, 2004


This thing about global and local wakes me up at night. The contradictions created by our ability to connect with anyone on an internet connection across the world and yet forget our local 'hood always strikes me as some sort of societal indicator. Now we have more and more work done to help us connect electronically with our neighbors. I love it and at the same time am a bit repulsed. Am I hiding from my own addiction?

Neighbornode Explained: "Why Neighbornode:
Neigbornode was developed because the Internet, while really good at connecting people half-way around the world, is really bad at connecting people who live across the street from each other (or a block from each other, or two blocks from each other). This can be liberating on one hand, but there are still lots of advantages to be gained by sharing information locally and opening lines of communication with others in your immediate area. The Internet for the most part has not cashed in on these advantages. Neighbornode addresses this issue by creating spaces for people in the same area to communicate easily with one another via the Internet, and by then building these separate spaces into a network, so that information can travel between locales as residents of those areas see fit. In this way, Neighbornode bridges the gap between the Internet and the neighborhood. "

[via Robin Good]

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Report on the Use of Computer and Video Games for Learning

The use of computer and video games for learning. Ultralab has released this report by Alice Mitchell and Carol Savill-Smith which looks interesting and I'll confess, I haven't read. Oi. It is part of the EU M-Learning project (previously blogged here!)
"This research report is the result of a literature review conducted by Ultralab and the Learning and Skills Development Agency (LSDA) during the m-learning project. The main focus is on research involving the use of computer and video games for learning. The motivation for this review was to investigate the potential of games-oriented learning materials and systems and to inform the project’s research activities. The report highlights many interesting pedagogic and technical issues and is, therefore, a useful reference for teachers, trainers, developers, researchers and others with an interest in the use of computer and video games for learning."

[Via e_Learning Center]

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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Marc Prensky's Latest on Simulations

Check out the useful and clear article on simulations by Games-for-learning-meister Marc Presnky: "Interactive Pretending -- An Overview of Simulation ". Direct link to the .pdf.

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Jay Rosen's notes on BloggerCon III

I had the pleasure of interacting with Jay back in 96-97 on Electric Minds and have enjoyed following his writing over the years. So I peeked in on his review of PressThink: BloggerCon III: Notes and Observations on the People of Moore's Law. This gem stuck out for me:
"When there's a Slashdot for knitting, the techies--who don't knit--will have succeeded."
Now there is a lot of other cool stuff in his article -- I encourage you to read it -- but this rang a very important bell about the second wave - a group of people I fear we constantly forget. And it goes to the heart of the point Jay is making about the potential of blogging in areas such as journalism.

In Ghana last month we talked about the power of many people having effective voices online -- not just the early adopter alpha-geeks -- in the development of communities and countries in Africa. Can it influence HIV/AIDS policies? Elections? Development policies?

I don't know that I can say yes - I'm not smart enough nor can I predict the future. But I do know that not trying is stupid. And that the engagement, the mass deployment, has to be beyond early adopters.

So I'd like to offer a corollary: "When there's a Slashdot for for the village farmer to talk about improving yields, the techies--who don't farm--will have succeeded."

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Wired News: Online Feuds a Big Headache

Wired News: Online Feuds a Big Headache: "For Linden Lab, the dispute, and an increasing number like it, poses a significant problem. The company has no formal dispute resolution system in place and it's growing at a rate of 20 percent a month. If it doesn't come up with a well thought-out solution soon, it may find itself overwhelmed by a flood of users asking it to resolve their player-to-player problems."

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40% of Americans Participate in "Online Community"

Study: Want Community? Go Online:
"Nearly 40 percent of Americans say they participate in online communities, with sites around hobbies, shared personal interests, and health-related issues among the most popular. That's according to a survey conducted by ACNielsen and commissioned by eBay."

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Seb's Open Research - Guide to English Idioms

Having worked in a plethora of languages the last 8 weeks, this site was a welcome gift via Seb: English Idioms - Sayings and Slang, explained :
"The English language is full of expressions that don't make sense when taken literally. This guide, 'English Idioms - Sayings and Slang', by Wayne Magnuson, is thus very handy for the non-native speakers among us who have been wondering what they mean. Also good for lollygagging. :-)"
Now, can I use the fact that English is my first language for when I don't make sense? Or do I have to really be accountable!

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Joho the Blog: Democratic Stages of Grief Advisory System

David does it again. Joho the Blog: Democratic Stages of Grief Advisory System. Personally I live in the blue zone. Even on the good days. Well, on good days I live in red and blue. Does that make my in a purple zone? ;-)

Hm, I think I need to keep my chocolate and my politics apart. Now, back to our irregularly scheduled blog posts!

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International Journal of Web Based Communities (IJWBC) - 1 - 1

So many journals, so little time. Here's a new one!International Journal of Web Based Communities (IJWBC) - 1 - 1
IJWBC aims at bringing together new vital understanding of WWW communities and what new initiatives mean. Each new perspective is potentially a catalyst for finding new architectures. National and regionally-oriented communities may soon be relegated to a subordinate position compared to interest-oriented communities. Multiculturalism, critical thinking, expressing aesthetic aspects of our identity, and finding sparring partners for sharpening our ideologies, are all processes that need the new communication infrastructures.

The targeted audience are scientists and members and moderators of WWW communities who feel responsible for optimising their quality and effect.

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Oi, I'm on the Phone

It seems that more and more I'm doing phone work in addition to facilitating group processes online. So finding good pointers around group telephone work is helpful. Here is what I wrote a while back and a piece from Jonathan Finkelstein on sheduling synchronous events with online groups.

Here's another phone one from Coachamatic: Teleclass Etiquette .

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Monday, November 08, 2004

An Interesting Comment on ELearning

Saw this a while back and found it intriguing. The Dreaded “Sage on the Stage” Comes Back -- In the Discussion Boards!
...I'll try to explain why I prefer not to use discussion forum myself after having study it intensively 20- years ago...

To explain why I come to this conclusion, let us look at some characteristics of discussion forum first. Please note that these characteristics can be used both positively and negatively - just like most technology, the value is dependent on the utility.
  • Discussion forum is a "cold" media. The communication bandwidth is thin. You cannot transit body language which comprises of 70% of message if we are in face to face situation.
  • Discussion are permanent. Every word we enter into the discussion forum is stored and can come back to "attack" us.
  • While there are studies showing that discussion forum can liberate "shy" students, unfortunately, these studies do not look at how discussion forum also "intimidate" online users.
  • Like any traditional learning spaces, in the discussion forum, the moderator (professor) has huge power over the students.
  • If you are a working adult who happens also take an online course, you trend to attend this discussion forum not at the best of your ability. It may be late at night when all the children have gone to bed, or ...
  • Not all professors are skilled in leading online discussion forum
So, what I would recommend today? Surprise! surprise! Online role play simulation! While the media is cold and discussion are permanent, these encourages rational thinking and careful planning. The simulation space reflects the social structure of the persona, not the social structure of a learning institute verse the learners. The professor really has no role in the role play unless s/he is also playing a persona. In that case, s/he is just another persona - and usually, the players do know such persona is actually played by the professor.

Moderating a discussion forum is a tough job - so is moderating a role play. The difference is that moderating a role play is like playing - time just fly. How many times you have when you mark assignments that you will be laughing all the way throughout the marking process? In role play, that is the norm.

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Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Woolly Mammoth? Limping Gazelle? Vulnerable Communities of Practice

In my post-election haze, the metaphors here are almost psychedelic! Maybe I'm over-compensating with carbs and chocolate...
E-Learning Queen: Woolly Mammoth? Limping Gazelle? Vulnerable Communities of Practice:
"Without good distributed communities of practice, even the best e-learning program can degenerate as ID's, SME's, IT, instructors, and support services speak 'at' each other or ignore each other altogether; policies and practices are mired down in the past; and the institution feels itself being chewed upon by the competition. Granted, communities of practice in a distributed environment have a different look and feel than those that are forged in small groups in face-to-face settings. Nevertheless, they are vital if ongoing e-learning products and programs are to be developed, nurtured, and sustained. The main pillars of success -- communication, reasonable and well-coordinated change, relevant tasks and outcomes, shared vision and mission, needs-responsive and ever-evolving instructional and developmental strategies -- will collapse.
As someone supporting/coaching/facilitating distributed CoPs, it ain't easy. I'm curious if any readers have any key lessons on distributed Cops. Comment?

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Two Stories about Mobile Phones and Rural Kenyans

Bev pointed to another mobile phone story: global: ICTs Impact In Developing Nations:
"Against all predictions for the Kenyan telecommunications sector it is clear that mobile telephony has become an absolute necessity to all including the ordinary rural villager. For the mobile telephony to have real impact it is important that the basic instructions be extended to cover indigenous languages."
Bev also has a post in her blog about Barack Obama's Kenyan grandmother. Like Bev, it's folks like Obama that give me some hope today here in the US. :-(

[via Bev Trayner]

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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Poynter Online - Fifty Writing Tools

I should read this site. Early and often. Poynter Online - Fifty Writing Tools:
"At times, it helps to think of writing as carpentry. That way, writers and editors can work from a plan and use tools stored on their workbench. You can borrow a writing tool at any time. And here's a secret: Unlike hammers, chisels, and rakes, writing tools never have to be returned. They can be cleaned, sharpened, and passed on.

Each week, for the next 50, I will describe a writing tool that has been useful to me. I have borrowed these tools from writers and editors, from authors of books on writing, and from teachers and writing coaches."
See all the cool things I find when I start cruising Furl? I think I'm getting my blog rhythm back!

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Robs Blog: Gmail Tools & Plugins

I was giving away gmail accounts when I was in Ghana -- where people who check email only weekly at an internet cafe keep going over their Hotmail account allowances. We started looking at gmail together as a tool for community organizing and immediately folks started asking me about options. I wish I had this page handy at the time (they are getting an email alert tonight!) Robs Blog: Gmail Tools & Plugins:
"Plugins and tools to make Gmail easier to use are starting to pop up on the web, here are the ones I've found so far:"
Thanks, Rob!

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M-Learning with Disadvantaged Kids

One more via Stephen (I'm still not caught up on my blog reading so diversity is slim) that builds on the last thread on podcasting. Again, what I see in Africa is the skillful and flexible application of mobile phones for a variety of communication needs. I've been harping on the opportunity for a while with a few organizations to little effect, so I was pleased to see this report of a pan-European project. It appears on Australias fine LearnScope site.
"We also learned that, just as the best e-learning is designed to be electronically delivered and supported, m-learning should not be e-learning squashed on to smaller screens.

We found most of our target audience enjoyed collaborative learning but some learners also appreciated the opportunity to work on their literacy skills in private whenever and wherever was most convenient to them. The learners learned from and supported each other but also required a lot of mentor support and encouragement and a formal, structured and supervised introductory session resulted in a more successful learner experience. However, mentors require training and support to ensure that they are confident and competent users of mobile technologies and therefore able to adequately support the learners."

I've seen tutors support predominantly web-based elearning with mobile phones, but there was no intentional design or integration. This one comes purely from the mobile phone direction. What are the integration opportunities? (I'd also note the role of mentors in this project -- facilitation, as it were!)

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What is podcasting? And what does it have to do with development?

I was talking to some colleagues in Ghana last week about blending technologies to reach an audience that has a range of internet access --> from zero to always on. I mentioned podcasting and they looked at me as if I were crazy until we started talking about how it might blend with community radio, which is a powerful force in some African countries (See Ethan Zuckerman's recent posts on this. Also his notes from PopTech)

Then today via Stephen Downes I found Edupodder and Steve Sloan's concise definition What is podcasting?:
"If you know how a desktop aggregator like NetNewsWire works, you know you subscribe to a set of RSS feeds. Using the aggregator you easily view the new stuff from all the feeds you have subscribed to together, or can see each feed separately. The format used is RSS 2.0 which supports enclosures.

Podcasting works in a similar way. Except, instead of having to read the new content on a computer screen, you can listen to the new audio content on a portable device like an iPod as well as your computer.

Using this technology is like giving your iPod a set of subscriptions that are checked regularly for updates. Today there are a limited number of programs available this way.

It has been described as being like underground radio. Except this broadcasting technology is becoming available to everyday users. It does for time based content, like audio and potentially video what the web did for text publishing. It is the audio version of a blog!

I believe the implications of this for education are astounding and are just now being recognized.
I think the implications go far beyond education, Steve! Think of an HIV prevention program that streams interesting (read: fun, hip, culturally relevant) materials, maybe in the form of music, to an internet cafe where some clever teen sets up a way to download it to not one, but many digital music devices. These then spread out around town, out to villages. Kids swap their files, collect the songs. Local radios upload and play the pieces. All of a sudden one internet connection is the source for content that spreads (dare I say virally?) across the community for HIV prevention.

What about when the kids start creating their own digital recordings? What about when it gets political, but VERY hard to control in cultures where control has repressed change?

Blue sky? Sure, I'm good at that. But I think there is more than blue sky in the picture.

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Smells like reciprocity to me...

Jeremy Zawodny: writes
"The PC is no longer the only battleground. The Internet is the new medium and it has the effect of leveling the playing field. While this isn't a new insight, let me say it in two specific ways:

1. The web enables infinite distribution of content without any special effort or infrastructure.
2. The web extends the reach of our apps and services as far as we're willing to let them go.

Both notions come back to ubiquity. If your stuff (and your brand) is everywhere, you win. The money will follow. It always does.

The closer to everywhere you can reach, the better off you'll be.
Where is everywhere?

The notion of everywhere has changed too. It's not just about every desktop anymore. It's about every Internet-enabled device: cell phone, desktop, laptop, tablet, palmtop, PDA, Tivo, set-top box, game console, and so on.

Everywhere also includes being on web sites you've never seen and in media that you may not yet understand.
What to do?

So how does a company take advantage of these properties? There are three pieces to the puzzle as I see it:

1. do something useful really really well
2. put the user in control by allowing access to your data and services in an easy and unrestricted way
3. share the wealth

It sounds simple, doesn't it? Unfortunately, there are very few companies who get it. Doing so requires a someone with real vision and the courage to make some very big leaps of faith. Those are rare in today's corporate leadership. Startups are more likely to have what it takes, partly because they have less to lose."

Jeremy goes on to give advice for the business sector, but I think it is worthwhile to suggest how this applies to the non-profit/NGO sector. This is particularly relevant because not only do NGOs compete for funds, but they compete for mindshare. What if the "business model" was to compete for providing something useful, really well, which is controlled by the user and shares the wealth? Radical departure? What if organizations were rewarded (by getting funding) by exhibiting these charactaristics? Just imagine the face of social change, environmentalism, and promotion of peace.

[via Stephen Downes]

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The Platform as Locus of Power and Control

James Farmer shares a painful, personal story in his blogincorporated subversion. His employer (an explicitly unnamed university -- and he has requested the name not be made public) has tried to silence his work and promotion of online collaboration tools that aren't sanctioned by the university.
Last Tuesday I received a memorandum from a manager cc’d by am exec. director instructing me to cease supporting and promoting weblogging, wikis or any other technology not officially supported by the University. The basic reason given being that I have, anecdotally, not used the CMS (this isn’t true, I always use it) and that ‘commentary’ on the issue of CMSs (quoted I think from this blog or another I set up for a course) is unacceptable. A set-up for disciplinary action should I not follow instructions.
I've seen this pattern before with NGOs. A commercial interest provides a platform for free or cheap and then, regardless of the suitability of the application or the value of exploration of other tools, people get shut down.

Since when does a platform become a locus of control? All the time. Think of operating systems, internal email systems. There are reasons to standardize within an organization, but when does that stifle learning, innovation and positive change? All the time.

Power manifests in interesting ways. Even in our tools.

James, I hope the university sees the light. If not, I hope some other place snaps you up.

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Monday, November 01, 2004

Grassy Hill Radio - Streaming Web Folkie Station

Grassy Hill Radio is a thing of beauty. Commercial free folk radio with a super simple website that shows you who is "now playing" and the last four songs. Simple. And what is even more shocking, they don't want you to send money!!!

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The Pause that Represses

Here is is, November 1st. October saw me working too hard, getting a bad cold and spending 16 days overseas. I'm still jet lagged 6 days later. But the lag is exacerbated by a blogreader chock-full of unread entries, of a backlog of unedited snippets for blog posts.

The pause might be refreshing for some, but it is more like depressing for me. And my blogging spirit is repressed. I have to find my footing again. And there is a lot to blog about.

Work in Lisbon and Accra continues to open my eyes, teach me and see potential fulfilled and stilled. The election tomorrow (which has be a bit more repressed/depressed -- I must tap into my inner optimist a bit more today.)

I've read about 50-60 blog posts this morning, trying to find a pattern or a point of synthesis to get me started. Inch by inch...

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