Full circle conversations

I had to explain to journalism students how to use social media (I only had one hour!). Call me old-fashioned, but I still believe the first stage is organizing your thoughts and listening. After that participate actively in conversations but don’t just broadcast your messages. So the sequence could be like this:

  • Organise your thoughts using mindmapping. There are lots of tools, I like to use MindMeister. The added benefit is that, in a later stage, you can turn your mindmap into a collaborative map, asking others to help you. There are free alternatives for online mindmapping but they won’t all allow for collaborative mindmapping.
  •  Head over to social media such as Twitter and Facebook to listen. Organize relevant people in Twitter lists, search for hashtags. Other interesting places for in-depth discussions are Reddit and Quora, and for each subject you’ll find specialized forums.
  • Use a good dashboard such as Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to keep stuff organized.
  • I still use RSS-feeds and RSS-readers, in my case that’s Feedly.
  • Make your own procedure for hunting and gathering important content. You can stock posts into Feedly and in social bookmark services such as Diigo. I use Diigo a lot, it makes it easy to use tags, descriptions and to work in groups.
  • Have your own blog, but don’t underestimate the technical hassle. An easy solution might be Tumblr or Medium. Or you could go for a fully hosted WordPress or Drupal solution.
  • Of course you also need social media to talk about your blog posts and to discuss with others. Don’t hesitate giving others credit for their posts and contributions and engage in real conversations, not in thin excuses to promote yourself.
  • This is where the circle closes itself: you return to the social media to tell people about your post and to reconnect. You can use the feedback to develop your mindmap even further and then you can publish the mindmap as a collaborative document where others can add their own thoughts. Maybe this will inspire you for a new post and a new cycle.
  • Chances are that you can invite people to form a small community on Slack, where you can work together – exchange bookmarks, organize channels for different aspects of the subject the community is interested in. A videoconferencing tool such as Zoom enables you to engage with that community into a weekly of monthly meeting. Or you can invite experts for short presentations and experiment with realtime collaborative mindmapping.

Social media in this classical sense costs time and effort (which I myself lack for the moment). A lot can be said about strategy – I recommended the students to focus on well-defined subjects. Specialized subjects and real-time communication also help to avoid the kind of brutal and rude social media fights one witnesses every single moment these days.

Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: The WELL

In our first blog about other venues where people discuss virtual worlds, we talked about Quora. While Quora is very new, The WELL is almost ancient:

The WELL is a cherished and acclaimed destination for conversation and discussion. It is widely known as the primordial ooze where the online community movement was born — where Howard Rheingold first coined the term “virtual community.” Since long before the public Internet was unleashed, it has quietly captivated some accomplished and imaginative people. Over the last two and a half decades, it’s been described as “the world’s most influential online community” in a Wired Magazine cover story, and ” the Park Place of email addresses” by John Perry Barlow. It’s won Dvorak and Webby Awards, inspired songs and novels, and almost invisibly influences modern culture.

In 2010, this social site celebrates its 25th birthday online. A wide variety of topics are being discussed in ‘conferences’. The ‘Virtual Communities’ conference has among its topics ‘Second Life: The World-Building MMOG’, but I don’t think there is a topic ‘blue mars’ or ‘opensim’ (search did not yield results).

The conversations are very instructive and friendly. Just like for the Quora discussions people are supposed to use their real names. There are moderators, ‘conference hosts’. However, there are also major differences between the two services.

Those differences boil down to this: The Well wants to be a walled garden. As they explain themselves: “Membership is not for everyone, partly because we are non-anonymous here.” One cannot vote a question or an answer up or down. There are no ‘follow’ buttons next to the names of the participants. In fact, you own your own words, meaning that you are responsible for them but also that others cannot simply copy paste them outside The WELL. Before quoting or even mentioning that another person is a member, one should ask that other person whether she agrees.

Another major aspect of the “walled garden”: membership is not free.

There are about 3.000 members now, and to be honest, I don’t think the community, owned by Salon.com, can boast tremendous growth figures.

In fact, The WELL is rather fascinating. Because of its history but also because of this non-viral approach of a members only gathering. Whether it will be able to survive, faced with competition such as Quora, is another matter. Quora uses real identities, but provides connections with Twitter and Facebook, is free, and for now manages to maintain good quality using a voting system. The WELL however is a bunch of micro-communities (around the conferences) where more intimate relationships can develop.

Sterling and Lebkowsky

conference page the well
To be fair, The WELL is not completely a walled garden. Non-members can for instance join the ‘Inkwell: Authors and Artists’ conference. Author Bruce Sterling and internet&cyberculture expert Jon Lebkowsky discuss this week State of the World 2011.

The organizers even run a wild experiment: a Facebook event page for feedback (great discussion there) and the ever cunning Lebkwoski announced on that page a Twitter hashtag (#sotw2011)!

Talking about virtual worlds outside virtual worlds: Quora

One of the impressive things about virtual worlds are the communities which create not only those worlds, but also a social media ecosystem around the actual virtual environments. This is a first post in a series about those “other places” where we meet. Instead of starting out with the usual suspects such as Plurk or Twitter, I start with a relatively new venue, Quora.

virtual worlds page on quora

Quora is an “online knowledge market“, made available to the public on June 21, 2010. At first I was not too interested, but a post by Mark Suster on Business Insider SAI made me give it a try. Suster’s post really helps to “get it”.

Before asking a question or launching a topic, it’s a good idea to search for it: chances are that someone already asked that very same question. It’s a bit tricky to find the search box: in fact, you’ve to start typing in the “add question” box and that generates a list of relevant topics.

Doing this for Virtual Worlds results in some interesting questions and answers. There is the inevitable “What is the future of virtual worlds like Second Life, IMVU?” James Corbett, co-founder of Daynuv answered:

The future of ‘Second Life’, or rather the vision of its founders, lies more with it’s opensource successor Opensimulator than the proprietary Lined Lab platform. Opensim has made huge strides forward in 2010 and with support for the new version of the Hypergrid protocol is poised to become the Apache of the federated 3D web.

It’s important to understand that a major stumbling block in the growth of 3D virtual worlds has heretofore been the limitation of 2D peripherals designed for 3D GUIs – keyboard & mouse. The Nintendo Wii-mote pointed the way ahead but now the Microsoft Kinect has primed a major leap forward which will turn 2011 into a breakout year for virtual worlds. (…)

An as yet unanswered question asked “how can we trigger avatar gestures in Opensim / Second Life using #OpenKinect hacks?”

Another question is about guilds in World of Warcraft and whether there are larger political units there. I learned from Chris Hollander, senior Microsoft consultant, that there are caps introduced in Cataclysm and that there is considerable debate about how to reorganize guilds.

In the Second Life topic on Quora you’ll find discussions about property prices, the profitability of Second Life, whether Second Life should adapt a redistributive and socialist tax policy etc.

My first impression: Quora is still young and it takes some time to actually “get it”, but the quality of the discussions is good and the design seems to be very clever. The whole idea of Q&A forums is not new of course, but it’s one of the most effective ways to incite people to engage themselves in online communities.