Creating, effectiveness, Howard Rheingold, Learning, Reflection, Technology

What Works – and What Doesn’t

I sat in a meeting yesterday and heard an interesting presentation from a person who is trying to build a new church community in a suburb – without a building, and the hope that a gathered community would have enough strength to move toward one some time in the future.  His target audience is families with young children – people quite like himself – and he is trying to do this by meeting the people where he knows they are – probably on public transport where they spend large portions of their lives. Because he also has a technology background he has created an app to make contact with them.  He calls the app, “Redeem the Commute”.  His target group is also described as “unchurched” – in other words, those who have no experience of or context for the kind of community that he is trying to create.

It’s a new way to try to combine local with global – and what was engaging was the honesty of his reporting.  How many of us get real about how things work – or don’t.  – in the worlds of social media and mobile apps.

His idea was to offer online mini- courses – parenting, marriage preparation and relgion 101.  I immediately found myself questioning the first one here – did he have the necessary credentials to offer a course on parenting – especially as a new parent himself?  While I have decades of parenting experience I’d be inclined to recognize my views as opinion rather than credentials.  Marriage prep and Religion 101 were fine. These are churchy things and related to the business he is in.  There were hopes that participants would group themselves around topics and form discussion groups.  There were also invitations to come to real meetings in a real location  Here are some of the things that happened.

Clear measurements took place over a 60 day period. There were a fair number of downloads of the app and quite a few visits to the website. But there was very little interest in the parenting or marriage course; there was better response to religion 101. The online communities never formed.  There were a very small number of visits to the local website.  Turning up for local events was sparse. Some local initiatives worked so much better.  An outdoor movie night attracted 400.  A Christmas party brought out 40 parents and children.

What do these things say to any of us who write for blogs or websites or posts for social media? We may be fooling ourselves quite a  lot of the time.  I had the same experience writing for a local community grouping in downtown Toronto over a three year period.  There were interested subscribers from all over the world – even a reporter from the Washington Post checked in – but local interest was sparse at best.

My Facebook friends are people whom I would recognize if I met them on the street – and some of them live a plane ride away – but the truth is we have common contexts for being digital acquaintances – and let’s face it, we are not all friends in a real sense but more often colleagues, classmates, and acquaintances.  It’s extremely difficult to develop relationships unless people have something of substance  in common – and what the targeted group had in common here was actually defined – no knowledge of the enterprise that was trying to recruit them. Social media is now based on the economic hope that what we “like” will be adopted by our “friends”.  Such friendship will come at a price and it doesn’t really build human bonding.

What did work was what the movie and Christmas party have in common.  They were local events where real people could actually meet and interact with other people.  When I think back to Howard Rheingold’s lovely book, The Virtual Community, Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier”, which I first read in the early 90’s, I realize how much things have changed.  Local combined with digital was possible then – to have a local community like the Bay area “Well” where people could meet online and share theirv real life experience.  But they also shared the context of San Francisco.  What there is to share in the sense of a new suburban commiunity is a a bit hard to say. There often is no sense of history or common experience and sometimes even landmarks are hard to spot.  Apps, on the other hand, are almost by definition, global.

So this honest presentation raised far more questions for me than it answered.  The presenter suggested that he might go in an app direction or a local relationship building direction or possibly a combination.  What did seem necessary was to make a choice – because the strengths and limitations of both were clear.  And I found myself leaning toward building relationships.


effectiveness, HBDI, Howard Rheingold, Learning, Reflection

Being Net Smart Matters

After reading Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart and how it recommends smart thinking, I created this slide show.  You can access it on Slideshare too and copy it if you wish.  Howard’s latest book has a wealth of good advice including some caution.  And you can find out more about the HBDI ® in the menu above.

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Learning, media, Reflection

My media life – so far

adventRecently I came across a TED talk by Howard Rheingold, which reminded me of how much I enjoyed his book, The Virtual Community, which was published in 1993. At that time, well before the crash, it seemed to epitomize everything positive about life on the Net. I noticed that Howard seemed older in the TED talk, and it brought home that of course, I was too.  What had he written recently?   It was easy now to Google and download his newest, Net Smart, How to Thrive Online, in the digital version to the I-pad.

This book has evolved from his current gig of lecturing students on the joys and perils of new media and it immediately inspired me to learn more about Web 2.0 social media that I have enrolled in, as I will do compulsively – like Twitter and Tumblr – without really fully understanding their usability and advantage . That’s one of the aims of the coming year.  A little early for New Year’s Resolutions, you say.  Well, I am using that traditional season of the Church Year, Advent, when my grandchildren compete with others in my parish church to light the first candle in a wreath.  It’s a somewhat more authentic version than the chocolate filled calendars that they sometimes have at home.  I notice that Lego is heavily marketing its own version in all the online stores this year.

And I look back at the previous paragraph and see how much the virtual community has changed since the publication of The Virtual Community.  In his new book, Rheingold reviews something of his history of involvement with the media.  So here’s mine in the coming days.