What does the Internet look like?
I've been trying to organize and clean up I don't know how many gigs of information, some dating back to 1992, the year I started working online full-time. My first online community builder/facilitator job was with Arts Wire, an online network for artists, that used a unix-based, text-based online discussion software. I facilitated online forums, provided technical support the 500 members, and training.
Arts Wire, a project of NYFA, was originally intended to be a place for artists from all over the country to meet, exchange ideas, and talk about their work via the Internet. As the Internet changed dramatically with the launch of the Web, the content of my work did too -- although the themes and concepts remained the same. While in the early early 1990's I was helping people figure out which dipswitches on their modem to push or write and send email using PINE, this later morphed into helping people learn how to build web pages or develop web literacy skills. And, now mid-2000 this has changed again ... into gaining web social (networking) skills.
The drawing is from one of the many, many technology training workshops I did in those early web1.0 and web .0 days .... somewhere around 1996 or 1997. I always started with a creative icebreaker activity -- this one was "What does the Internet look like?" While many of the drawings were abstract, the showing connected people presages the social web.
What sent me on a trip down memory lane was this excellent post by David Wilcox describing a new role for an online facilitator using social networking and media tools.
It occurs to me that I should try calling myself a social reporter; it feels more comfortable for this purpose than knowledge activist or technology steward.
I like the role/label and think David is spot on. I'm having a little bit of trouble with the word "reporter" - perhaps a play on citizen journalism? Is an online facilitator of people using social networkings -- are they a passive observer or an instigator? Is "reporter" the right role?
I used to think a lot of what my role and use different labels. Here's a few I played with from 1992-2002 during my time working with NYFA/Arts Wire.
- Electronic Bulletin Board Sysop
- Onlne Facilitator
- Online Community Builder
- Web Manager
- Web Goddess
- Digital Creative Thinker
- Information designer
- Electronic Preservationist
- Situated Trainer & Learner
- Nonprofit Technologist
As I found this list, I realized I'm adding something to the label Nonprofit Technologist. I'm not sure quite what. It goes beyond blogger and tagger. Citizen instructional mediamaker? Social media coach? Who knows ...
Now matter what we call it - social reporter or something else, what are the skills and competencies to be one? How are they different from web1.0 online facilitator? And just as I write that sentence, I check David's blog and find that being GMT, he's already evolved his thinking along with other colleagues. Let's catch up ..
David is thinking about this role in the context of using wikis, blogs, flickr and other tools for capturing knowledge for conferences, a thread we obsessed on collectively last month. The Perfect Path blog muses about the social reporter role and rich records:
We have agreement that it's a "good thing" or at least a "nice thing" to have a richer record of a days proceedings and that blogs and wikis are a good way of producing that. What I agree we haven't done yet is get to the point where we're able to weave everything together to make it useful enough to participants that they want to do more than view the record.
But maybe that's not our responsibility...yet. I see a risk that we're pushing people too fast along a learning curve that we've taken a while to go along ourselves .... Maybe we should just let this aspect sink in for a little bit - if they want to interact as well, then that's fantastic and we should be ready for it when it happens, but in the meantime, perhaps we could be honing our reporting skills in this new environment.
Especially if we are also introducing more social aspects to the event, breaking down the distinction between presenter and audience - novelty fatigue might set in - I have to remember that not everyone gets bored as easily as I do!
Here's David response:
If the ethos of the social reporter is to promote collaboration by standing on the side of the user/reader/viewer and helping them to contribute, we have to take this very seriously. Evangelising - come on in, it's wonderful - doesn't work any better than warnings - you'll be left behind if you don't.
Part of the answer is being clear about the purpose ... what real benefit will tech-supported collaboration bring - and aware of the prevailing culture which may not be receptive. I think it is also about respecting people's preferences. That's partly about personality, and partly about offering a choice of audio, video, text and so on.
All that means that social reporting, to be successful, requires a pretty full set of skills and tools. As Lloyd says, instead of pushing too hard we could be honing our reporting skills in this new environment. If we can't get the gigs, maybe we need some simulated rehearsing ... a sort of emerging social reporting conference, where we all practise on some willing non-tech participants. Any sponsors up for that?
Hmm .. yes, the tools are easy, but skills probably take some time to develop and hone. One skill is the ability to think through your fingers quickly - the ability to listen, photograph, record, and process it in a way that isn't simply the vacuum approach. And, you have a high degree of comfort with the tools .. so you don't even have to think about it as you are capturing.
Last week or the weekend before I was at a conference, with wireless and live blogging and vlogging. I've noticed now that I'm using the digital camera, the microphone, and text all together -- like a drum set. And that has taken some time to master -- just practicing.