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December 16, 2008

Using a personal voice

When addressing a group that is unaware of its membership (a blog, a BCC, a mailing list), it is often best to use a personal voice and address the group as if it were an individual. Avoid phrases like “all of you”, “sorry for the mass mailing”, or “some of you may know”. These phrases tend to distance the recipient from the message, and make it harder to convey emotional content.

On the other hand, do not try to intentionally trick recipients into thinking that the message was only sent to them and no one else. In some cases (blogs, message boards) the platform itself will make that obvious. In other cases (BCCs, mailing lists) use subject lines and headers to hint at the one-to-many nature of the message.

Reply one to one to follow up conversation to the extent that is possible, even if the reply is brief. Extend the personal voice to these conversations as well. Avoid referring to other people's responses with phrases like “You are the tenth person to say that”.

This sort of language breaks the promise of the personal voice.

"Nostalgia isn't what it used to be" :: lybwnbc

"Addiction is the triumph of rhythm over life" :: lybwnbc

December 17, 2008

Addressing a Community or its Members: Levels of Communication

There are four main levels on which a central persona can communicate with a community or a subset of its members.

Broadcast Level

Generally this is top level, one-to-many communication around which the community is naturally organized. The broadcast level often consists of a blog, TV show, video blog, a welcome message, announcements, mailer, or a splash page.

The broadcast level is the primary place where a central persona expresses opinions and shares information. It is also where a central persona can reflect a simplified image of the community back upon itself.

Structural Level

The structural level includes the organization, format, rule sets, design and layout of anything within the boundaries of the community. Changing any of these elements can be considered communicating on the structural level.

Communication on the structural level can be used to:

:: signal new opportunities for community activity (opening a “current events” forum, adding voting, comments, etc..)
:: alter the framework of community identity (creation of sub groups, rankings, private areas)
:: accommodate wide spread requests or complaints
:: co-opt rogue sub groups (creation of new labels/ status to accommodate the group)
:: intervene in a crisis situation with a small group of members (changing status, modifying avatars, banning)

Structural communication is the most direct display of power available to a central persona... e.g. “Playing God".

Community Level

The community level includes all the tools that the community uses to communicate: threads, comments, reviews, gallery uploads, response videos. A central persona should avoid communicating at this level if it is possible to use a structural approach. For example it is better to append an existing comment/thread with a remark than it is to post a new/separate comment under the moniker of the central persona. In my opinion the central persona is not a member of the community, but rather is part of the structure of the community.

Personal Level

The personal level includes any direct communication with a member or small group of members that is not visible to the rest of the community. This is best used as a means to organize high level community members, or to reach out to valued community members in times of crisis. A central persona should avoid using any personal level communication beyond valued/trusted members.

December 19, 2008

Central personae vs. algorithm

Virtual communities are often bound by a platform: some sort of place where the community is represented. This is not to say that every platform is a community, or that every virtual community must be represented in specific place. But technologies like message boards, vlogs, blogs, media sharing sites, social book marking sites, and traditional social networks (to some degree) often serve as a representation of the community, both as a proxy for geographical proximity and as a display of community actions and affiliations.

These representations of community are often presented as lists: what happened recently, who recently acted, what is popular, who is worth paying attention to, and what place the community holds in the world (press, lawsuits, taunts). These lists give members of the community a shared history and culture, they create heroes and villains, and they help members to place themselves within the overall structure of the community.**

In order for these representations to work effectively, community members need to have some understanding (true or not) as to how the representation is created: what sort of mirror is being used to reflect the community back to them. There are two main models of understanding. One is that the representation is created by an algorithm, and the other is that the representation is created by a central persona or central personae. These models are at two extremes of a continuum.

Algorithm, in this sense, is a set of rational, non-emotional rules that is seen to determine the mirroring of the community (most diggs, newest, word filters, page rank).

On the other hand, a community might imagine that a central persona is doing the mirroring. A central persona is imagined as a human mind that is both rational and irrational. It thinks and feels. It can be angry, unjust, jealous, or benevolent. It can make mistakes and it can apologize. It can represent the community by selecting what is cool, what is lame, what is weird, what is hopeful and what is touching.

These models are at two sides of a continuum; most often the representation of a community is seen as a mixture of the two.

The Wish :: lybwnbc

The creation of all media is accompanied by a wish: to experience and to be experienced by another human mind. Above all this means to feel and to be felt.

December 22, 2008

If the goal of a project is to get many people to contribute

Usually there will be a few contributions that are outliers in technical merit and scale. There is a temptation to reward these contributions by drawing specific attention to them while the project is running. This can sometimes have the effect of damping the project as a whole, since potential contributors will measure their work against an artificially high standard. Alternatively, only displaying the most recent contribution allows the tonality of the project to be at the whim of the last contributor.

Instead of only focusing on technical ability, draw attention to qualities that can be expressed by anyone: simplicity, individuality, and humanity. Allow there to be a feeling of “Hey, I could do that too”.

December 30, 2008

Notes on the experience of Participation and Contribution

1 - These are my definitions, sort of. They are not trivial or merely formal. I use them to Figure Things Out. They might not stand the test of time. But that test is a bitch. And if I pass (the Test), it will be because the pattern I fill in, in the shape of duck, happens to be the right answer. It will be By Accident.

2 – Here I am interested in the experience of the person participating or contributing.

3 – Participation is the experience of oneself in relation to a group or system. Its focus is a verb related to self-definition. Participation is a “state of being related to a larger whole”.

4 - From the outside, participation can be invisible. It does not require hand raising or button pushing or jersey wearing. It is a perspective shift in the mind of an individual.

5 - “Passive consumption” can be participation. The passive consumer can place himself into the meaning of what is consumed. As he unpacks the images, the text, the sounds, he can extend the mythology of what he perceives, comparing moments to memories, and joining into the narratives of inclusion and exclusion. If there is no narrative he can make one.

6 – Participation can also be visible from the outside. But the point of participation is not how it is perceived from the outside.

7 – While participation is about a “state of being”, focused on the internal, contribution is about the external, the making of a thing to be perceived by someone (or something) else.

7.5 - There are unintentional contributions and intentional contributions. Here I am interested in intentional contributions.

8 – Intentional contribution is made of 1) an intention, 2) a thing to be perceived, and 3) an internal representation of an audience that will perceive it.**

9 – An actual audience may not exist.

9.5 - The audience can be non-human, for example a system or a deity.

10 – The audience can be the contributor herself, as long as the idea of herself as audience is thought to be separate from herself as contributor; for example “an older me”, or a “happier me”.

11 – But that gets Complicated.

12 – It is possible to contribute by Doing Nothing. In this case the contributor must intend that the Doing Nothing be a thing that will be perceived by someone else. The Silent Treatment is a contribution to an argument.

13. The same action by an individual can be participation or contribution depending on whether the individual intends for the action to be perceived by someone else.

14 – It is possible to participate without contributing.

15 – It is possible to contribute without participating.**

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About December 2008

This page contains all entries posted to the explicit in December 2008. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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