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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will it take a village to bring our communities online?

As nonprofits, what are our responsibilities to our communities? Screw that. As humans, what are our responsibilities to our communities? If we're creating online platforms, what values are we hard coding in to them? How can nonprofits create change online? Can your theory of change be hard coded into what your social benefit organization builds? Where is your community online?

I do think that there are some discoverable values that are hard coded into any online platform. By hard coded, I mean in the legal policies you've adopted, the features you've released and prioritized, your data taxonomies, your site map and information hierarchy. Platform values are most obvious in the TOS (see Facebook's history.) But other values are also discoverable. What user behaviors are encouraged, and how? What's assumed about how much you want to share, and what? How do you connect with other people, and why? @kevinmarks and @gravity7 have done some interesting thinking and writing in this area. Conversations with @stoweboyd originally got me chewing on this. But it's really been my @cotweet user experince that schooled me best: I like CoTweet's ethics all the way down. From the time I started using CoTweet, every feature, every interaction, every conversation has convinced me that they are building a tool to make me a more successful Twitter user. It's the first software I've ever fallen in love with. (Disclosure: In August 2009, CoTweet paid me to write a casestudy for them.)

When did I turn into such a giant nerd? I'm blaming it on 4 years of awesome NetSquared conversations.

With instructions to sit at a table with people I didn't know, I recently cheated. I sat with super smart Amy Mueller and Thomas Knoll. I know them not-well-enough. We had a wide ranging conversation about getting 'users' to do things on the interwebs. Do we need more user generated content? From whom? Of what sort? And why? What would happen when more people are participating in the read write web? We landed on the possible solution of leveling up the concept of online literacy.

I agree that there is the current situation, and ongoing danger of recreating the existing social structures online. I appreciate Marnie Webb's insistence that nonprofits have a responsibility to bring their communities, their constituencies, online. (If you only click on one link in this post, pick that one.) We must do what Marnie asks us to do. Further, I don't believe that the most powerful way to use the tools we have now is to do fundraising, however broad-based and peer to peer and direct and fancypants it is. Sure, we'll need resources to get our work done. But we can do more. We can do the brilliant, hopeful thing that the old timer internet geeks dreamed of. We can hack how we interact. We can listen like we've never listened before. We can listen to the Big Here.

I want to start talking about how, as social benefit organizations, we can hard code some awesome into what we're building. What's awesome? How can we hard code it? Who is already doing it well?

For my initial kickball team I pick
@CDEgger @webb @suzboop @p2173 @peterdietz @rootwork @awsamuel @suzboop. I proposed a panel for the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. I'd love to rope in @kanter, but i have this silly notion that she's too busy. (Correct me Beth!)

I want the NTC panel to cover the basics and ethics of creating and managing online platforms and communities. I want us to give nonprofits a basic framework of things to consider including identity and anonymity, digital inclusion and access, community management, taxonomy, content ownership, and your data ecosystem. We need a new more involved kind of online literacy (which needs a new name)--a working knowledge of the issues creating and managing online platforms and communities and a way to stay in conversation with colleagues who are working with the same issues.

But, to be honest, that panel proposal is only the edge of my crazy idea. And it puzzles into NTEN's awesome ongoing discussion about the health of your data ecosystem, and a project about open nonprofit data I've been discussing with Holly Ross.

I have a fantasy that we can chew on this and create some resources for our fellow changemakers. Some checklists of stuff to think about, and examples of people who are already doing it well.

I'm sure I've missed some incredibly intelligent, engaged people already doing this work. You're invited too. We need a whole village. Join up, and I'll figure out how to get us what we need to have this conversation. Please nominate people who you think should join in the comments, @rachelannyes, or rachel.weidinger@gmail.com. Village up, changemakers. We've got some infrastructure to theorize, and create.

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