Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Building the #digpen community on Google+

As my #digpener buddy Sophie Dennis knows, I'm a bit of a 'new paradigm lunatic' when it comes to Google+. It was quite unexpected for me. I'm not a big fan of monopolies taking over the world, didn't jump on Buzz or Wave, and have always felt a bit of a cynic when it comes to new platforms, especially when they involve social media. But as soon as I saw the Google+ circles, it really was like love at first site.

So why this somewhat irrational willingness to fall for Google+, and is this my heart leading my head, or my head leading my heart? And why do I think it so good for our fledgling #digpen community? I have been trying to understand this myself, and find some logical reasoning to explain my passion.

At first site, there is an issue with Google+, in getting it to work well for a community: at the moment it is not possible to set up an organisation, or a shared group. It is not possible to set up that one place that says 'this is #digpen' - 'come here and talk', 'come here and see who the #digpen members are',' come here and get the latest #digpen news', etc. So we start looking for 'work arounds' and wondering why Google hasn't thought about this, and why they aren't (yet) letting people create organisation profiles (at least they are discouraging it for the moment). Is this just because it is in Beta? Surely they have thought about this?

Well I am not sure whether it is intentional or not, but I believe the creativity induced by this current constraint leads me, and maybe others, to think again about community, and how best to create a real one. Thing is, having a place for people to go and share stuff does not make a community. Like a church building will never be the house of God (am I allowed to use a religious metaphor without causing offence? - No offense intended!). It is of course all about what happens within a place, and a place is of course a limiter - trying to keep relationships and communications within a static place will stop those relationships growing, both in number and in strength - the building is always at risk of killing those relationships from really developing.

Any online forum will always be limited. There will always be just a small percentage of people in that forum who are active. The rest will be spectators, occasional commentators, at best. The majority will sit back in the assurance that things are happening, a discussion is taking place (if the forum is still alive), that can be watched, and on occasion maybe chipped in on, but only a small percentage (maybe the 20/80 rule?) will feel a part of that apparent community.

So in Google+, we are all responsible for creating, and building, our own circles, our own communities. #digpen will thrive as a movement with shared values and an emerging shared vision as lots of those circles start to overlap each other. It is that overlapping that will make us really strong. No one person and no one forum will be the making and subsequent inevitable downfall of the community.

So that is why I think I really want you all to get on there, and build your own circles of web dev types in the SW, and invite people in to your own mini communities. I am convinced as you do so, and start to really communicate and get to know people in your circles, and open yourself up to the other people in the locality, and invest in strenthening these relationships, when we all do this, that exciting thing that the world is looking for will REALLY start to happen, right here, in #digpen territory.

Does this have to all happen on Google+ - no absolutely not. In fact, it is kind of key that there's stuff going on elsewhere too. Because if Google+ starts to lose favour, our community should not be dependent on that. And it should be offline as well as online. But Google+ is a great tool for us to use, I am sure of it, because it is based on these circles that mimic a healthy essential part of real society. But it will only really be effective if we all get on there, and take our individual responsibilities, build our own circles, and invest time and effort in developing our relationships within those circles. And when we all do this, together, it will be AWESOME (even in spite of those bugs - still waiting for my +1s to appear!)

Oh yeh, almost forgot to say, if you do get on it, don't forget to add me to your circle :)