Dickwolves, Free Speech & Inclusiveness

The dirty little secret that they never realized is that free speech and making people feel welcome are both perfectly noble ideals that are in conflict with one another and if you choose to side with the former in every possible circumstance, even if it means antagonizing rape victims, even if it means alienating women, even if it means going against your own stated goals, then you’re not a martyr for free speech. You’re just an asshole.

“faceless007on the NeoGAF message boards

And that cuts to the heart of the “Dickwolf” situation. I’ve read Penny Arcade for a couple of years now, and have enjoyed it for the most part. I’ve praised the creators of that strip for PAX, the conference that they’ve built, specifically because it was so inclusive and so different from the norms of video game and tech industry behavior. Sadly now, I can support neither in good conscience. There is no room in my world for a view that rape jokes are acceptable. Sure, you have the right to say it, and if you have a platform, you can use it to make those jokes. But I’m sure as hell not going to applaud you for it.

Frankly, the horror that rape jokes play upon is magnified when they come from a source that women thought was not only safe, but a beacon of light in a community that is all too often dark and harsh. Mike Krahulik should have been better than this. We all should be better than this.

Thanks to my friend David for pointing out the post quoted above.

Status Updates – The Ties that Bind

We live in an amazing time. That sounds trite but it’s true nonetheless. Reconnecting with friends in person over the recent Christmas-New Year holiday reinforced how easy it is to keep in touch with those live hundreds or thousands of miles away. Between Facebook and Twitter, we are able to maintain and renew ties with old friends and colleagues and on occasion transform associates into friends, often without having met in person.

So much of this happens with the smallest of updates – 140 characters on Twitter, a photo uploaded to Flickr, a status update on Facebook, but there’s power in aggregation. A wealth of emotion and experience is subtly communicated when viewed in the context of the larger stream and our brains break that down, associating the bits and pieces with our impression of our fellow humans. We reach out when a cry is raised, but now we have a deeper insight into our friends’ lives and can lend a hand or an ear to that person before it is too late.

I’m not saying anything new, but I think it important to remind ourselves that there is a larger role to all of our status updates beyond sharing cool links, complaining about service at a restaurant and checking in at our favorite coffee shop. These threads intertwine, strengthening our ties to those important to us, and in some cases to those who will become important to us.

SXSW: Organize Groups, Maintain Your Buzz

I’d like to invite those of you coming to SXSW Interactive, to my “Salon” (Monday, March 16th, from 6:30pm – 7:30pm) focusing on how to organize real world groups around topics that you’re interested in. The conversation will lean towards technically-oriented communities like Refresh Austin, but will also provide the foundation for groups that are interested in other subjects.

One of the best aspects of the Salon/Core Conversation format is that it is meant to be a two-way dialog instead of a panel – everyone is encouraged to contribute. This is an ideal way for us to share tips, tricks and stumbles so we can all improve our groups when South-By is over.

If you have specific subjects you’d like to discuss, please leave them in the comments or use my contact form and I’ll include them in my topic list.

The Salons are held in the evenings from 6:30 – 7:30, which makes them the latest bit of programming in SXSW’s lineup, but they’ll have some food and drinks to balance it out. Hopefully we can turn this into a lively discussion for all.

Here’s the panel info:

SXSW Year Round: Organize Groups, Maintain Your Buzz
Date: Monday, March 16th, 6:30 – 7:30
Location: Downtown Austin Hilton (located just across the street from the Austin Convention Center)

Social Media? Why? How? When?

This began as a comment on Scott Hepburn’s post Social Media Graduates to the “How?”, but given how quickly my comment was growing, the fact that I was shifting the topic a bit and my inconsistent posting, I decided to flesh out my thoughts in a post of my own.

So here we go.

One key indicator of a shift from the “Why” to the “How” within professional social media circles is the stratification of its practitioners. As Scott, there are the charlatans and the under-informed claiming expertise, and there are the experienced teaching where they can and leading the way, but there are a few more slices in between that I’ve noticed of late:

  • Those who can explain the strategic and tactical methods for small efforts, those who can explain them for large efforts and those who understand both and know how to manage the differences between them.
  • Those who are married to one or a small set of key tools compared to those who stay on top of the industry as a whole. Niche expertise versus generalization.
  • Those who embody community and social interactions on and off line versus those who treat it as a job, turning off when they go home.
  • Those who are passionate about the opportunities social media provides, but don’t understand how to balance it against business goals.

And of course there are the shades of gray between all of these levels.

Let’s leave the conversations around “why [ insert latest tool here ] will change everything” to those discovering the possibilities social media affords. Tools are tools. We need to focus on the strategy behind the use of those tools when integrated with business needs and it is time for the experts and “social Media Mentors” as Scott phrases it, to demonstrate that the dominating force going forward is the balance between “why we use social media tools and strategies”, “how we employ those strategies” and “when we use a particular strategy”.

Twitter's Hidden Benefit

Twitter makes it easy for me to keep up with my dear friends here in town and those flung about the globe. I can stay on top of ever-moving trends, learning about them in minutes if not seconds. Twitter connects me when I’m ready to be connected and allows me to reach out when I feel the need. Those capabilities alone makes it an invaluable part of my day, but there’s an unsung benefit to embracing Twitter: memory improvement. Specifically improving my ability to remember people I’ve met.

In my day-to-day life, I’m involved in projects and groups of different sizes and to different degrees. I do my damnedest to remember names, faces and details about the people I meet, but that’s not an easy task by any stretch. Refresh Austin alone has over 400 members and I’ve met a sizable portion of ‘em. Add the other amazing colleagues and friends I’ve met through events like SXSW Interactive and the Geek Austin parties and it quickly becomes overwhelming to remember, and more importantly quickly recall a name when I bump into someone that I’ve met once or twice.

Twitter changed that with a constant stream of updates.

Each tweet contains a face, a name and something that was of at least slight interest to that person. Those components reinforce the neural pathways associated with each person in my cranium, making it easier to remember them later. I may have to take one more mental hop to unite the real world face and name for those people who adopt an avatar and/or a nickname within Twitter, but that’s still a lot more than I had five years ago.

Twitter reinforces my real-world connections with those relationships that are the most tenuous as a byproduct of my having fun using it.

Now that is cool.

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @BaldMan.

Portable Privacy Experiences

When you think about it, online social applications are bad places to put things that are meant to go unseen, and it makes the notion of privacy start to feel like the wrong idea. This brings us back to the words we choose, because I think we interact online not to keep stuff private, but to share it selectively. Setting up a privacy framework works as a force in opposition to the goal of sharing something. If instead we think about streaming shared actions (or gestures, if you like) and content to the right people and less about exception frameworks, things should work more smoothly and, I think, bring us closer to models that can cross networks without exploding.

Todd Sieling: Portable Profiles and Privacy: Choppy Ux Ahead

Todd’s insightful article has me thinking about privacy, expectations of and experience within our social media tools, online and off.

Creative Bridges, Coworking & Communities

This started as a quick comment on Alex Hillman’s post Creative Agency, which quickly grew so long that I realized that I had begun writing a post of my own, so I’ve shifted it to my site so I don’t hijack Alex’s discussion (plus I don’t post often enough).

Please read Alex’s post prior to reading this one.

So, Alex’s ideas set my mind-gears a’spinnin’. He covers several aspects of building a community that is beneficial to its members but also to its clients, uniting several concepts that drive me personally, and I believe drive communities around the globe.

A couple of coworking initiatives (LaunchPad, Conjunctured) are growing here in Central Texas, which I think will mesh well with our various Web and creative groups like Refresh Austin, which in turn play a large part in sharing knowledge and connecting members of the professional creative and Web communities. That said, we’re a disparate community, which can be both good (an abundance of creativity and different perceptions and solutions of challenges) and bad (harder to spread the word and unify), and often times the individuals, whether they work for themselves or sit amongst hundreds in large enterprises aren’t able to rely on each other to augment their strengths.

Some love design, others front-end development, or back-end coding. Some dig deep into the perfect turn of phrase, while others concentrate on the most effective way to monetize a product or service. Some of us like to translate between the various cultures. We’re different, which is very good. But we could do more to help each other.

Alex highlights some of the most glaring gaps amongst our profession:

  • Creatives who don’t take responsibility for “leading the client just as much as we are leading the project and the result that the end user experiences”
  • Independent creatives who may not have the business background, the time or the personality to look out for themselves on the business front

These are large gaps, but they are addressable by the right communities, some of which exist, others of which we need to being forming.

Bridges

So, we need to connect these communities:

  • Independents and corporate designers/developers – it’s amazing how different these experiences can be, and both groups will benefit from the sharing of knowledge
  • Experienced and new professionals – connect the energy, vigor and will-not-stop drive with experience and knowledge (business, and yes some political). We have to tap into the excited professionals – no cynicism
  • Business professionals and creative professionals – business folks would love to tap into the fountain of ideas that make up a creative world and the designers and developers will gain valuable skills from their counterparts making it much easier to navigate the world of contracts, time lines and expectations
  • Open source developers/communities and businesses – As Alex notes, “being an open source software developer does not, and should not, condemn ones self to a life of poverty”, which follows up on Whurley’s Opensville post.

Chief among my questions to the community is to learn what are the first steps we should take to move forward building this new creative agency platform and the other pieces required to move our communities forward? CitizenAgency and Indy Hall have an edge as established, physical spaces with strong communities, but I think Austin is an ideal setting for this as well and could quickly contribute.

So where to?

Party of One or a Movement?

Movements, from my experience, wouldn’t happen without a whole lot of people moving them forward. If there is only one person responsible, it’s not a movement, it’s a party for one.

Tara Hunt

Tara Hunt hits the nail on the ahead yet again, with her excellent post Heroes Don’t Work Alone. If you aren’t familiar with Tara, you should be as her writing, speaking and day-to-day efforts have a very large impact on the underpinnings of our online social networks, often bridging these networks with offline communities and brands. Her work helping to set up co-working as a viable alternative to large offices, is benefiting countless entrepreneurs and her efforts to boost the presence and influence of women in technology circles is laying the important groundwork needed to ensure we continue our exponential growth in technology and science.

Heroes Don’t Work Alone provides a concise, readable and important view into the shape of our community and the direction we need to move. We all have roles to play, but they aren’t necessarily the same, and in fact they should be different so we can compliment each other’s strengths and move forward together.

The lines aren’t distinctly cut, and in fact they may well vary per project or passion, but recognizing that we need Creators, Catalysts and Champions is the first step towards greatness, whether you are working in a large organization, or forming a group like Refresh Austin.

A New Face for Refresh Austin

I plan to kick out the official announcement tomorrow morning, once I trust that the DNS has propagated to each little piece of the Net, so consider this a soft launch. We’ve launched a redesign for RefreshAustin.org after months of discussion, and a few stutter-steps. I won’t go into all of the details as the message I posted on the site covers a lot of it and I plan to write more about the foundation when time allows. The long and the short of it is, we have created a central location to make it easy for our members to communicate with each other, contribute to the group and access our useful resources.

Check it out when you have a chance.

Meatspace: Formally Yours

This is the third entry in this series, in addition to the overview, I’ve written an entry on informal meetings, covering the more relaxed gatherings that can, and should happen amongst your members between the formal meetings.

One of the most important ways to maintain and expand your group is to set and stick to consistent meeting times and locations. Regular meetings ensure that everyone has a chance to plan ahead. A regular meeting time and place makes it easier for your members to arrange for babysitters, avoid making conflicting plans, and in general remember the event. It also makes life much easier for the planners, as there is time to choose a topic, presenter(s) and verify the location reservation.

Anticipation = Participation

By planning ahead you can broadcast future topics and play up the presentations and discussions, generating excitement within your group, and hopefully driving your members to spread the word to their friends and colleagues who may not be aware of the group.

Location Location Location

There are several important factors that come into play when choosing a venue for your gatherings. Here are some things you should keep in mind when looking for a venue:

  • The size of the group that will attend, which impacts the amount of:
    • Seating – remember to calculate for people bringing computers!
    • Parking
  • A central location, that is easy for the majority of users to reach via the major modes of transportation in your city (highways, subways, canals etc.)
  • The facilities:
    • A WiFi connection
    • A projector and screen
    • Ample seating, with table space for laptops
    • A room quiet enough for the presenter to be heard, and separate from the rest of the location’s clientèle

Home is Where You Hang Your Hat

The ideal location is one that you can use for sevaral meetings in a row. In this case laziness is a good thing. By not moving it every month or two, everyone knows where you’ll be come meeting day, so they don’t have to scramble at the last minute, looking for an old e-mail , or even worse, start on their way, realize they don’t know where the meeting is and opt to go home. It happens. It happens far too easily.

A Little Planning Goes a Long Way

While that’s a bit trite, the saying rings oh so true when you are building and planning for a group. Take a bit of time up front, and you’ll find that your group will grow much more quickly, and predictably. Keep an eye out for what works and doesn’t. If you move to a new location and see a major drop in attendance for two or three meetings in a row, step back and think about what changed, and whether you should rethink your location choice.

And remember, the group should be fun for you and your members. You will have to do some work, but it pays big dividends. As always, if you have questions, suggestions or critiques, just let me know in the comments or the contact form!

Please Vote for My Panel Submission at SXSWi 2008

There are just under 700 panels submitted for the 2008 schedule of South by Southwest Interactive. One of them happens to be mine. If you know me, or follow this site on a regular basis, then you are aware how involved I am with Refresh Austin, and the passion with which I participate in its happenings. My latest series of articles (Parts One & Two) speak to the topic I submitted – how to harness the power of online social networks to create, expand and maintain groups in the physical world, and how to use the physical world to improve upon your social networks.

I think this is an important topic, and I would really love the opportunity to spread what I’ve learned and share ideas with others in a panel as well as at the social events that make up SXSWi. If you have a couple of minutes, please rate my panel. You will likely need to sign up for the Panel Picker, even if you’ve attended in years past, but it’s a very quick process.

My Panel: Meat-space: A Plugin for Social Software

Thanks!

Meatspace: Formally Informal

As I noted in Part One of this series, it is important to have regular meeting times. These formal gatherings ensure that people can plan ahead and raises anticipation and participation. Informal meetups on the other hand, add a spontaneous element and ensure that people form stronger bonds within the group or capitalize on exciting events. I’ve made some great friends by sending out a note to the group, or joining others who have sent an invite to a group to meet for beer and conversations.

When to Have an Informal Meetup

Whenever! It’s as simple as kicking out a note via e-mail, IM, Twitter or the like. Let people know where you’ll be at a specific time, and how they can find you (“I’m wearing a red cap and blue t-shirt”). Different members of Refresh Austin do this every so often, sometimes with a few days of planning, but often at the spur of the moment. The important thing is to throw out an invite. If no one comes, so be it – but odds are good that people want to join you, so if they can’t make it out for this one, they’ll try next time.

What to Discuss

It doesn’t matter. A gathering of like-minded folks will lean towards discussing their shared-interests, but they don’t have to cover the same topics. When I gather with other Web geeks, we cover everything from programming, to cooking, to music to politics. The important part is that we are socializing and having fun.

If you have a specific thing you want to talk about, include that in your note so others know what to expect. This will also give you a great conversation-starter.

Where to Meet

It really doesn’t matter, though if you have a specific topic, or you want to get to know the other folks, I’d recommend a pub, coffee shop, restaurant or the like. Somewhere that encourages conversation. Beer and/or caffeine help. A lot.

How to Kick this Off

Make sure everyone in your group knows that they can be the originator of an invite – the point is to share the opportunity and let the group form strong bonds outside of the formal meetings. You may need to do the inviting the first few times, but you’ll find others will step up as well.

If you already have some friends in the group, encourage them to do the same, or if need be, arrange to meet your friend(s) and ask them to send the invite instead of you. That way others will see that you aren’t the only one. If you are going to meet up with someone who has sent an invite via an e-mail list, respond to the list, so others see the participation. Plus the person behind the invite will have a rough idea of how many to expect and won’t wonder if anyone will show up.

A Quick Template

Here are the things to remember in your invite:

  • Where to meet – an address and/or URL are important!
  • When you’ll arrive
  • How people will recognize you
  • What you want to discuss, if you have a specific topic in mind

That’s all you need to know – it’s time to kick out an e-mail to your group and make use of the great network of people you know!

Meatspace – A Social Software Plugin

We all need to geek-out, and let’s face it, friends and family don’t get it, or just aren’t as interested in the latest bit of technology breakthroughs as we are. Of course, you are likely involved in at least one form of online social network; Facebook, MySpace, an e-mail list or IRC can provide the outlet that you may not have in the physical world, connecting you with others who share your techno-interests. Now, the odds are good that there are other geeks in your locale, but you may not know them, and if you do, it isn’t always easy to find them. You may connect at an event every so often, but that connection fades over time as other bits of life come and go. Luckily its easy to keep that connection alive, and even better, build upon it.

I’ve written this article to provide some tips on creating or expanding a group. It doesn’t have to be centered on the Web or technology. Hell, a lot of what I write about below is based on lessons that I learned as the founding president of a local Guinness drinking society! I hope you find this useful, and would love for you to add a comment about what I’ve written and your experiences with building a group.

This article is a bit long, so feel free to skip around:

Leadership, Consistency and Communication

I’ve found that many social groups that form around a common interest run into problems when they are weak in one of these three key areas. It doesn’t take much work to get these right, but if you are missing any of the three, you’ll find it much harder to grow.

Leadership

When no one makes decisions, nothing gets done. Having a strong voice, or ideally, a small group of unified voices makes a world of difference. The important thing is that the strength is founded upon the desire to build something that all will benefit from. This is a pivotal time for your group, so step up, or support someone who is willing to step up.

You don’t need a president, though if that works for you, go for it. We, in Refresh Austin opted to form a rotating board, which allowed us the ability to split up the duties so no one person was overwhelmed with work. If you are trying to revive or improve an existing group, contact some of the most active members of your group and invite them to join the board. It is vitally important that you select people who are excited about the group and have participated in the past.

We specifically set a three month cap on this first board so everyone understood that we were in the roles merely to get the group moving, and that after the first 90 days anyone could volunteer for a spot on the board.

Roles

These are the roles we created for Refresh Austin.

The Venue Coordinator chooses and reserves a venue that is relatively convenient for the group. The goal is to have a regular meeting spot that is projector and discussion-friendly, and at or in walking distance of a bar or restaurant where people can socialize afterwards.

The Topic Scheduler publishes the schedule of discussions and presentations two to three months in advance so everyone in the group will know what will be covered at each meeting. This person gathers and coordinates requests for topics, receives feedback from the group as to which we should cover and lines up volunteers to present on each topic. Ideally they will create a good mix, so each month’s topic(s) is different than the last.

The Materials Wrangler guarantees that a projector is brought to each meeting, and is responsible for gathering any other materials that may be needed. They do not have to own the materials, they merely need to ensure that someone will bring them.

The Communicator ensures that meeting notices and reminders are sent to the group throughout each month and updates the Web site and any other tools.

The Archivist is responsible for gathering the presentation materials and posting them on the site after the meeting. Additionally, they should take notes during the meeting so we also record questions and answers that may arise. Ideally the Archivist would capture audio or video of the event which could be turned into a podcast.

You Will Piss Someone Off

The reality of the situation is that you can’t please everybody, and you know what? That’s not your job. Your job is to get this group moving forward and ensure that the most amount of people can participate as possible. It is very easy to not do something as a group because one member isn’t able to participate, or isn’t interested in a topic. Frankly, that’s dumb. You’ll find that people who want to be a part of the group will find a way to participate, and with the changes you’ll be making, it will be easier for them than was in the past.

^ Table of Contents ^

Consistency

Set up a regular schedule for your meetings. Refresh Austin meets the second Tuesday of every month from 7:00 to 9:00PM. We have also chosen a location to stick with for several months, and if we choose to change the location, it will only be after we have gotten a guarantee from the new spot that we will have that day and time every month. Switching the day, time or location in any but the most extreme of circumstances is a recipe for confusion and a reduction in participation. Make a choice and stick with it for at least three months!

Your members will appreciate the consistent schedule as that gives them a chance to arrange for babysitters, reschedule other events and make it easy for them to avoid conflicts down the line.

Communication

It is very easy to let the days slip by without sending an updates to the group, yet we all hate a communication vacuum. Make sure you let people know what is happening early and often. This is your opportunity to build some excitement and provide some warning when change is in the air. Once you have established your routines and the group is running smoothly, make sure you continue to send updates. I cannot stress this enough – update update update!

Experimentation

It’s important to try things – what works for one group may not work for another, so be willing to give something different a shot. You also should be ready to kill off an experiment if it isn’t working, just make sure that you won’t frustrate the members of the group with too many changes in too short of a time. It can be a hard balance to be both experimental and consistent, so experiment in small doses, and make sure that you communicate the changes to the group.

^ Table of Contents ^

Tools to Make Your Life Easier

There are a wealth of tools that you can tap to cut down on your workload and make it easier for others to participate. Here are just a few:

Communication

We at Refresh Austin use Google Groups as our central point of communication list as it is very convenient and easy for us to administer and provides our members the ability to choose how they want to interact with it. Each person can choose to receive every message posted to the board as it comes in, or opt to receive a batch message each day, or they may choose to use it as a message board, visiting whenever is convenient for them. Keep that last option in mind – you may have a significant amount of members who do not receive any e-mail from the group, and who may not check the message board very often, if at all. Don’t forget other methods, like chat rooms or IRC channels if your group would be into it. Pibb is a handy Web app that provides a great combination of chat and forums in a single interface.

Feedback

I’ve used SurveyMonkey to gauge which subjects we should cover in our Refresh meetings as well as to gain a better insight into what members would like from the group. The basic level is free and has served my needs well. There are likely many other free options, so please add your recommendation as a comment.

Scheduling

Refresh Austin uses Upcoming to provide event information and to track potential attendance. Upcoming makes it easy for us to re-publish the information on our main site. Meetup is another great option, especially when you consider how many people already belong to their site, but they charge an annual fee. Keep in mind that you can’t wholly trust the RSVP numbers on either site, as many members of your group may not use either of them.

You can also keep it simple, and just send out notices to your group and keep your Web site up-to-date, as the Austin 1759 Society does.

Web Site

This is a bit of a no-brainer, but I want to ensure I include everything I can think of. Make sure you have a site that includes the most up-to-date information regarding your meetings and topics. You may also want to include a wiki or a blog to make it easier for your members to follow group news and contribute to the expansion of the site through comments and new content. As to which platform or content package you use – the only thing that matters is that you have a t least a few people who know how to use it and keep it up to date.

^ Table of Contents ^

Coming Up

I will cover these topics in the next few entries. Please leave a comment if you would like me to cover any additional topics!

  • Setting up Formal and Informal Meetings
  • Choosing Topics
  • Spreading the Word
  • Getting People to Participate
  • Transitioning Leadership & Ensuring the Group Survives
  • Decisions that Must be Made
  • Maintaining Your Group

Thanks!

Thanks for reading this article, I hope it has provided you with some useful tips. Please leave a comment or send me an e-mail if you have any questions, feedback or if these tips work for you. I would love to hear some success stories or ideas on how to improve upon these ideas!

^ Table of Contents ^

What is “Meatspace”?

I’ve been asked about the title of this article by a couple of people now, so here’s a quick definition of Meatspace from Wikipedia:

Meatspace is a dysphemism for real life or the physical world, and conceived as the opposite of cyberspace or virtual reality. The term originated in science fiction literature, specifically the cyberpunk genre, but it has become increasingly common in general usage, as a reference to transactions or interactions which occur in the presence of physical bodies (“meat”), rather than online or electronically….The term may be used as a conscious rejection of the derogatory connotations inherent in the term “real life” and the implication that interactions in cyberspace are less real or meaningful than physical interactions.

^ Table of Contents ^

Ma.gnolia Managers and Moderators – Maintain Your Group

Your Group is Popular, Now What?

Now you ensure that it remains that way. The more popular a group is, the more important it is for the manager and/or moderators to be actively involved in monitoring the group, keeping the links fresh and on-topic, and ruthlessly eliminating spammers. I’ll repeat that last part as it is a very important to me – managers and moderators need to eliminate spammers quickly. In managing the Web Design group, I have spent a fair amount of time deleting off-topic links and banning spammers. I have a lot of patience with people who may not understand where the topic dividing line (or massive gray area in the case of the design group) is, occassionally adding off-topic posts. But when I see a spammer (they tend to be pretty obvious), I ban them instantly. Sadly, a lot of group managers don’t do this, and a lot of great groups are filled with junk, lose their active members, and turn into that empty lot down the street wfull of broken bottles. That pisses me off. I blame the spammers for the most part, but let’s face it, a part of that degradation is the result of lax managers and moderators.

Don’t Be a Lazy Landlord

If you manager or moderate a group, no matter its size or activity, give it some love. It doesn’t take much time to delete spam or off-topic links, and banning a member is easy, though hopefully not something you have to do often. Out of the 2,200 folks subscribed to the Web Design list, I’ve only had to ban 8. After a while, you’ll find that the spammers don’t even bother messing with your group as it isn’t worth the time, and your group members start to participate more, contributing some great, on-topic items. If the spammers keep coming at you, and you find that you just don’t have the time to keep up, send a message to the group and ask for people to help you as moderators. Just make sure that anyone that you set up as a moderator has been an active member of your group, and submitted at least a couple of on-topic links in the past. If you see aperson who is constantly adding spam to your group, or others that you a a member of, its time to call a Gardener.

Tending the Garden

Gardener Trowel In addition to the natural roles of managers and moderators, there is a small group of users that have been set up as Gardeners by Larry and Todd at Ma.gnolia. Gardeners are a unique role that I haven’t seen in other systems around the Web. We have the tools to remove the benefits that spammers gain by filling Ma.gnolia with junk, but we aren’t site-wide administrators. So, while I, as a Gardener, can mark an account as a spammer, I cannot ban that user from the site, nor can I remove any of their links. That’s a good thing. I may notice someone filling groups with spam, but its not my right to jump into those groups and take over the role of manager. Additionally, that account may be valid, just very focused on a single subject, so I, or another Gardener can go back and undo the “spammer” flag setting. We all make mistakes, and its nice to know that they are easily rectified if a Gardener misjudges someone.

So, if you spot someone that you think is spamming, feel free to send me, or another Gardener a message through Ma.gnolia, so we can look into it.

But Wait, there’s More!

I hope this has shown you how easy it is to maintain your group. This is just one in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia, so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.
If you have any questions about managing,or moderating a group, please leave a comment, or start a discussion on one of the Ma.gnolia boards!

Ma.gnolia Managers and Moderators – Grow Your Group

Now that You Have a Group

So, if you already had a group or have started one while reading this series (Part I), it’s time to give it some love. Feeding it links is a good start, and you’ll be amazed at what happens organically, but here are a few hints on how to kick start the activity.

Spread the Word

Odds are pretty good that you know other people interested in the same subject, so go to the main page for the group and click on the “Recommend Group” button to invite folks to join it. This is a super fast way to spread the word about your new group to friends on Ma.gnolia, as well as to people who have never visited the site before, as you can send the invite to people via your Ma.gnolia contact list, or outside e-mail addresses.

Adding Links and the Hot Groups List

Good links, that are on the topic are the best way to expand the group, but just as important is maintaining a steady stream of these links. When you first set up your group, one of the best ways to get it noticed is to fill it with links right away, as that may get your new collection listed in the Hot Groups section of Ma.gnolia for a little while. The size of the group doesn’t matter – the activity within the group does. This is great as it evens the playing field for new, small groups compared to the older large ones. If your group’s subject appeals to an audience that wants to contribute, you’ll find that the group periodically returns to this list as more and more people participate.

Talking to Your Group

Ma.gnolia has some great functionality that is under-utilized. As a group manager, you have the ability to send a message to all members of your group, and while you don’t want to spam them, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional message to remind them of the group, promote some interesting links, or ask for links on a specific topic. You can also utilize the discussion boards attached to each group to generate conversation and some activity. The boards don’t always garner a lot of participation, but that is easily remedied if you post some good topics. You’ll find that each group contains some people who would absolutely love the opportunity to talk about the group’s subject, or provide ideas that could improve the group.

Ultimately, the best way to expand your group, is to rely on your members, giving them every opportunity to add to it. We joined Ma.gnolia because we want to share our interests, so the easier you make it, and the more excitement you have for the subject, the better your group will be.

More to Come

I hope this has helped you expand your group. This is just one in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia, so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.

Ma.gnolia Managers and Moderators – Create Your Group

Ma.gnolia Logo Ma.gnolia groups are a wonderful thing, whether you are a manager, moderator, active participant or passive subscriber, you can gain a wealth of information, entertainment and/or distraction from the right group, made up of excited contributors. You can also lose time, grow frustrated and and question the value of humanity when the group falls into a state of off-topic, or spam-filled existence. That’s where group managers and moderators come in.

So You Want to Create a Group

Sweet! Setting up a new group in Ma.gnolia is easy and fun. I’ve set up quite a few, several of which lie fallow, waiting for the day that I decide to focus upon them for a bit, or even better, for others to stumble upon the subject and plant a few links they find of value. But a select few have done amazingly well, both in terms of membership and in quality of links. And its a damn good feeling to see those member and bookmark counts climb.

Decisions…

At this point, its likely that you have an idea for a group, but there are a couple of questions you should ask yourself before you set it up.

Does a Group on this Subject Already Exist?

If there’s already a group talking about the exact same thing you want to cover, it’s important to ask yourself why you would start a new group. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t (I’ve set up a few redundant groups myself), but if you are, you should be sure that it serves a purpose. Here are some of the reasons I chose to start a new group:

  • The old group has fallen into a state of disrepair, where the only activity is link spam
  • The existing group is moderated, so I can’t contribute. Please note, you can send a message to the group manager and ask to be a moderator, some folks would really appreciate the extra help.
  • I feel that I have a slightly different slant on the subject, and I don’t want to fill the other group with unwanted links

Should My New Group Be Public, Moderated or Private?

There are some important pros and cons for each of these options that you should weigh when setting up your new group:

Public

Setting a group to be Public makes it super simple for people to contribute, and is the fastest way to grow the group, both in terms of links and participants. It also requires some a little bit of time from managers and moderators to keep it on-topic, and spam-free.

Moderated

By using the Moderated setting, you eliminate the issue of link-spam, but you also significantly reduce the amount of people who can contribute to the growth of the group. If you choose this option, I highly recommend you keep an eye out for other people who join the group and offer to make them moderators so they can contribute. Giving others a vested interest in your group is a great way to expand it intelligently. At worst, if you have problems with someone, you can always remove their moderator abilities.

The Moderated setting is also a great option for setting up a group focused on a very specific topic, oriented around a group of people you know, either via the Net, or meat-space. For example, I set up a group for Refresh Austin, a Web community local to my home town. I’ve set up fellow members as moderators so they can add to the group.

Private

The Private option is one that I haven’t used, though I can see a lot of value in it for spouses, groups of friends or families who want to share with each other, but not the whole world, or an organization that pools a common set of links, but doesn’t want those links to be public as they may provide information to a competing company or group.

But Wait, there’s More!

I hope this has helped you set up your first group, or evaluate the group you have already created. This is the first in a series of articles about Ma.gnolia (Part II), so please check back in the next few days, or subscribe to my feed.