The only community that needs to matter

I just read Mike Walsh’s post Community through the eyes of a 2nd grader. I really like his musings about the community at his boy’s school:

They create mini-communities or groups which they call a Grove. A Grove consists on 9 kids, 1 kid from each grade, k through 8. These Groves meet every couple of weeks to mentor, share, help, learn and develop friendships across grades. What a fabulous idea – gathering all stakeholders and discussing how they can create a stronger and more valuable community – I love it!

This interests me for many reasons. Not the least of which, life has made sense to me diffently — or only — now that I have my girl, but I’m also fascinated in general about the nexus between on- and off-line communities.

'Rock climbing' at Crissy FieldI’m passionate about “my” San Francisco community, even though it often feels just as intangible as bits on the Internet, but I’m especially curious about where on- and off-line communities “meet.” Arguably, you could say we have Monica Lewinsky to thank for the powerful growth of online communities in the “offline” world of politics (think Move On). Lately, some clever innovators are monetizing through their online stores but delivering just down the street (Kodak and its picture books). And I’m fascinated about the physical books we still buy, print, read, and most importantly, share — as well as new online gems like the promising Red Room that are also bridging that gap between physical and ethereal communities.

So are physical and online communities really so different?

Some day soon I’ll re-post my blog/rant on “Web 2.0 and my community” – which I wrote internally at my company after walking down Golden Gate Avenue to the Expo last year (and the ensuing Spock Debacle), but for now, I’m happy to just to be reminded of what matters. As Mike says

I learned quite a bit during the 60 minutes that I spent with a bunch of little kids – and enjoyed every minute of it. This is a great reminder of keeping eyes wide open. Turn off the Blackberry and listen to your little kids. It turns out that they’re pretty smart.

Likewise, like Therese Stewart saying “It’s not same-sex marriage: it’s marriage” — it’s not on- or off-line community, it’s just community. I’m thrilled every day in which I get to perceive it through new eyes.

My Epicenter and I Feel Fine

You know where I am. You can know at nearly all times. I am epicentered here. And I feel fine.

The Internet is starting to focus on location in combination with feeling, and you can now often know not only where someone is, but how they are feeling. For instance, I can get on the Internet and tell the USGS where I was on Friday morning at 4:42am and exactly how much of the 4.2 earthquake I felt.

I can also watch as people wander around the city, talking about what they see and how they feel. This phenomenon is called bio mapping. Says Brady Forrest on the O’Reilly Radar, “The Bio Mapping project sponsors people to walk around an area with a GPS and a Galvanic Skin Response sensor and logger. The emotional responses of the participants are then mapped.” Just about the closest you get to my house in San Francisco (PDF), you see a “pretty active area with lots of bars.”

Though not always mapped to precise physical location (but often so), on a recent roadtrip, I was able to Twitter about exactly where I was and what I was doing – as if the GPS in the car were not enough to track my whereabouts at all times. The most poignant lingering memory this represents for me is that that vacation is over. (Fear not – another begins next week!). You can even Twitter about earthquakes – though the chatter was decidedly light for Friday’s event. And if Twitter’s interface doesn’t cut it (and it doesn’t, to me), I can always go Jaiku.

On http://www.wefeelfine.org, I can get an interesting feel for what people feel and where they feel it. Someone in Leipzig, for example, apparently feels detached. Someone in Florida feels sandy. I love to click around the happy dots and squares on this site.

One of the coolest recent things I saw along the lines of collective location was a demo of Microsoft Photosynth (link courtesy, as many cool things are, of Michael Biermann at SAP). Towards the middle of this video, you can see a demo of what happens when you take the whole community of geo-informed photos of Notre Dame and patch them together. An awesome moment. Says the demoer:

We can do things with this social environment, taking data from the entire collective memory visually of what the earth looks like, and link all of that together and make something emergent that’s greater than the sum of the parts.

“A ‘long tail’ model of the entire Earth,” they say.

I tend to stay awake after earthquakes. It’s a throw-back to being in the middle of the large earthquake in 1989. I tend to go back in my mind and remember where I was then. But the Internet was not such a self-emotive, geo-located community of shared feeling back then, so I have no collectively preserved archive as such. What I did find was this. Two blocks from where I was then:

Female dispatcher: Can I ask you something?

CEH: Yea.

Female Dispatcher: Did you have something going to Sixth and, what is it, Townsend?

CEH: Sixth and Townsend?

Female Dispatcher: We ordered it a little while ago. Just wondering if you had one.

CEH: I don’t see Sixth and Townsend.

Female Dispatcher: Okay, hold on. (keying police radio transmitter) Unit requesting Sixth and Townsend 408? an ambulance. Boy 103, did you have a Sixth and Townsend request?

Boy 103: 10-4. That’s best way to get in there is Sixth and Townsend, and the Fire Department and police will direct them to where the injured parties are… (Boy 103 is then covered by an unidentified officer who says) They had requested two ambulances.

Female Dispatcher: What’s the level of injury, because they have their lists of priorities up here too. They’re going crazy.

Unidentified Police Unit: It’s going crazy out here.

Female Dispatcher: Yea, what kind of injury? (no answer in few second so she says to CEH dispatcher on phone) Okay, well, Sixth and Townsend, you know, put it on there definitely. They had requested two ambulances.

CEH: Uh-huh

Female Dispatcher: Okay, so, I don’t know. Try…try middle priority.

CEH: Sixth and Townsend, Code 2. All right.

I walked right by the incident to which they refer. It was super scary.

The Internet at its best could really be able to help our communities during times of disaster. While I don’t look forward to those, I look forward to that community, hopefully, being there for us – wherever we are and however we feel.

Whiskey and a Hammer

I’m on vacation next week (first of two in short order this summer), and I’ve been fond of thinking “it’s not a minute too soon.” The past couple of weeks have been very intense, but the work is fun and energizing. Above all, the best part about working is the collaboration, and without a doubt, the various social tools internally at SAP have opened up the world to me at work. This last week was so busy I usually didn’t know whether I was IM’ing or emailing – or twittering?

Among the highlights:

  • My instant-message working collaboration with Michael Biermann. Together with Craig Cmehil, we want to find a whole new way to surface trends and ideas. Michael and Craig are two-men machines of great ideas and skills (and right now may be the most dangerous guys in town); Michael nearly took down the internal wiki in the process – that’s a blast! Thanks Michael for the whiskey and the hammer: and it really does take a village.
  • Moderating the response to an internal newsletter relating to our wiki space, which has been phenomenal – nearly inexplicably so. Again, whole new communities open up to me and I count myself fortunate.
  • Watching and working on the wiki space redesign process between Phil, Will, and Dirk. I’ve concluded that email is not a great way to run design reviews, but I think in the end you guys can gain consensus. Sometimes, it’s good to take a step back and really get a good look around.
  • Working with Jerome across timezones toward an understanding on knowledge architecture. Should be interesting to stay tuned.
  • Wrapping up Pride in San Francisco. It’s typically ironic to me that we get a month to be proud – and then after that? After Sunday we all go back to shame! But seriously – there was much energy inside and out this year. Another kind of importance of community.
  • Our daughter saying goodbye to her favorite teacher so far, Sarah. She drew her a heart and gave it to her. Not even three and she gives us a knot in our throats. Her community.
  • New fire-colored hair. Well, it’s actually apparently a very very bright red, but it looks pink. Is it fuego? Well… you’ll just have to see me after Bandon to find out…

First stop: Bandon, OR. Next stop: Palo Alto. Next stop: Alaska. See you somewhere there!