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Archive for August, 2010

This was my first post for the Small Act blog and was published there last week.

Last week Facebook continued their two trends of appropriating the most successful features of other social networks and making what was once a closed network increasingly public.

This time Facebook has borrowed from LinkedIN Answers, Yahoo Answers and Mahalo.com, all of which allow members to ask and answer questions, building a collaborative, searchable, repository of knowledge and opinions. Beginning with a first cohort of members last week Facebook is rolling out its own Q&A platform in for the form of “Facebook Questions”.

As with anything it does Facebook’s demographic mass with a community over 500 million strong makes this move incredibly significant. The usage of this service will in all likelihood rapidly surpass those of its rivals. All content within Facebook Questions will be completely public which will bring significant amounts of search traffic.

I think this is a smart, exciting and coherent extension of the Facebook platform. People already use their status updates to constantly ask questions of each other. And anyone who wants to continue limiting their questions to their friends, which will be the case for the vast majority of these updates, can continue to do exactly what they’re doing. But if your question is of a more general nature; “Where is the best pizza in Washington, DC?”, “What’s the best company to work for in America?” or “Why do you not eat meat?”, then you might benefit from making it public, and discovering what the citizens of Facebook at large think. In that case you would ask it as a “Question”, a new option you can select below the profile update box.

What makes the Facebook service particularly compelling is that it is contextual: if I ask a question about Google my friends who work at Google will see I and if I ask a question about San Francisco my friends who live there will see it, and so on. This context and integration with our Facebook network will ensure the success of Facebook Question.

So what does this mean for citizen sector organizations? Simply put, it’s another chance to engage your community in a meaningful way. Already many organizations use their Facebook Pages and Twitter accounts as consultation tools; this will be another valuable avenue to seek the input and opinions of your members, supporters and the community at large, and anything that allows you to do that at the scale Facebook represents is of enormous value. As your community responds they will also be sharing your question through their Facebook network, further expanding your reach.

As Facebook Questions has only been made available to a limited number of Facebook members so far (and aspects of it are still buggy) we don’t know yet if businesses and organizations will be able to pose questions or provide answers directly via their Pages. I hope so, and it would make sense for Facebook to allow this. The alternative would be staff spokespeople. And regardless of who an organization chooses to manage this interaction their staff will inevitably be drawn into responding to Questions that match their employer, issues of interest and hobbies or are asked by their friends.

As is true on other social networks, if a passionate group of people are discussing your issue you should (respectfully, humbly, openly) participate. You could learn a lot from the Facebook community and they could learn a lot from you. As a platform for aggressive advocacy I do not think it will work. But as a platform for educating it will be excellent.
When you add value by educating, when you provide links to relevant information and stories, when you don’t ask for anything in return, you create trust, which leads to attention and support. In these respects Facebook Questions could big another valuable tool in the portfolio of socially-connected organizations.

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Resurfacing

Rain cloud over Taos

Mountains outside Taos, New Mexico

Oh blog, and blog readers, I’ve ignored you for so long. My apologies for the long break between posts. The last couple of months have gone by in a flash, a nearly-hallucinatory slideshow of people, places, goodbyes, hellos, endings, beginnings and movement, always movement. Until finally I stopped.

I’ve been in San Francisco for three weeks and feel myself slowly settling in. K and I have been enjoying a really simple life these last few weeks: pottering around the house, working from home, shopping for bulk goods and cooking every healthy meals at home, barely eating out. We really needed this slower time after a fun but relentless and at-times spectacularly stressful previous three months which involved 3 countries, ten states, six flights and one epic drive.

The last couple of months we spent in DC were a constant countdown to departure and we pushed ourselves to be endlessly social as we strove to pack in time with all the people we loved. Finishing a job and packing up a house made work and home time equally busy. Taking a break to Costa Rica, where we originally planned to renew our visas, sounded like a good idea when we booked the ticket, and was certainly very beautiful, but became just another thing that needed organizing and nowhere near enough time to really relax. (And we weren’t even able to get our visas, requiring another trip overseas, this time to good ‘ol Australia.)

Then a final week in DC, party party party pack pack pack, and we were on the road, driving South through Virginia at first and spending our first night in the George Washington National Forest, part of the ancient Appalachian Mountains that run down the East coast. Staring up at the stars that night I felt the thrill of freedom that everyone must feel when they set out on a cross-country adventure.

We took eleven days to cross the continent, enough time to do things other than drive. Twice we took days off, first in the bohemian Taos in New Mexico and then in the Eastern Sierra Nevadas in California. We spent two days driving due West across Tennessee, arriving at all our chosen attractions just after closing time or on their day off, then spend across Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. In Little Rock we picked up a traveling companion, our friend James, and in Clinton, OK. we spent the night in the perfect old-school roadside dive motel. We were in awe of the Taos gorge and then had our minds blown by the Grand Canyon over which we saw the sun rise after three hours of sleep. In Death Valley we experienced 119 Fahrenheit (38.5 Celsius). (That was particularly amazing, the hottest temperature I’ve encountered, a genuinely new feeling.) We plunged into a freezing-cold stream of ice-melt pouring down off the Sierra Nevadas and saw the highest and lowest points in mainland USA within 2 hours drive of each other. I saw five animals I had never seen in the wild before: a hummingbird, coyote, elk, praire dogs and beavers.

America is a spectacularly large and diverse country. Mainland USA is as spread out as Australia but with a staggering degree of geographic diversity. Ancient mountain ranges (the Appalachians) and much more recent upheavals (the Rockies), huge plains and vast canyons cut into plateaus four thousand feet high. America is a relatively new continent, the land subject to the repeated trauma of tectonic collisions, volcanic instability, ice-age glaciers and resulting floods. It was thrilling to see the land morph so dramatically around us, often in the space of a few hours.

All in all, an amazing drive. We arrived in San Francisco around 2pm, had time to visit a friends house and have a shower and then left the car in long-term parking and caught a flight back to Australia, whereupon landing we dashed immediately to the US Consulate for our visa interview, arriving with seven minutes to spare. Stressful. But new visas we did receive, allowing us to work in the US for another two years, and we were both deeply relieved despite our outward (and well-deserved) confidence. The rest of the week was spent focused on family and some very special friends. Then back to San Fran, landing at 10am and seeing our first apartment at 12pm, the first of ten we would see over the weekend before I flew out on an overnight flight back to DC to start my work for Small Act at the Virginia HQ.

Naturally it was the eleventh house K saw, the morning after I left, that she fell in love with and so when I returned that Friday night it was to our new place in the Mission, which was pretty cool. And the house was every bit as great as described, cozy, large and filled with character, not to mention exactly where we wanted to live, in the Mission near SOMA (where I’ll be working).

And that brings us roughly back to now, thanks for sticking with me. Having got you up-to-date I’m going to return to the irregular-but-somewhat-frequent-updates-on-whatever-I’m-thinking-about that constitute the usual programming around here.

Photo by Jim Nix, flickr.

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