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Archive for October, 2010

It Gets Better is a grassroots campaign in America launched by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to a horrific spate of teenagers killing themselves after being victimized for being (or being perceived to be) gay. There were 5 suicides in September alone. After another one of these tragedies Savage wrote in his column that he wished “I could have talked to that kid for 5 minutes and been able to tell them it gets better.”

In that same column, on September 15, he announced he was setting up a YouTube channel for those who were bullied but survived to tell their story, to tell those going through hard times that it gets better. Since then the channel has had more than 1.8 million views and 21,000 subscribers, making it the fastest-growing channel on YouTube right now.

Here’s Dan’s original video with his husband Terry:

On MSNBC last week I saw Joel Burns, a member of the Fort Worth Council in Texas, share his story, a story he told us he had never told anyone before, in a speech before the council. It’s a speech unlike many you will ever hear from a politician. It’s raw, personal and courageous and had me in tears.

It Gets Better is another inspiring example of the possibilities of social media to aggregate individual actions, share otherwise-unheard stories and to connect us across borders, classes and generations. This campaign wasn’t cooked up in a strategy session and launched with fanfare by a national gay rights organization. It wasn’t backed with millions of dollars in funding. It didn’t even require its own website. It was one person’s idea, a single video uploaded online, and an invitation to participate.

Now, yes, this particular person had a mainstream media platform from which to promote his idea, but without the enabling environment of the internet he would simply have expressed his sadness and, presumably, moved on. Thousands of readers would have nodded in agreement but then what? Now, instead of just an expression of grief there was a call to action, an invitation to participate in something, and a simple, humble, personal video to get things started, and show how it could be done.

As Dan said in his column:

“Gay adults aren’t allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don’t bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

“Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don’t have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.”

He’s right. Thanks to social media, we can.

Six weeks later the videos continue to roll in and the conversation around the issue continues. Employees at Google and Facebook have contributed videos, as have Project Runway’s Tim Gunn, American Idol’s Adam Lambert and Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto. Videos have come in from Muslims and Mormons, gays and straights, teenagers, parents and grandparents. And hundreds of thousands of teenagers have found out that whatever their situation they are not alone, that others went through difficult times and survived and that they need to stick around and give their lives a chance.

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“Community Manager” is the job title of the moment but beyond those with this written on their business cards the truth is that anyone doing social media work on behalf of an organization is doing community management work. You are the face of the organization, front-of-house, the link between internal organization and external community, at least online.

So then, what sort of link are you?

I think there are two basic profiles for a community manager: the bridge and the wall. One represents an open stance, the other a defensive posture. Initially both can appear the same, can project the same enthusiasm, share the same great links, ask the same questions.

The differences are profound however and emerges slowly but surely over time, as the community becomes aware of just how real this engagement is. Or it emerges very quickly, in the face of a crisis. In either case your organizations openness and accessibility will ultimately characterize what sort of a community manager you are.

Characteristics of the ‘Bridge’ Community Manager:

  • You are an open channel of communications between community and organization
  • The views and interests of the online community are genuinely taken into consideration in organizational decision-making
  • You are considered senior within your organization, with the trust of the executive
  • You consider your first job to be representing the community within the organization
  • You share interests with and consider yourself a part of the community
  • You acknowledge your mistakes quickly and openly
  • When you ask questions, the answers matter, and responses are fed back
  • You think of your community as collaborators

Characteristics of the ‘Wall’ Community Manager:

  • You are considered a junior role, without internal influence
  • You consider your first job to be representing the organization to the community
  • You have little in common with your community, they are “they”, not “you”
  • You ask questions, but the answers don’t go anywhere
  • Mistakes are downplayed or denied
  • You think of your community as donors

If your organization is employing you to be a wall, and many, if not most, organizations feel most comfortable starting here, then your job should be to help evolve your role into that of a bridge, and in so doing transform your organization for the better.

What do you think? Do those lists look familiar?

Photo by Jay Cables of a Banksy piece, used under a Creative Commons license.

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San Francisco is a place full of energy, overrun by people with big dreams working hard to make amazing things happen. One person who fits this description that I was lucky enough to meet upon moving to San Francisco is David Harris, the founder and Executive Director of the Global Lives Project. He has spent the past five years driving this art/social change/education hybrid project, coordinating 500 volunteers who together have completed shoots in ten countries and staged numerous exhibitions. As he explained the project to me I was inspired by its vision, intrigued by its potential scope and very impressed by the way it had been executed. I knew I wanted to help.

Global Lives Project aims to “collaboratively build a video library of human life experience that reshapes how we as both producers and viewers conceive of cultures, nations and people outside of our own communities.”

Global Lives is a series of 10 (so far) 24-hour continuous shoots of the lives of ten diverse people from ten countries around the world. The content is moving in its simple humanity, showing how despite our geographic and cultural differences we have so much more in common, we are one people.

Global Lives Project has mounted exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco and elsewhere, allowing people to wander from room-to-room catching glimpses of these diverse lives. Sometimes they all begin together, at the same time in each day. Sometimes they are played according to their time zones, so 5pm in San Francisco is 8am in China and so on.

Here’s David’s Artist Statement from their Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Exhibit:

Framed by the arc of the day and conveyed through the intimacy of video, we have slowly and faithfully captured 24 continuous hours in the lives of 10 people from around the world. They are screened here in their own right, but also in relation to one another.

There is no narrative other than that which is found in the composition of everyday life, no overt interpretations other than that which you may bring to it.

I’ve seen longer reels of film than that featured in the video above but I can fully appreciate how much more impactful this footage can be when situated alongside each other, when people can wander in and out, getting a window into another person’s world. Their opening night event and exhibition at Yerba Buena got rave reviews:

It’s the immediacy of this live viewing, the context of the ten films played alongside each other, that I believe would give the most powerful sense of looking through a window into the world of another. I would love to experience this, would love to see Global Lives Project being able to mount more events and exhibitions and organize new shoots to continue to build their library of human experiences. When I needed to choose a nonprofit to fundraise on behalf of as part of Razoo‘s ‘zooGooders Council, I immediately thought of Global Lives Project.

Between now and the end of the year I’d love to be able to make a contribution to the expansion of GLP’s activities next year, supporting them to hold new exhibitions, develop educations programs around their content and grow the library itself. My main motivation in supporting GLP is to help get this great content before more people.

Please consider supporting my fundraiser. My fundraising widget is here. Every bit makes a difference. Anything that gives people a window into the lives of another, that increases our understanding and empathy of other lives, helps create a more peaceful, more just world.

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A couple of weeks ago my friend Geoff Livingston called me up and asked me how I’d like to be part of a new group advising Razoo, the excellent nonprofit fundraising platform, on the development of a new personal fundraising tool. The group would involve fundraising, community-building and social media experts who would engage in a series of exercises followed by conference calls and Twitter chats to share what we’re learning. In other words, a chance to connect with smart people and learn from their collective wisdom while supporting an organization or my choice to raise funds and expand their community? Hell yeah I’d like to be involved.

The group is know as the zooGooder Council and is every bit the great collection of advocates and nonprofiteers I imagined. In addition to myself it includes:

• Andre Blackman of Pulse and Signal.
• Nicole D’Alonzo of Niki’s Notes
• Abby Flottemesch of Atlas Corps
• John Haydon of his eponymous blog, http://www.johnhaydon.com
• Rachel Matthews of A Southern Fairy Tale
• William Neuheisel of DC Central Kitchen
• Armando Rayo of El Mundo de Mando
• Jennifer Roccanti of Miriam’s Kitchen
• Amber Rodriguez of Noah’s Kitchen
• Jenna Sauber at Lagniappe
• Andy Sternberg of his eponymous blog, http://andysternberg.com/
• Andrea Weckerle of CiviliNation
• Jennifer Windrum of WTF Lung Cancer

This is a fantastic group of experienced do gooders and I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn from them and share my own experiences along the way. We’ll be testing the new DonateAnywhere widget that Razoo have launched, which allows a blogger or organization to fundraise without sending their visitors to another site.

Unfortunately I cannot fully test out this functionality, which is a genuine step forward, as it requires that the host accept external javascript (that’s what allows the widget to process financial payment securely). WordPress.com does not. Another reason for me to update to a wordpress.org install soon I guess.

Regardless I’m excited to play with Razoo’s tools and help an organization I admire: The Global Lives Project. I’ll be blogging about why I chose this organization tomorrow but if you’d like to check out the DonateAnywhere widget in action and, even better, donate to this cause check out my donation page.

You can participate in the learning and conversation around the zooGooder program by joining the weekly #zooGood twitter chat, 6-6.30pm Pacific each Tuesday.

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Artwork by Rose Fyson, made available by Oxfam International on a Creative Commons License.

Yesterday was Blog Action Day, an inspiring example of the power of coordination and generosity on the internet. Blog Action Day was founded by three bloggers in 2007 and asks bloggers to write about a single topic on a specific day. Last year Change.org took over management of the event. This year’s topic was Water, following on from the environment, poverty and climate change over the past three years. You can see my contribution here.

Blogs are one of the the greatest example of how free time is now focused creatively and expressively, rather than passively, in the digital world. The cognitive surplus this produces is fueling the web2.0 world, driving innovations in  politics, media, arts and play. In everything. The internet has opened up so many options for our active participation in cultural production and community formation. But the thing that makes it really powerful is its capacity for coordination.

Blog Action Day is an example of generosity online, as over ten thousand bloggers, the vast majority volunteers, contribute the content which makes the day what it is. But it’s the coordinated publishing of these blogs on a specific day that amplifies into more than a random collection of voices but rather becomes an event. Something worth paying attention to, worth the White House, Mashable, The Huffington Post, Official Google Blog, BlogHer, StumbleUpon and thousands of other blogs large and small, contributing to.

Water is a great choice of issue. How we share and manage water resources is going to be one of the defining issues of the 21st century. As climate change affects rainfall patterns conflict over water will grow, and new approaches will be required for human habitation to continue in many parts of the world, including areas of the United States and Australia.

Water is a local issue, intensely felt by the 1 billion worldwide who lack access to clean water, and to farming communities where the rain no longer comes, or the snow melt isn’t what it used to be. But it’s also a regional issue, as countries will increasingly squabble over shared resources with wars over water the likely outcome. And it’s a global issue, a leading symptom of our changing climate, a warning that we need to do things differently.As the UNDP has written “water is the medium through which climate change expresses itself.”

The universality of this experience (we all interact with water, and therefore water issues, every single day) makes it perfect for an event like Blog Action Day. We can each speak locally but together we express a global perspective: that the time for change is now.

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Today is Blog Action Day. This year’s theme is water.

Australia is the place which is being hit hardest, first, by climate change. It is the canary in the coal mine. Parts of Southern Australia have been in drought for 12 years, a drought without historical equivalent. At what point do we stop calling it a drought and just accept that the climate has simply changed? Tim Flannery has predicted that Perth, Western Australia, my home town (ish – Fremantle really), could “become the world’s first ghost metropolis, its population forced to abandon the city due to lack of water.”

As a result of this however, awareness of water conservation is growing and becoming second-nature in most of Australia. For a number of years now in Melbourne each suburb is assigned certain days of the week they can water their garden. If you want to water it on other days you must use water you have collected in the house. Visiting friends in Melbourne now it’s common for them to ask us to collect our shower water in buckets, to use on the garden later. People wash their cars over the lawn. Gardens are being re-planted with drought-resistant native plants.

Dual-flush toilets are ubiquitous in Australia (seriously Americans, what’s the deal with the lack of dual-flush toilets here? They were invented in 1980 and use 67% less water) and waterless urinals are being installed in many office buildings. People make a conscious effort to use less water and there’s a growing acceptance that soon we will be recycling sewage into drinking water.

And this how it should be. Australia is a nation build atop the oldest, driest, most fragile continent on earth. Both waves of human migration to Australia altered the land indelibly. In the second wave starting in 1788 Australia was settled by a people who feared this alien landscape and fought to dominate it, to make it as close to home as possible. For 222 years we have cut down the forests, farmed the plains, irrigated the deserts, bred hard-hoofed animals, so ill-suited to the Australian environment, by the millions and reveled in our status as the world’s greatest exporter of carbon.

Australia’s first people’s found a balance with the world they re-made, a balance that preserved through 60,000 years and covered some of the harshest and most difficult to inhabit places on earth. This is the world’s oldest culture, a culture that has adapted to the unique environments of Australian, learned to read and understand its patterns, utilize its flora and fauna, adapt to its demands.

We are a people who do not adapt, we force the earth to change to suit our tastes. But we are reaching the limits of this ignorance as the world shifts in dangerous and unpredictable ways and we find the most basic resource needed for our survival, water, threatened. Australia’s changing climate is forcing us to adapt to our continent, to figure out how to make do with the resources we have and protect the habitat we have left. If we are to survive on this incredible continent we have a lot of catching up to do and so much to learn.

It begins with water.

Photo by BouncedPhoton on flickr.

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Favourite videos of the moment

I love video on the internet, the combination of the most powerful communications medium with the most powerful distribution platform ever invented. Here’s some videos I’m loving at the moment:

 

Banksy and the Simpsons

The brilliant Banksy directed the ‘couch gag’ (ie. opening credits) for a Simpson’s episode that aired earlier this week. It’s very dark and a very pointed comment about the corporations behind The Simpons. It’s hard to believe it was okayed by the network exec’s. So how to read the fact that it was? They have obviously calculated the doing so won’t hurt their image in any meaningful way. And here we all are, talking about The Simpsons, which could probably use the publicity boost. So is this then an example of anti-corporate art being used for the benefit of a corporation? Brilliant subversion or sell-out? You decide:

 

When Memes Collide

Blendtec are famous for their brilliant and innovative use of online video for marketing. They’ve been at it for a few years now making “Will It Blend?” videos where they reduce the buzz topic of the day (the iPhone for instance) to dust in one of their industrial blenders. Here they get really meta and blend this year’s social media darling Old Spice in the blender while blending their format with the famous Old Spice ad. Well played.

 

Envision: Step Into the Sensory Box

Amazing, gorgeous light art. These guys must have a pretty amazing projector.

 

Social Media Revolution – Refreshed

Social Media Revolution is a classic YouTube video created by Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, now with 2.3 million views. A couple of months ago he released an updated version. If you haven’t watched it, you should:

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