What does it take to get involved in running an online community? Here is more commentary about my work and my life. First, here's a recent short Bio.
That's the simple resume approach. But the real story is more complicated of course.
It's not easy to explain what I have done at the WELL. Innkeeper? That was the role I hoped to fill in following the imposing John Coate when he left The WELL in 1991. My bartending gigs during my college and early theater years gave me a lot of insight into that metaphor of an online place as the corner pub.
One observer once suggested "Rodeo Clown" for the task of deflecting or absorbing the chaos and conflict generated in the tension between the business and the Place. But obviously the business has to learn from the most passionate customers as well as the quieter readers, so clowning and distracting usually isn't the answer to dissent.
My initial 1991 WELL job description looked like this:
- Be familiar with online offerings, conferences, hosts.
- Represent WELL management in online discussions.
- Respond to requests to set up new conferences. (pub or private)
- Relay relevant/interesting information to staff and management.
- Provide contact between hosts and tech staff.
Visit all public conferences. Report on activity and host involvement with the public in all confs by Mar 31. Begin with conferences with least traffic and work up to busier confs....
(All conferences! Mercifully at that time there were still less than 200 of them.)
Now *that* was an adventure! The conferences are vast, ever growing, complex and interconnected. Nobody can have an overview of what happens on the WELL, you have to choose whether you'll look at a tusk, a tail, an elephant's ear.
Additional projects taken on soon after included:
- Revising the WELL hosts' manuals
- Building a staff conferencing team to take on the support and selection tasks.
- Producing a monthly drop-in party commonly called the "WOP" (for WELL Office Party, which it was not), and handling complaints about the community's preferred colloquialism.
- Collaboration with then WELL Manager Maurice Weitman and the Host community to negotiate a defining conference host agreement. Quite a process - it took months to solidify. See topic 300 in Hosts for much of the legislative process!
- Presentations, notes and essays about building community online, recapped on my: speaker/interviewee page.
- Launched a dinner speaker series - Host Gatherings - to discuss the craft of hosting,the not-quite-moderation craft at The WELL. (See the Conferencing Team Page for information on hosting and community management.)
- During the 1990s, I established specs and managed two major customizing upgrades to the Picospan conferencing software with the amazing Bryan Higgins, including several improvements to enhance private conference privacy.
- I trained staffers in UNIX basics, (with backup from The WELL's secret treasure, Pete Hanson,) and used the collective experience to contribute to software interface evolution. I am fascinated by how users game systems and how social software influences social interactions. I've written a lot about it, some in scattered places like Flickr forums.
- During the Salon era, with assistance from Pete Hanson and others, I oversaw the detangling of the WELL's old dependencies on the former ISP division and the former software division, both spun off and sold prior to Salon's aquisition, but with complex hidden dependencies. We went through several harrowing iterations of changing features, billing and social software for The WELL and for Salon's Table Talk forums.
So, are you looking for work in online community management?
Experience from multiple realms is helpful. My most extensive offline experience can be described as putting on a show, and that works online too.
I learned event production, media work, fundraising, casting and hiring, collaborative writing, directing, broadcast and stage performance working with the Plutonium Players, a theater company which toured with topical political satire.
You may as well learn from all the lives you have led. I have found value in the odd jobs, from bartender to home remodler, and from courses I've taken from commericial photography to therapeutic psychodrama training, as well as classes I have taught in theater games, group improvisation and story collaboration. This is still a new frontier, and a wide range of experiences can be brought to bear.
Anyone who is interested in the field would do well to gain experience
in working with complex groups of people over time, online and off.
That's the simple but complicated heart of working with people online.
It seems to me as if my background lead inevitably to what I'm doing now. Undoubtedly a trick of perspective, but it feels right, and this work never bores me.