Am I back on the edge, or did I never leave?

Hi everyone.  I’ve been poking around and lurking for the past couple of months while I got some sense of who’s who and what’s what here.  Now ready for my phase two where I actually say things and participate.

It’s a great pleasure to be here and the timing is good, since I just left my job of managing a public FM radio station in California for the past seven years.  Part of what motivated the decision was to focus once again on leading edge community information tools and social groupings.  Alberto pointed me over here to ER and I have spent many hours now reading and following links around, to and from this site.

I have a website,, where you can load up on a lot of detail about my career and the unusual path I took.  There is writing, podcasts, a video, pics, etc.

But in a nutshell it is this.  As a San Francisco teenager in the 1960s I chose not to go to college but rather to join a spiritual, back-to-the-land tribe that started what was for most of the 70s the largest collective living enterprise in the USA, called The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.  During that time (1970-83), I lived collectively and had no money of my own.  It started in SF living with a group on a bus then going all around the USA until we settled on the land in TN.  I worked as a farmer, carpenter, mechanic, truck and tractor driver and book salesman.  From 1978-82 I moved from rural TN to New York City where we collectively squatted in a building and founded a free ambulance service and then in Washington DC where our collective helped found the first bilingual free clinic in DC.  My experiences with this large extended community taught me a lot about what works and doesn’t work in group interaction.

This led directly to me being employee #2 at The WELL, which was described by Wired! Magazine as the “world’s most influential online community.”  Though the title was “Marketing Director and Conference Manager,” in fact, from 1986 through 1991, I was the first Online Community Manager, meaning my main job was the care and growth of the social aspects of the network.


1994 I co-founded the first major news website, SF Gate, which I managed until 2001. (It’s now a shadow of its former self, btw.)

2002-3 I was the Development Director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

2004-5 I helped start the US version of “Habbo Hotel” a graphical online game environment where I essentially spent two years as a cartoon character named “Brojo” talking to teenagers.

2006-7 I was director of editorial and website operations at, a nonprofit that helps other nonprofits acquire software and tools.

Then I moved up to the rural north coast area of California where, from 2008 until this past July, I became the General Manager/Executive Director of KZYX-FM, a public radio station that serves a huge rural geographic area.

And now I’m back in the SF area and working my way into ER in whatever way works best.

I met Alberto in 2013 when we both presented at a virtual communities conference, Vircomm 2013.

Also that year I gave a talk called “Origins of Online Community” (link goes to a .mov of it) in Sydney AU at the SWARM online community management conference.

I wrote one of the first, if not the first, treatises about online community management back in 1991, called Cyberspace Innkeeping: Building Online Community, which is dated in its orientation to the specific technologies, but will never go out of date regarding social dynamics…unless human nature itself changes.  Still, I’m working on a shorter, more up-to-date version of this.  Meanwhile, this short list of Principles gives you a basic sense of my approach.

Ok, I’ll stop there, except to say that I am married, have kids and grandkids, play the guitar half-decently on a good night, love to hike, bike, kayak, row, sail and travel and have an advanced SCUBA certificate.  And I love to hang out with my friends, which will include you soon enough.



OK, @johncoate, you have us out-edged here. And welcome, welcome!

Everyone: John is one of my heroes. I learned of him back in 2008, reading Howard’s Rheingold classic The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontiers (online here). Here is what Rheingold has to say about him:

“[…] When one of those online brouhahas happened and people started choosing sides and unkind words were being said, Tex [John’s nickname, though he is from California] and I often walked in the hills above Sausalito and talked about how and why online life can become unpleasant and how to make it work. We kept concluding that simple, corny, all-powerful love was the only way to make a community work when it is diverse, thus guaranteeing friction, and at the same time committed to free expression, which can and does get out of hand. A core of people must flat-out believe in the possibility of community and keep coming back to that amid the emotional storms in order for the whole loosely coupled group to hold together at all. When you complicate the situation with the real-life courtships and marriages and divorces and affairs and breakups that tend to happen to the same cohort of people when they stay in touch over a number of years, you have an atmosphere that can get overheated at times.” [emphasis mine – source ]

And I thought: man, this is it. These guys have taken a major step in breaking the lock to mass collaboration – and sure enough I am still thinking about how a core of people can adopt a mode of interaction and radiate it out to the whole network.

And now here you are, John, and the frontier has shifted out again, and we are all kind of lost. But you, you’ve been lost before, and have found your way forward. With you on board, we all stand a better chance to find our way in the present mess.


Welcome <3

Wow, great too see people like @johncoate on the platform!

Welcome, John, very nice emeeting you! Interesting projects and an amazing experience to share with Edgeryders community!

Much respect and love

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and I am rather fascinated by your short description of your lifestyle in the Atlas Mountains.  One of the things about this group that intrigues me is how almost everyone is from someplace I have never been to - but would very much like to.

I have had something of a nomadic professional life.  Since I do not have a degree or a license or any other standard credential, I basically have to live by my wits.  Each of those projects I list above lasted some years and then I moved on to something new, though often related in what they were for, or about.  And because there has always been a strong social component to my work, that means immersing myself with a group of people I didn’t know before.

Someone in another ER conversation I was recently reading suggested that this ER community space develop a “culture of conversation.”  I like that.

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Well, you are most welcome to visit, except that currently I am back in Armenia and involved in several projects that imply social good for the local communities, Armenian Redwood Project being one of them.

Though ER is indeed the right space to develop a culture of conversation, I do hope to make it to LOTE5 and meet you in person!


Indeed we will

What are you doing for the Redwood Project?  How is their fundraising going?  I made a “Good Samaritan” donation to show some support.

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Thanks for your interest and the donation! heart

Right now I’m helping several newly arrived vulnerable families to integrate, acting like a social worker, finding them accommodation, placing the kids at schools and orientation/training for the adults to find jobs to become sustainable in the long run.

I am also writing blog posts for ARP blog about the process of integration and possible paths to sustainability for the Syrian-Armenian refugees in Armenia as well as success stories of the families.

Later I’m going to focus on the affordable housing project, trying to design a sustainable solution for the vulnerable families seeking refuge in Armenia.

We currently work on a fundraising campaign which will be out this Christmas. The founder of the project has a huge network of Armenian Diaspora that supports the cause but we need to act quick now as UN considers cutting the subsidies for the refugees in 2016, and if we don’t raise enough money some 10.000 refugees will be left without help here in Armenia. By the way Armenia is the third European country with the biggest number of displaced people from Syria.

Would be happy to share more info if needed.

I need to get back in the box

Dear @johncoate,

As a hippiechild born from the local May '68 movement, all I ever wanted was to be normal, mainstream and employed. This morning, I find myself to be a writer, one of the organizers of an event called FuckUp Nights Brussels and in the same tribe as you. I’m so confused. How did it come to this.

leaves to comfort herself with some good Destiny’s Child singalongs

Ps: Is there any chance you’ll come to LOTE5 in February? I’ll provide a guitar and show you the good biking tours…



Yes it is my plan to come.  Very much looking forward to it.

I looked at FuckUp Nights awhile back - very cool project.  I have certainly had my share of them, although not all in a business sense…



John, a warm welcome to ER.

Your (re?)arrival on the edge has inspired me to login and post here myself after quite some absence. Mainly - and you will have to forgive my indulgence- because its an opportunity to contact someone i am indebted too in many ways. I still remember when and where it was that i read Cyberspace Innkeeping.

2000 I was sitting at my families shared ‘beige box’ pentium computer, i was ~15 and meant to be doing my homework… Instead I was running a phpbbs that was THE focal point for the local punk scene in my run down British seaside home town… it was the most important thing in the world to me at the time.

The experience of running that website and community, it’s associated zine, (remember them anyone?) and booking gigs, and tours taught me everything i understand about what mutually cooperative communities could be when empowered by the net. However it was that essay that was passed around my friends at the time that has since shaped everything i have ever done when working with others and building mutual teams. That line ‘When you log into an online service, you use new tools for an ancient activity.’ is still as true now as it was then. All the subheadings in that document should still resonate with people across this website when thinking about starting something new or cool and can be used as jumping off themes for discussion. 

I am extremely grateful for the opportunities and the friendships i have made though ER, and im excited to see the outcomes of the work on the 4 key tasks in the Failing forward’ post the other day and very much looking forward to seeing how the community grows and devlopes once these important challenges have been er ’ bureaucractised’.

anyways. Welcome aboard!

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This made my day

Seriously.  Thank you so much for saying this.  I wrote that piece a log time ago and I have kept it on my website nonstop in hopes that the very thing you described would happen. And I love that you passed it around with your friends in the local punk scene.

Cool to see you here! Watched “your movie” a while back, and just read your principles. The last line looks suspiciously simple. :wink:

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The easiest things to say

are often the hardest things to do…

Walking the talk

This is not just any introduction, John. The fact that you’ve spent the last weeks accommodating to the space and reading historic documentation of Edgeryders says a lot, I mean, that level of attention. We will have a lot to learn just by “reading” you in action… Attention and empathy is something I feel we are missing lately (and the “conversation” you referenced above), mostly on the Internet in general - the ability to cool off and just spend time listening to each other. The sense of trade-off between doing that and getting things done (more bureaucratic as Jay says?) is, for me personally, permanent. But I guess that differentiates the pros from amateurs, or less experienced :-) Will see you soon for sure, welcome!

Again, easy things to say are often hard to do

This is an unusual and pretty special group.  You all have been doing this for a few years already and have already done important, meaningful projects, yet it still feels like a young organism with far more ahead than was has already happened.  You are a self-described group of “do-ers.”  The orientation is toward projects, most of which need some level of financial support.  To consistently pull that off, there has to be structure and responsibility.  And yet it is heavily populated with free spirits.  The company overlaying with the community is an interesting structure that I think will always have some tension around hierarchy and governance.

One of the conundrums of online groups is the inevitability of conflict.  That is endemic to all groups forming up, but this is a medium where conflict is inherently hard to resolve.  In the past couple of days I read a number of conversations here where this showed itself.  In a group of free spirited self-starters like this, falling into arguments is just going to happen, especially when putting together projects and defining group governance.

I have wrestled with this problem for years and I don’t have easy answers except to make sure that everyone recognizes the inherent difficulty of resolving conflicts in online conversation and resolves to oversupply understanding.  Give slack in abundance.  We’re functioning in a  limited environment based on words and word choice. (As an aside I have to marvel at everyone’s ability to articulate in English when it isn’t your native language), and yet we know that there is more than words going on.  Old hippie that I am, I still call them vibes - the unseen energy that travels between people.  The thing that blew me away about online conversations way back when I first got into this, is that vibes magically travel through the wires and ether along with the words.  But they are bound together with the words chosen to convey them.  Nevertheless, those vibes are going to influence reactions and those reactions may or may not get properly articulated in the words of a response.

Some people are better than others at choosing those words.  Some people can make their point quickly with economy and some people can’t.  Some people are happier or more irritated at a given moment.  Some people have a pressing other issue crowding their mind while they are trying to focus on a conversation here.  Some know and see each other outside of online (“in person”) to varying degrees.  And some people have existing outside relationships with each other that influence what they say, and others in the conversation might not know what “baggage” they may be bringing with them.

Again, I have never found a good way to deal with it other than to really try to understand what someone is trying to say and give them a lot of slack.  Hopefully over time I will get where they are coming from.  And plenty of times I have said the wrong thing and caused a bad feeling in someone that took a long time to work out, if it ever got worked out at all - many did and many did not.

As an aside, it is a very good thing that you have face-to-face meetings built into the core of ER.  The blend of online and F2F creates a kind of social alloy - very strong if the people involved still like each other after the early rush of those first gatherings.

I’m not talking about trolls or people who seem to be here just because they need someone to pay attention to them, although they too are inevitable and always suck some of the energy for themselves, or try to.  I’m saying that this is a complex and deep relationship-building endeavor where, as it says in the I Ching, perseverance furthers.


Also I have a Facebook page

I don’t love FB and I know that I am part of the product there rather than a customer, member, whatever.  But it’s useful as a way to stay in touch with people I already know, and their photo gallery thing is reasonably useful.  FB is a lousy place to build relationships - it’s brilliance is that it reinforces relationships that already exist.

Anyway, here is my page which I think anyone can see containing lots of photos, many from the way old days, most more recent:  Redirecting...

Great to see John doing this!

I’ve seen John through all of the adventures, starting with the WELL, and just want to attest to what unique experience he has – plenty of online community-builders in the world (although he was the first online community manager), a few people were involved when news media first got online, plenty of people have been involved with online communities for young people and/or avatar-based, many have been community-tech advisors to nonprofits, a few have had the privilege of helping EFF, more than a few have run public radio stations – but John is the only one who has succeeded at all of these enterprises. Will follow this next chapter with interest.


Good omens all around

Thank you so much, @Howard_Rheingold, your endorsement carries a lot of weight – though it seems @johncoate has won quite a few fans of his own already in Edgeryders.

We’ll do our very best to dream up something to do together. And you too, Howard, are of course welcome to step in. :slight_smile:

Always happy to deal with John!

Thank you, Alberto. I am mostly retired now, working as a full-time artist, with one important exception: I’m always up to collaborating with John!


While you have been reading a lot of the background, you may not know that there was a number of posts that were deleted during one split that took place around 5-6 years ago.

This split was caused by some of the Directors of the Edgryders LBG Company, taking the credit for work that they didn’t do, as well as the understandable reactions to this behaviour.

I was trying to mediate, and find an amicable solution to some of this, but i could not, as the deleted posts were never re-instated, so it was not possible to find out what had really happened. I subsequently found out more of what had taken place from personal conversations with some of the people involved, but i have still not been able to find out the full story.

It was not the disagreement that caused the split. The split was the reaction to the subsequent cover-up.

This also took place at the same time as the election of the directors to the EdgerydersLBG Company.

The EdgerydersLBG was a legal shell that was supposed to be available to the community for general use, and was supposed to work with community over-sight. There was supposed to be a community choice as to the new directors who were to act as community over-sight, but instead, the new directors were directly chosen by the current directors of the EdgerydersLBG company. This was imposed directly with no input from the Edgeryders community, and when i subsequently checked the company structures, the main shareholders of the EdgerydersLBG company, were the directors themselves, no-one else.

This basically meant that all of the rhetoric that was used about doing things differently, was lies, as the directors /owners of the company were behaving as autocratically as the institutions that they were railing against.

This was also the reason that a lot of the members from the UK left the Edgeryders community, as the behaviour of the directors of EdgerydersLBG was just “business-as-usual-with-a-different-set-of-faces-in-charge.”

If you want to get the full story, contact Vinay Gupta and he will be able to fill you in on the missing details, that have been disappeared down the Memory Hole.