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

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.

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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:  https://www.facebook.com/john.coate.7

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.

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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!

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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.

I have talked with Vinay

but he felt no need to tell me any of this.  Maybe he thought it was water under the bridge.  I don’t know.  Groups often have rocky starts.  But are you telling me this now as a warning?  What is the point you wish to make with this?

A lie by omission is still a lie, and, unacknowledged, hidden problems remain as problems, even though they are hidden.

The directors of the EdgerydersLBG that behaved in this manner, were Alberto, Nadia, and Noemi. The director that was appointed without any attention being paid to community oversight was Patrick. While all of this was going on, Matthias was in Nepal.

I dug through the historical records that i still have access to, and, none of the information about this issue has been re-instated.

This wasn’t a “rocky start”, but something that took place after it had been running for a few years.

The fact that this is still unacknowledged, and hidden, means that all of the talk about transparency, and, responsibility towards the community, is still untrue, as this has never been resolved.

It also means that, should a similar situation come about, then the people involved could behave in the same manner, which will mean that they could fuck over the community members, and then deny it took place, just like last time.


I’m posting this as a warning.

You and every other community member needs to watch your back.

If they had been open about this, had admitted their errors, and made reparations, then i wouldn’t have to write this, as it would be part of the historical record of how people in an organisation screwed up, and then fixed things.

Since this has not been done, and, they are still in denial about the problem, then they are making sure that this can happen again, and again.

One housing co-operative that i was a member of, 25 years ago, had a slightly different problem, but used a very different approach towards resolving it. The Chairperson, and the Vice-Chairperson, disppeared to India with 90% of the co-op’s funds. Some of the members put a large amount of effort into cleaning up the mess that was left behind, documented how this fraud had taken place, and, changed the co-ops constitution & policies, to make sure that this form of fraud could not happen again. This co-operative is still running 45 years after it started.

This was a complete contrast towards the way that the EdgerydersLBG company were, and still are, doing things.

If you are comfortable with the situation as it stands, then there’s no problem.

If you, and the other community members, did not know that this had taken place, then there is a problem, as the lesson has not been learned, and the potential for fraud will continue to exist.

Closure was brought about

For the occasional reader, uninterested as she might be, this refers to a divergence about how to develop the unMonastery project. This happened after the prototype had folded and moved out of Matera, in late 2014. Billy here was not involved in the unMonastery itself that I recall. Divergence begat frustration and frustration begat a lot of bickering and people feeling hurt and putting up drama, myself included. During this, things heated up. Some people broke badly netiquette, and we banned them, as netiquette advises. But then, we:

  • pushed out the former Edgeryders director responsible for a lot of the drama and lack of transparency.

  • made an effort to improve governance and increase transparency. This includes publishing legal and financial information; the statute of incorporation; making netiquette more explicit; explaining we have our own internal admin group (d’oh) and how it works; adopting an explicit policy for bestowing admin powers over the website and setting up an advisory board where people from the community have full access to all information and participate in the governance. This latter was a failure: after the controversy died down, no one was that interested in working with us, making us proposals, etc.

During all this, in January 2015 some of the people that had participated in the unMonastery prototype in Matera incorporated a company called unMonastery. Nadia and I were offered by Ben Vickers to become members, in explicit recognition of our contribution to the new endeavor and as a way to bring about closure to this mess. We turned down the offer, but wished them well, and we did so publicly. We also reserved the right to continue developing the idea on our own. With that, closure was achieved, as far as I am concerned.

We never heard from them again. But Companies House records show that Vinay resigned as director in August 2015; Ben Vickers resigned in October 2015. The company has now a single director, Arthur Doohan, whom I no longer trust.

Meanwhile, the lessons from the unMonastery have produced The Reef. The Reef is very concrete. We have a prototype. I live in it. It’s not funded by grants. It might fail, and if it does we will learn from that failure too.

Other people can, and hopefully will, take the unMonastery lesson in other directions. We try to help and support a bit those who do. For example, we took part in the preMonastery experience in Galway, championed them vis-a-vis the organisation in charge of delivering the Galway 2020 Capital of Culture programme and hired Bernard, the driving force behind it, for a small gig.

Our principles are lofty ones. It is difficult to live up to them. I would argue the Edgeryders core group, though deeply imperfect, does this better than any other group I have been involved with, and I am incredibly proud of being a part of it. I would also argue that time has shown that we were always more interested in building things than in fighting for their control.

useful history

I’d like to thank @Alberto for this piece of history. It explains a lot… I’ve been on the edges of the EdgeRyders community twice: once pre-Matera, and now again, but never yet met up with people face-to-face. (Though I am looking forward to attending LOTE6 and meeting people there!)

Thinking of the “fork” that @Alberto mentioned, before the “fork” I felt that EdgeRyders was indeed edgy, occasionally too edgy for comfort. Though I couldn’t see where, I felt a background tension. Interesting to learn now that it was partly at least around the unMonastery at Matera. Before @Billy_Smith brought up the issue recently, after the “fork” I had a sense that EdgeRyders had now found a more stable mode of existence, and that (interestingly enough) focused around interpersonal relationships and care, with technology and social experiment less up front (though still being a vital ingredient. There is no claim to anything objective here, I’m just reporting my personal impressions.

People do tend to look for historical explanations of the present. When things change, there is always the question of why and how they have changed. I do, genuinely and very deeply, support transparency. But I think there needs to be care here as well. Transparency is not just about what happened at a physical level; and it is more than what happened to be written down anywhere. There is a deeply personal aspect to transparency, and I see it as being connected to the narratives we tell ourselves. I believe that we can only achieve collective transparency when those personal narratives are shared and received, and that means firstly that the individuals need to have enough trust to share them (can be difficult), and secondly that others take the time and trouble to listen deeply and reflectively (i.e. reflecting back openly what has been heard) until the person sharing feels truly heard. I understand this as part of the essence of Restorative Circles. If you put in the word “needs” then you’re pretty close to NVC.

I still wonder if we would collectively do well to hear out the conflict more in a RC manner. I personally would imagine finding it deeply instructive. I’m with @Billy_Smith in the desire to mediate, and I would hope he would be with me in the desire for the matter to be healed more deeply.

You are not wrong

Thanks, @asimong , it’s a generous offer. I am personally not interested (reasons are explained below), but maybe others will. If you need something from me to do it, let me know and I’ll happily help, within reason.

You are not wrong in feeling discomfort. We decided to organise a as a do-ocracy: who does the work calls the shots, no veto power etc. This means the checks and balances are encoded as permission to do, rather than power to stop others from doing. This can be a bit hard edged on the more meditative people, and does require a certain degree of trust. If you think people are out to get you, you will demand veto power on what they do lest they damage you. It’s not for everybody, I acknowledge it.

Also, it is important to manage expectations. We are a tiny company that barely exists, trying to navigate a symbiosis with an online community. We have decided to be very transparent, and to issue a blanket permission for people to use our brand and corporate infrastructure for a variety of purposes. But that’s where the buck stops. We are not a democracy, and do not offer the accountability of a major government. We want to spend time building, not justifying why we build, and certainly not debating what we should build. Anybody wants Edgeryders to build X, get in the game, find the resources needed and lead. We’ll help if we can, and we can lend the track record and corporate infrastructure of Edgeryders to do it. But no more. No consensus, no collective decision making. They are too slow, and incentivise people to gain prominence by stopping others from doing what they want to do. This is terribly unfair towards doers (watch Billy, who has never led a project in Edgeryders or found a client, suggest how we should run things). We want to encourage people to try things out, and have designed our rules to protect efforts to do so. Our direction evolves by trial and error: someone tries something, it works, so people take notice and do more of it.

If this does not work, evolution will wipe Edgeryders out. In this case, we will still have made a contribution, trying out a way to do things, and paying ourselves the price for its failures. Meanwhile, everyone else can try their own ways. Where’s the problem with that?

Care is doing – governance may be care

Thank you so much @Alberto — having read much more on these threads, I can start to see some of the hurt and pain and frustration on all sides, and I start to feel empathy for all sides as well.

Only one thing I would like to add to this little branch of discussion.

Care is doing.

In our culture, many of us are aware that this often goes unrecognised. I find that sad. Care is often needed to support the people who are “doing” in more easily recognised ways.

And, I believe, governance can (at its best) be a formalisation of how to care, and in particular, how to care when things get rough. I think that is the spirit with which I am drawn to involvement with governance.

I doubt I can do anything material to help in this situation. My comments are only out of care, concern and interest. But I am open to suggestions.

And so your point is…

that these are bad people and shouldn’t be trusted?  That’s it?

Giving slack to Billy

I imagine that by this, @johncoate, you may mean to draw the attention of @Billy_Smith to the fact that this is how the “point” of what he has written could be interpreted. Personally I’m doubting whether @Billy_Smith is likely to feel a sense of connection from this. I think we could do better (though some people may not wish to) in hearing him. My sense is that he longs for better relations between the parties involved, and for some kind of restoration of trust; and that he cannot at present trust the people he names to behave in the way that he sees would be most beneficial in this situation. Maybe (I’m using what imagination I can to give as much slack as I can) his lack of trust here is contingent on his not fully hearing the frustration and pain that was prompted in these people by what happened, which may have led them to feel the need to be less than fully transparent in his terms, just to look after their own well being. I guess most if not all of us have been there at one time.

I’m sure that we can, with a lot of empathic imagination, guess motivations for everyone’s actions, as well as feelings, based on their authentic needs and values. But what I have written above are simply guesses – it could all be a wildly inaccurate.

My intention is in no way to excuse dangerous, harmful, hurtful or inappropriate behaviour. Not at all. But if we wish to help people change their inappropriate behaviour patterns, we may find that helping them to identify and connect with their own positive needs, and seeing the inappropriate behaviour as a strategy for meeting their own needs that, sadly, did not meet other people’s needs; and that they have better choices available; and that we can support their making better choices (partly through all parties learning to listen better to each other), maybe we can work towards restoration of trust?

And I am certainly not making a judgement about whether it is possible in this case. What I am saying is that I would like to live in a society, in a culture, where this better listening and hearing is part of the abundant slack that we give each other.

A good use for Restorative Circles?

We suffer from some of this kind of old unresolved conflicts in our cohousing project. Interestingly, just tomorrow we will have the opening session in a Restorative Circle process that addresses a matter from over two years ago.

If there is still bitterness alive, even if its roots are over 5 years old, how about trying such a process? Apart from the time invested, I can’t see what there would be to lose, and I’m sure that the learning involved would easily be worth that time, whatever the outcome.

I dont think people are interested…

@asimong thanks for the interest and healthy attitude. The thing is during that time another mediation effort was tried, albeit online: we called it the Confessional - the problem was that it was not steered so as to produce something meaningul. Leadership and coordination is hard work I guess.

Another thing is that any mending should include both sides in a conflict right? The experience was traumatic for some of us, and we stayed apart from each other for years - what happens now is people re-opening things and making accusations based on hearsay, which is not nice.

I’m curious to learn if Restorative Circles work for you…

I see and hear the historic pain

Thank you @Noemi ! I followed through the Confessional link and others, and came across the “Completely unacceptable” thread where I sense so much misunderstanding, mistrust, failure of effective communication, that I’m not at all surprised many of you found the experience traumatic.

Yes, you’re right, leadership in this kind of area is hard work. I am only still an amateur. But I hope to be learning fairly fast. (I’m a late starter :wink: )

Yes, I completely agree, “mending” – healing – needs to include both sides in a conflict. But I don’t think time needs to prevent reconciliation. South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission seems to have done much good.

I can see the understandable desire to block out past pain. Maybe even the need, for a time. In my experience, however, it is only temporary, and reopening unhealed wounds may be the only long-term way forward. But so much care is needed, to prevent the parties making things still worse.

In my limited understanding of Restorative Circles, it is vital that it is a community effort. The whole group / community needs to “buy in” to the values and principles. So, maybe this is the way to go, first?

conflict in online groups

John, I was struck by your saying, above

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.

and I’m guessing it also relates to offline experience – certainly does to mine, currently in a cohousing community near Lancaster (England). I’d love to share with you (and anyone!) more reflections on dealing creatively and positively with conflict in any community. The nice thing about online communities is that we can, potentially, put in place some features that may potentially reinforce, through careful design, the kinds of interactions that we see as helpful.

I’ve been thinking recently, particularly, about some kind of “safe space” built in to online fora, staffed by people who are specially good at non-judgemental listening. Relatedly, in the offline world, I have a lot of time for Parker Palmer and his “Circles of Trust”, and the late Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC.

I guess I am trying to say “giving abundant slack is a skill that we can learn”. How — the detail — would be great to explore further.

Yes it would

be great to explore further.  Resolving conflict at any time - esp when there is no strong hierarchy like boss/worker when the worker has to pretty much suck it up - is difficult.  But the longer something gets put off the harder it becomes, esp since it is so difficult to strip one’s emotions out of the conversation.

Maybe a first step is recognizing that there is conflict.  Then seeing if there is consensus to do something about it.