Building OpenVillage masterclass building healthy and productive online-offline communities

[Editor note: The following notes were made by @johncoate during the OpenVillage Festival. Quotes are not verbatim but summarize what was said. If you feel something is mis-represented, please tell us in a comment or with the “Flag → Something Else” feature and a mod will fix it. – @anu]

photo by bärbel maessen


Focus is on openvillage, edgeryders and reef

The whole premise of openvillage is that the entire network benefits from every single one in it.

Exchanging ideas that lead to action, helping each other professionally, taking care of each other.
There is no single path in doing this.

Who am I , john describing his journey in the us and how the Tennessee community started from a bus ride across the US in the 70s during the Vietnam war, then deciding to continue living as a community after that, bought some cheap land in there, and started building it.

Just a comment on why he is called Tex in email :smiley: found a cowboy hat in an old car, he was a car mechanic, and people started calling him Tex :smiley:

Went to the south Bronx in NYC , squatted a building in the poorest neighborhood there, because of their experience, they decided to take care of each other and provide our own health care.

One got the idea of going and making an ambulance for the people around. As there were no doctors and poor health care around. This worked for 6 years, he was supporting and setting up this not the medical person.
They had to deliver their own babies. Regenerate the midwifery movement.

Then to Washington DC, collaborated with some doctors to initiate the first bilingual clinic there.

Then Back to California, fixing cars, then went to work at the WELL, and the whole earth catalogue. Supposed to work on customer support and marketing in time I became to

John became what is now known as an online community manager. He basically invented the field. He had an intense living-working experience.

In 1994 John co-founded the first online news website, SFGate. Combine news articles with community dialog. Help journalism be better, help the community be smart. A hybrid of opinions with fact checked professionally written material.

What makes the Open Village and The Reef different?

Doing online community, living space and working space together is rare. This is authentic pioneering work. This hybrid of virtual and physical community. Not having them be separate entities, but blend seamlessly into each other. Each depend on each other. They need to be connected.

Open Village is a network of houses with an autonomous network affiliation. The Reef is one of those spaces. The communities need to be shaped by the active participants, yet there are some general things in common.

John offers a toolkit to improve our likelihood of success and how to not screw it up.

It’s all about relationships. John wanted to make the online experience as meaningful as possible, foster deep relationships, in the online community. Working honestly and compassionately in the open with each other. It had not been proven, but John had a conviction it would work.

A culture of sharing and respect. It must express online and offline in word, deed, ??.
It has to be clearly evident to everyone who shows up, lives, works, stays. It’s a commitment and has to be corrected if there are deviations.
You have to want the togetherness. You need to be committed. Or the ups and downs will get to you.

  • Work hard
    John wasn’t very suited to the community life. But he wanted to be with his community members more than he wanted to remain how he was. He became a hard worker.

  • Share
    Don’t let things escalate. Keep it up. Share is a verb, an action, do it, initiate it, don’t wait for someone to do it. It is bad to let things lead to an eruption of conflict.

  • Be Open and Honest
    Talk about what limits you want to set. Don’t get mad if someone asks what’s going on. “Oh, nothing” is not an answer.

  • Provide Service
    Your attention and effort goes beyond your own job, projects and personal interests. If you see something that needs to be done, you pay attention to it and take the initiative to lead it.
    Don’t be a Complainer, Grouch, Jerk (or worse)
    Everyone has their moods. Do they drive you, or do you drive them? Don’t let them drive you.
    Make Time for Fun
    If it’s no fun, no group will be working for the long haul.

The magic of affirmation. Encourage someone. Finding something you like in another person and lift him up by telling them. Not like a ‘like’ on Facebook. Show that you’re paying close attention to a person. You can help grow more of that in the other person by expressing it, bringing it out. Never fake it, if you don’t see it, don’t say it. Be honest. Keep it real, don’t overstate it. “I see your better self in yourself, but what you just said or did does not really express it very well”. It’s not about stoking up ego or building self esteem. Not “you are great” but “what you just did or said is great”.

Living Arrangements, maintenance, sustainability. You have to make some decisions about how you maintain things and manage yourselves. Take time to have a conversation about it. Find skills, strengths, go into it with an open mind. It might take some time to do it what works well for everyone, but not doing it will lead to problems down the line. You want to put out a clear sense of being positive people that are an asset to the nearby community.
Decent power, good food, good sanitation. A lot of landlords of pretty lax. Someone needs how to not get shocked or overflow the plumbing. Sanitation can kill your community. One richer community failed due to overflowing toilets.
Grow strong human connections and commit to those.

About the money. No money = no projects, no food, … Grants do not pay for operations. Sometimes projects net a profit, sometimes not. You need to come up with ways to provide for yourself and this will test the community. Who’s owed, what is owed? What’s on him? You can’t mess this up, or it’s a big hole in your boat. What’s your own money, what’s the group money?
You and the group need to decide how the rent will be paid. Are you willing to pool your money and then decide to spend it? John lived without any own money for 12 years.

The projects that make the money. Is everyone in the kitchen the chef? How much ownership do you have over projects? Is there commercial potential? Do you know how to read a contract?
How would you feel like it’s your job to make money for the group, rather than working on your own ideas and projects? Or is the well-being of the whole group more important for you? Are you willing to set aside your own project for a time? Are you able to set yourself aside for a while, working for the whole? Over the long haul, roles can change and reverse at times. John worked a long time ‘sacrificing for the whole’, working as a mechanic, maintaining appliances. But then he raised seed money for the clinic. You just never know what’s going to happen. You need to pay attention, be committed, and it may just fall on you to be the catalyst that turns the key.
Can you think of ways to combine projects? Be more than the sum of the whole.
Leave your ego at the door.

Who decides what? Will you decide through one person? Consensus? Decide on yourself. Be thorough and not attached to just your own personal desires. Who is good at what? What about chores? Everybody should be involved in basic household work and (the usually more fun) project work. If you see something that needs to be fixed, don’t just walk away: step up.
The project leader is not necessarily the leader in the living arrangements (important for working-living situations). Perhaps individuals with natural leadership, but it is not a given that this authority carried over to the home situation. It’s about claiming or granting an authority role.

Stay healthy. People living together share a lot of germs. Pay attention to basic hygiene. What if everyone gets the flu?
John has a hepatitis B story. Someone came and cooked, infected everyone. Bad stuff, could barely function.

Privacy and personal space. At what point does your personal space spill over to the common? Where do you draw the lines? John lived in a complete transparency, mental nudist community. It served him well as an experience in every community situation afterwards.

Don’t escape into your Phone. Don’t obsess to remove yourself from the group. Or you’ll miss it. Alienation can begin in the tiniest things.

Visitors*. You want to convey a business like feeling. There needs to be a reason for someone to hang out longer.

Living and Working. The online space. Have physical meetings. Have parties. The people who are not face to face, but are online, still benefit from the bonding that the people who do meet physically have done. Magical! And vice verse. The whole network gets stronger from different relationship building. The online is a good diary, everything is searchable, but the diary needs to be available by serious documentation and linking and structuring.

Managing online community. Someone will be main point person, but everyone needs to know how to do this stuff well. There needs to be consistency. Even when there is debate online. Finding commonalities by discussing differences. You want your online self to be close as possible to who you are in person. Not knocking roleplaying; but this is how Edgeryders does it. You can’t be too casual on how you accomplish that. You want your work to be as if your speaking naturally, but you are crafting your words so that it seems like you’re spontaneously communicating. You need to compensate for the loss of that you can’t communicate through words. That takes effort. Make your communication ‘hyperreal’. Project yourself deliberately. Being real is important, and consciously set out to achieve this to get to a place of deeper connection.

Model the behavior you want to see in others. Zen master: the main point is to keep trying. That’s why they call it practice. The online environment is restricted to words, pictures, videos, but there is an emotional subcarrier that goes out together. And they will be received and felt by the people at the other end. Hippies called it the ‘vibes’.

Be Someone everybody trusts. Vouch for people and they will vouch for you. Ultimately trust is the basis for everything functioning. Otherwise everything falls on the ground. Many people who are smart and socially capable, had however not experienced the community feeling, the bigger picture. Yet it is the essential part of coming together. John was the trusted person that initially brought everything together. This was a crucial way that this group of talented people became something they themselves called a community.

###The hats you wear

  • Leader
    Give all a place to talk, meet and collaborate. Yet Edgeryders is not a democracy. Someone is responsible at the end. You have responsibilities as leader

  • Participant
    You participate, even as you maintain your leader status. You need to participate well, then you will also lead the group to deeper understanding.

  • Moderator

  • Mediator
    Arguments happen. Usually it resolves without intervention. But when you do intervene, do it without expression of your own opinion.

  • Helpdesk
    There will be people who don’t know how to do something. Help them, or they will go away.

  • Librarian
    You need to know where things are, link to related material. Help people find out things.

  • Analyst
    How many people do you have? How do they participate? How long are they here? Weave them into the story you tell to people who support or fund you.

The Devil is in the details. You can’t really multitask in real time. Your brain just does really fast switching, not really multitasking. When you wear multiple hats, you’re going to have to be really good at switching. Full attention here, then quickly somewhere else.
People involved in ‘visionary’ work, often don’t like admin. Yet it needs to be done well, it can endanger projects. It is pivotal. There can’t be mistakes or the consequences will be big. If you’re good at it, you should step up. Pay attention to the details. Being good at the admin details will net you respect from people who are more business or financially minded.

Authority versus authoritarian. Authority is recognized by others and reinforced. Authoritarian is processes and rules that enforce without optimizing for what actually is important for the community. Make sure that, when you grab the wheel, you know what you’ll be doing. Don’t act like you’re right all the time, just because you’re the “manager”. Admitting your mistakes and striving not to repeat them, actually builds more trust you’ll need to do your work.

IRL (In Real Life). In fact it’s all real life. You want to be as close to your real self as you can get. You can to project onto others what you think is the best of yourself. Show that you’re being honest and your intentions are good, that you’re part of something bigger.

Regarding negativity. Conflict and negativity are inevitable. Yet it does not need to dominate any group. It is not healthy to suppress unexamined feelings or thoughts if they are unpleasant or inconvenient. Get objective enough about the negative to prevent it from spreading, and to fix it. Not about being fake happy, but separating what you want to say from the emotion you are experiencing that is driving you to say it. Don’t make it worse by projecting the full load of negative feelings you may have: mindfulness. Don’t let it go too far. Everyone knows how it feels to be on the receiving end of a rant. Everyone experiences a bad mood. How do you straighten it out? First: separate informational content from the emotion of it.

Conflict. Easy to get in, hard to get out. It applies everywhere, online and offline. It seems like people are calibrated to misunderstand each other. We need to figure out how to rise above it. Good news: conflict can strengthen bonds (as well as weakening it). Your bond is stronger if you know that can resolve it, because you have in the past. It is important to carry this with you. You will always know that you have done this. Do not seek conflict, yet do not avoid it if you have to go there.

When do you talk about it? What is your business, what is someone else’s business and not yours? Sometimes it does work without addressing it. Relationships often have a “honeymoon” phase. Where everything is “awesome”. The longer you know someone, the more things you find you don’t actually like that much. You want to avoid a buildup of irritation that becomes to hard to sort out, because you have lost the trail where it got sorted. Can you let it go, or do you need to talk about it? Some people are just not aware that what they do bothers other people, and they don’t mind being told. But you don’t want to be the behavior police, straightening people out. As a default, it’s better to say things than not say them.

Am I the problem, or are you the problem? Ask yourself before you blurt out. Problems in a relationship are never 100% one or the other.

Receiving feedback can be hard. Sometimes giving it is even harder. Getting defensive, it’s difficult to have empathy. It’s hard to give this feedback in an open and trusted way You can’t erupt. You need to work on it together? Have compassion for the person who is trying to give that feedback. If both people understand that equation, it will go better.

Oversupply understanding. This is central. The art of listening. Cut people some slack. Try to understand where they’re coming from. If they’re having a hard time expressing things. Be diplomatic: the essence of being a diplomat means that if you’re at a table with 9 other people, you’ll talk 10% of the time and the rest you listen.

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