When in London: the VIRCOMM saga

The Virtual Community Summit in London, 7 February 2013, brought together a series of speakers who work in a variety of creative fields, all extremely passionate about social-media, new technology, people and good ideas. And what a meaningful day this has been!

As a pure rational geek of our times, let’s call him a Descartes of our days, would say, ‘I share therefore I am’, let the Vircomm Saga (a serial of three episodes) begin #vircomm13.

Early in the morning, while waiting in line for buying tube tickets, I picked up my phone and went to Google maps to find where the Royal Institution is. Yet in a couple of minutes, I checked my e-mail and my FB account, sent a short message to Noemi and started listening to my playlist. My geographical coordinates where so precise, nevertheless so smitten with my little device in my hand, I was plugged in my online network life. Technology not only redefines what we do in ordinary situations like waiting for the bus or the tube, but it changes who we are. Stepping back to Descartes’ legacy, I was thinking about the concept of vanity or the tremendous input that shapes our lives, the less philosophically ‘I can’t live without’ idea.  Can we live without our smartphone, iPhone or personal laptop? Can we just forget about our e-mail or facebook timeline during our holidays or during classes? Many of us simply cannot conceive their activity without this inordinate list of social media services and tools. And this debate, although important, seems already redundant. Nonetheless, there’s a good sign too! First of all, Google maps were helpful enough and I didn’t get lost, thus I was just in time for the introductory session of the summit! But what I want to highlight is that nowadays we take all this digital tools for granted, although just 20 years ago, internet was still embryonic; moreover, we live the digital era early days and without doubts, more is to come!

John Coate, a former community manager of ‘The Well’, brought us back to the origins of the online community concept and pinpointed the meaningful story behind the Whole Earth Lectronic link, launched back in the ‘80s and depicted as one of the ‘world’s most influential online communities’. Orwellian times, we may say. Yet instead of heralding Big Brother, The Well transformed itself into a visionary pioneering community that sought to empower the Well- beings.  John Coates’ narrative spread across a number of different experiences in which collaboration and collective action have played a central role in the fruitful emergence of The Well.

Coming from a Latin expression meaning “with gifts”, the term ‘community’ suggests a sense of empathy, reciprocity and solidarity among its members. Evolution is speeding up and from the ‘offline’ community of peasants, workers, friends, etc. topologically and geographically easily identifiable, we assist to the emergence of the ‘virtual community’ concept (term coined back during the same ’80s by Howard Rheingold, at California-Berkley University). In this broadcast society we are already used to live in, people are tied together by shared values, narratives, resources, jokes, opinions and common projects regardless of their coordinates in space and time. Social media and the internet give everyone the tools to reach people, engage them in new different ways and enhance pro-active partnerships for social, political, economic purposes. The key issues of good/ bad reasons behind any off-/on- community that might be raised in discussion tend to become a major stumbling block to going ahead in this discussion; thus, regardless this endlessly argument about what is good or wrong in politics, economy or social affairs, we focused on valuable assets, personal capabilities and resources that when pooled together give a tremendous potential for transformation, learning and practice. Spontaneity and freedom overcome organizational restrictions and, consequently, allow authors to establish an environment where knowledge may be created and shared in such a way that their projects or new ideas can be carried out with the help of other participants. The digital element creates a sort of paradigmatic shift within every community. New ways of creating content contribute to the playful intellectual and social gathering and thus redefine human relationships.

Creating content is an interactive process and the heart of what we do as communicators.  Nonetheless, we should operate a clear distinction between the content that the community creates and the content about that community.

On one hand, the content is a matter of personality and quality/ quantity perceptions, a matter of awareness and of certain objectives aligned to the community perspectives. The structure and the information flow depend on:

  • the network composition (- who participate to the community creation of knowledge),
  • the network density measures (- how frequently and which members are keen on sharing experience and on creating opinions) and
  • the existence of clique structures within the main network.

Thus, certain questions seem the bedrock of every community: How do information and resources travel inside and outside the community? Where do interaction and exchanges of ideas take place? Can the value of media sharing be measured?

The social media tools excel in this field and have already come up with build-in analytics and metrics. This was another valuable issue that was brought into discussion during one of the panels. We can easily grab a list of 100 ways to measure social media (available on David Berkowitz’s marketing blog ), but ultimately every social media communicator has to figure out which are his/her community main objectives and how can he/she apply any of these metrics accordingly.

As Michael Conroy pinpointed during his workshop, our message should be closely related to the purpose that brings the target network together.  Moreover, metrics and analytics help to get focused, to identify goals, people and conversations and thus model the entire community. As this image can express, interaction is everywhere!

Two key tools in Social media monitoring 2.0:

  • Community mapping (imagine that every virtual community looks like a ‘brain symphony’)
  • Conversation analysis (text meaning analysis, key concepts, semantics, comments, proactive engagement and outreach)

On the other hand, by definition, the content that depicts any community evokes its public image and the impact that the former may have in a certain environment.

In a noisy hustle-to- bustle world, getting and holding attention, paying lots of importance to the way the content is created, shared and internalized is pivotal for every community.

Many rules have been tailored according to the needs of every group, but generally we tend to create a personalized, emotional, trustworthy and concise message that is both compelling and attention getting. Likewise, web companies try to adjust their services, including news and search results (i.e. Google, Amazon, and Netflix) to our personal tastes. The consequence is twofold; on one hand, it may be helpful and less time consuming, on the other hand, it might hide an (un)intended consequence. The digital algorithmic gatekeepers use to create the so-called ‘filters’ that trigger us into a ubiquitous and pervasive filter bubble that prevent us getting to a potential important piece of information.

Regardless of the former twofold aspect, the internet has provided us with one of the greatest opportunities of our times – the opportunity to share! Respect it and do grow ideas within your communities!

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@johncoate Did you know you appeared on our platform way before you joined, as early as February 2013? :astonished:

I did not know that! But Vircomm is where I met Alberto…