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SXSW Saturday

I gave the opening presentation: “Why the Web Matters.” It was close as I’ve ever come to doing a straightforward “Small Pieces Loosely Joined” presentation. It was largely new material, which always makes me nervous. After all, if I have any capacity to learn from experience (discuss amongst yourselves), then the debut of new material will always be the worst presentation of it.

I, of course, have no idea how it went.

Now I’m in the Social Networks session. It’s up against stuff competition: Cory Doctorow on a panel about Doing Good Online, and the cyborg guy, Kevin Werbach. No, Kevin Mitnick. Damn, no Kevin Warwick. Anyway, I’m in this one about building social networks that work where my three friends — two of whom I met in the flesh for the first time today — are talking: Nancy White, Jon Lebkowsky and Adina Levin.

Nancy is telling about her experiences as a group facilitator in Armenia, Azerbaijan and elsewhere. She’s saying that the online connections that had been made paved the way for stronger personal relationships once people met f2f. The connectivity also worked against the hierarchical power flow. “It’s very disruptive,” but in a good sense.

In terms of particular technologies, Nancy says they used WebCrossing and IM and tried to move people from email because the group doesn’t benefit from one-to-one emails.

Adina is talking about SocialText, a new company she’s working with. (Note: I’m on the Board of Advisors. I joined before it had a name or even a direction because the founding people, including Adina, are so strong.) Just as a blog is the simplest way to publish, she’s saying, a wiki is the simplest way to collaborate. The company uses a wiki to work together. For example, they take notes on the wiki during their weekly status meeting and then edit the wiki to turn it into a project plan. Anyone can add to the wiki, but one person has responsibility for keeping it orderly and useful.

SocialText has a “just-in-time” philosophy, or perhaps it’s an attitude. They are developing infrastructure only as they need it. Their software will be open source for community projects and they’ll have proprietary software to sell to companies.

Jon is telling us about Joi Ito’s “happening,” a multi-modal meeting that included telephone, wiki, QuickTopic document review, and chatting. (Note: I invested in QuickTopic.) The wiki was more useful as a way of storing material for after the meeting. Adina says that if you’re in a meeting in a physical room, you use visual cues to see how people are reacting. During the “happening,” chat served to give those cues. For example, with 20 people on the phone call, if you wanted to speak you typed “hand” into the chat.

An audience member is complaining that QuickTopic sucks. (Quick, get me my broker!) QT is separate from the web site you’re working on, has separate UI, etc. But his real question has to do with how you work in or transform the customary ways of working. Nancy says you have to be sensitive to this. She says that there has to be a time of discovering the differences.

Jon says that an email list grew out of the Happening. It went well and then suddenly stopped. Nancy poses the question: what is leadership in an online group. Nancy says the online world supports visionaries (and delusionals, adds Jon) who are good at communicating, but it’s not clear how to keep the non-leaders involved. Ernie the Attorney suggests that it might be because hierarchies have some uses.

Interesting. Good to hear from people with experience…

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