Living in a Bubble

Bubble - zzub nik on flickrI’ll never forgot the republic referendum held in Australia in 1999.

The polls had looked bad in the weeks leading up to the vote, with the combination of those genuinely in favour of us continuing to be a constitutional monarchy and those unwilling to vote in favour of the specific republican model on offer holding a modest but firm majority but I never lost my optimism. It just seemed too ridiculous that we’d turn down the chance to take the final step of legal independence from Britain. Yes, it’s symbolic, but that’s precisely why it was an important step. And as the day arrived the polls were tightening right on cue.

The day of the vote was sunny in Sydney and I had a great time handing out how to vote cards for the Yes campaign. At the time I lived in an electorate that generally voted conservative, being older and wealthier than the average, but it felt clear that the majority were voting the way I wanted that day. The energy from those taking out how to vote cards was very positive and they clearly outnumbered those taking the cards from the No campaigners. We’ve got this! I thought.

I was at a party when the results came in. It was relatively early in the evening when the outcome became clear. It wasn’t even that close. We’d lost, 55 to 45, and didn’t carry a single state.

I was stunned. Mortified. Outraged. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. Almost everyone I knew was voting Yes. My family, my friends. Even in the moderately conservative seat of North Sydney the vote had clearly favoured us. How had we lost? How could the rest of Australia have made this appalling error? The emotional hit was worse than anything I’ve experienced after an election. I was confused, angry and sad.

And I wasn’t the only one. The mood of the party went sour quickly. Someone admitted to voting No and was set upon (verbally) by a couple of people. More arguments broke out. I wasn’t even in the mood to drown my sorrows or ramble philosophically and so left. It turns out that North Sydney was something like the second highest Yes vote in NSW. And my friends and family were nowhere near representative of the feelings of the population overall. I was living inside a bubble, and was disorientated when it burst.

I was reminded of all of this today when I read “Hashtag Feminism” in The Monthly, a review of a recently released collection of feminist writings from the Destroy the Joint organisers called Destroying the Joint: Why Women have to Change the World. The author notes a disjunction between the feeling expressed in the writings that Destroy the Joint had been an establishment-shaking, world-changing movement of real social significance and that fact that she herself had never heard of them before, and nor had anyone she knows.

This is what most of politics is like most of the time. We all exist within our bubbles. There is no neutral ground upon which to stand and assess “mainstream opinion.” Those who claim to speak on its behalf rarely resemble the masses they pretend to be one of.

The reviewer of the Destroy the Joint book felt that “many of the contributions to this book highlight, for me, the insularity of hashtag activism: social media as echo chamber.”

But life is an echo chamber. We live in a particular place, surrounded by other people who live in that place. We interact with others in a particular industry or cultural community. We seek out those who share our interests and values. And, yes, social media reflects these general barriers to infinite understanding which exist in human societies.

As is so often the case the new thing being discussed, in this instance social media, is being pointed to as a reason for our insularity when in fact it merely reflects it. It takes effort to seek out and understand the viewpoints of those unlike us. Few of us do it enough. It’s easier to consume content I mostly agree with or about things I am already interested in.

However  in identifying this shortcoming of social media, and of the Destroy the Joint movement, but really of humans in general, it’s easy to miss the real story here. We’ve always been insulated from the full spectrum of human experience and opinion but before social media our isolation could very well be an entirely individual experience. In so many domains people previously believed that they were “the only ones,” whether it was gay kids in the country or women frustrated with the general level of misogyny in our society or someone obsessed with blues in the suburbs.

Now for whatever it is is you’re into there’s others like you forming communities online. And yes, deep engagement with a community is perspective-skewing, but so too is watching the commercial TV news each night (you might think, for example, that we are suffering from a crime wave or a weak economy).

For those who have become involved in feminist activism as a result of Destroy the Joint I have no doubt the experience has been genuinely world-changing, discovering a community of others who feel strongly about the same issues as them and are prepared to do something about it would be incredible empowering and exciting. Have they won the battle against misogyny in the last nine months? Of course not. But they are active and involved and speaking up and changing lives and inspiring active citizenship and that's actually pretty awesome.

This is how it works in a democracy. We find others who care about the things we do and we work together to convince others and affect the changes we feel are needed in our community. And social media has given us a powerful new set of tools to do this convincing and connecting, to learn from and to share our experiences and to support and sustain each other in the long-term effort to create a better future.

Image by zzub nik on Flickr made available on a creative commons license.

Is KONY2012 the most successful social media campaign of all time?

My timing was a bit off on this - reports have emerged of the head of Invisible Children and filmmaker behind KONY2012, Jason Russel, being detained by the police while having some sort of emotional breakdown. I have never questioned Russel's motives and feel awful for him, the stress has clearly taken a terrible tole on him and I hope he gets rapidly better. I think the conversations raised by the KONY2012 campaign are important and it will be a shame if, as is likely, this event ends those conversations. It doesn't feel right to remove the blog post below - which I actually wrote on Tuesday on the train - and I hope it is clear that my critique is not aimed at Invisible Children but rather at the reaction of some of my peers in the social media for social change space.

I’m sure most of you have seen or heard of the KONY2012 video recently released by the American organization Invisible Children, which gained 70 million views faster than any video in history, and the resulting controversy over the content, framing and approach of the video and organization. I’ve participated in these debates on Facebook and Twitter, mostly passing along links to articles written by people far more expert in the situation in Central Africa than I. This blog is not to further hash out those issues, please read posts here, here and here if you want to learn more (if you have watched the video but have not yet read these critiques, I really encourage you to do so).

What I want to address here, specifically, is the commentary I have seen from several of my peers in the social media for social change space describing KONY2012 as one of the most high-impact social media for social change campaigns ever. Irrespective of how you feel about the video itself and the approach it takes to the issues in Uganda and Central Africa, I think this is a reaction that should give anyone who cares about the use of social media for social change pause.

The key question, as I said in reply to one of these sorts of statements, is to define what we mean by “impact”.

Think about it this way: if a car ad went viral on social media, receiving 70 million views in just a few weeks, but afterwards there was no increase in the sales of the car being advertised, would the marketing industry describe it as “the successful social media marketing campaign of all time”? Of course not. Success is not having a video go viral, success is something changing in the real world. If it didn’t have a measurable impact on sales the advertising firm that produced it would be unlikely to be retained, despite their social media success (see for instance Burger King’s recent decision to dump Crispin Porter & Bogusky, creators of the hugely viral campaign “subservient chicken”).

I believe in social media-enabled activism. I believe in the incredible power of these tools to connect, inform and inspire us. I believe they have created new forms of activism and have supported the creation of global campaigns and alliances which have had an impact on many issues and in many places. But when we lose sight of this real-world impact and become infatuated with youtube views as a measure of impact in and of themselves, we sell short the incredible potential of these tools. In our adoration we risk becoming the caricature of the social media slacktivist the media likes to deride: caught up in the act of sharing, content to click ‘like’ or to retweet and then move on, satisfied our work is done. But for social media activism to have an impact the work is only ever just beginning at this initial point of engagement. I believe that creating a world of changemakers requires not just the sometimes-too-easy work of generating outrage but rather the complex work of building better futures together in communities fueled by positivity and participation. But this is another discussion.

Now this isn’t to say KONY2012 won’t have an impact; it just hasn’t yet. And any impact it does have will be hard to judge based on the somewhat confusing goals of the campaign. Invisible Children want the US Government to be involved in bringing Joseph Kony of the Lords Revolutionary Army to justice, and this, in fact, is exactly what the US government is already doing, as Obama dispatched 100 soldiers to aid in the search for Kony and the LRA late last year. Invisible Children are calling on Obama to not withdraw these forces, but there’s been no indication he was considering such a thing. They also call on the International Criminal Court to focus on arresting Kony, but he is already their most-wanted suspect.

The point I’m trying to make goes beyond this particular campaign and to the heart of how we believe social media can affect change. Awareness is undoubtedly a critical part of this process – you can’t act on an issue you are unaware of – but it is still a means to an end.  If you were organizing a rally around an issue, do you consider your impact to be the number of people who turn up to the rally? Would Martin Luther King Jr. have considered the March on Washington a success just based on turn-out? I doubt it: success is judged by the extent to which the rally helped influence decisions and actions taken afterwards. Success is social or behavioral change, not simply awareness.

Two of the biggest protest marches ever held in Sydney were against the Iraqi War and in favour of an apology to the indigenous stolen generation. Neither could possibly be claimed as “the most successful march of all time” because, despite their enormous numbers, they simply didn’t create the change they were looking for. Australian forces still invaded Iraq in support of the US and the then-government continued to refuse to budge on the apology. It was only two elections later, with a change of government, that this issue moved forward.

Those of us who work in and believe in social media for social change need to judge the success of campaigns on the ends, not the means. Not page views, not YouTube hits, not even money raised, but on changes affected in the circumstances of people and issues in the real world. We can complement and be impressed by the amazing spread of the KONY2012 video, and people can (and naturally will) look to learn lessons about how to generate a similar response, but we have to reserve labels like “most high-impact ever” for when we see actual impact being generated. When we get caught up in virality as an end in itself we diminish the potential of social media rather than celebrating it and we risk losing sight of what must matter most.

Do you think KONY2012 deserves to be called impactful yet? What are some examples of social media campaigns you’ve seen that did create real-world impact?

Starting at HopeLab


Over the last month my life has gone from ambling along to whizzing by, a wonderful blur of new thing: people, work, projects. During this time I have however found myself struggling to carve out time to write and so a catch-up is in order.

Two weeks ago I started work at HopeLab as Manager of Communications and Emerging Media, a nonprofit which harnesses the power and appeal of technology to improve the health and quality of life of young people. This also ensures that K and I will be staying in San Francisco for a bit longer, through 2011/12. I couldn't be more excited by the organization and position.

HopeLab had me from hello really. Reading the very first sentence of the position description got my mind buzzing and I knew I had found something I was interested in. It said "When you’re a small nonprofit like HopeLab, impact is sometimes measured by what you’re doing to promote the greater good, not just the number of customers you reach through products and programs". It went on to read “The insights we share about our work – lessons learned, risks taken that paid off (and the one’s that didn’t) – are valuable measures of impact as well.”

In other words, HopeLab’s purpose in using social media goes well beyond transactions, and unlike many nonprofits see it as more than a fundraising medium. This is really important to me. I believe social media has given us an extraordinary set of new tools which give rise to exciting new possibilities for community building, cultural formation, knowledge-sharing and storytelling. Doing these things well also creates great opportunities for organizations to build a supporter base which is prepared to help fund projects.

But if fundraising is the primary focus I believe many of the other opportunities can be lost or neglected. And as a communicator it’s also less satisfying. I’m driven to share stories that matter and create relationships that are real and two-way. This requires a focus not just on what your online supporters can do for you but what you can do for them. I find this broader view of impact, one focused on the human connections, transparency and the greater good, both exciting and inspiring. Creating this impact, sharing these insights, listening and learning as well as talking, is the kind of work I want to do. This is the work I am excited to take up at HopeLab: informing, inspiring and involving a diverse community of stakeholders in designing technologies that improve the health and quality of life of young people and workplaces that support human beings.

HopeLab have an incredible intentionality about the work, mission and organizational culture which I have never experienced before. And they have made me feel more welcome than any previous workplace. I’ll be working on a number of exciting campaigns this year including the launch of Zamzee and the Joy Campaign. I think this is going to be a very happy and productive home for me and I’m thrilled to be here.

For a great overview of HopeLab’s work and approach check out this talk our CEO Pat and my boss Richard gave at the Wisdom2.0 Summit recently.

I am also, with their blessing and support, still working on StartSomeGood, a new crowdfunding platform for social good. We actually launched yesterday, which naturally I’m psyched about but will commemorate with a proper stand-alone blog post, coming next.

I’ve also been maintaining two new shorter-form blogs, one of them shared with K and devoted to San Francisco street art. More on that soon also.

Over and out, for now.

Customer service or customer service theater?

Yesterday afternoon I listened as K exhibited patience and tact beyond what I would have been able to muster while dealing with a customer service nightmare with Blue Shield of California, her health insurance agency. She has probably spent an hour+ on the phone with them three times in the past week, trying to get what seems like a simple issue resolved.

The problem seems to stem from the fact that when she originally signed up in mid-November she wanted her insurance to start December 1, as she had other coverage until then. When her card was initially issued it indicated a start date of mid-November. She called up to request that this be changed to December 1. Not a problem the guy said and sure enough, a few days later, a new card arrived with a December 1 coverage start date.

Now Blue Shield is insisting that her coverage actually started in mid-November, and that additional funds are therefore owed. The start date can't now be changed because a change needs to be requested within 30 days. When K explained (over and over again) that she did request that change well within 30 day deadline multiple customer service reps have just robtically repeated that their computer doesn't show this. What their computer does show is that a card was re-issued, a card that gives a new start date of December 1. They "don't know" why this was sent; the computer doesn't tell them. Might it be because K had requested it, just maybe? Sure, that might be the case, but without a record in the computer there's nothing they can do. And this isn't just talk, the customer service staff literally are not empowered to actually solve problems. Their job is entirely to deflect blame and get you off the phone.

At the end of the call the Blue Shield woman asked "is there anything else I can do to help?" and K replied "I just want to feel that I've been heard and I don't feel that." Long silence. K: "Hello?" Blue Shield Woman: "Sorry, what do you want? My mind went blank for a minute there." She literally couldn't retain focus to listen to the response to the question she asked! And precisely what that response asked for was being heard. Oh irony.

This all got me thinking: surely any service that involves this type of customer interaction is ready to be dominated by a company that empowers its staff to treat people like humans, like the valued customers they are, and actually solve their problems? Just as was seemingly just selling shoes but was really selling itself based on superior customer service, in any sector with relatively interchangeable products companies win with service. And, honestly, it's not so hard. Zappos allowed their people to act like real people, not script-reading automatons, and gave them the tools and permission to actually solve problems. Not only is this much more enjoyable for the customer it is also much more satisfying for the staff.

We should stop being so impressed with companies that exhibit these characteristics in the public domain such as social media but not in the private and more regular phone interactions. Comcast comes to mind. They are regularly cited for their great Twitter-enabled customer service through their @comcastcares, but have you dealt with their call center recently? It's the typical frustrating and dehumanizing experience. What does it mean when a company makes a show of great customer service publicly but fails to follow this philosophy in their call center? It means it's not real, it's customer service theater, a performance designed to disguise the fact that for many people there's no where else to turn but venting on Twitter.

Let's save our congratulations for companies who treat both their staff and their customers in a more humane way, empowering all their customer service staff to actually perform services for their customers, rather than just pretending to behave this way in public.

Photo by Michael B via flickr (Creative Commons license).

Quora and the emerging interest graph

Quora is my newest favourite website. And it’s clear I’m not alone. After quietly building buzz through 2010 Quora has blow up, doubling in December and then doubling again in the first week of 2011.

I’m not surprised: Quora, a question-and-answer platform, is tapping into a really important trend, the rise of the interest graph alongside the social graph in online importance. Nathaniel Whittemore discussed this in a smart post a couple of months back:

If Facebook is the service with the internet’s most complete (visible) social graph, Twitter is the service with the internet’s most complete (visible) interest graph. “Following” a person — even one you don’t know — is an affirmation of your interest in their insights and recommendations. “Friending” someone is simply an act of acknowledging an existing relationship, that in many cases, has more to do with a previous shared experience (think: your freshman dorm) than with a really active shared interest.

At the time of Nathaniels post it did seem that Twitter offered the best example of the emerging interest graph. It’s non-reciprocal linking structure allows you to follow those that interest you, not just those you know, creating a blended social/interest graph. Hashtags further allowed you to follow specific conversations and connect with new people who share that interest.

Quora was built intentionally to capture the interest graph (Twitter was originally built to allow friends to keep track of each other) and so naturally takes this the next step, encouraging you to formally “follow” a variety of topics that interest you, from locations (“San Francisco”), industries (“media”, “tech”), companies (“Facebook”, “Twitter”), concepts (“crowdsourcing”), individuals (“Larry Lessig”, “Jack Dorsey”) and more (all examples are topics I follow). In addition you can follow specific questions, to get a notification each time there is a new response, and you can follow individuals, those you know or otherwise. Your feed is a blend of the topics, questions and people you follow.

This design influences your behavior on the site. There are people I follow on Twitter, because they are my friends and I’m interested in them, who I would not follow on Quora, simply because we do not share significant interest in common so their questions and answers are less likely to be relevant to me. While Quora is social I’m not there for a social experience per se, I’m interested in learning and, where possible, giving back in the form of answers.

The quality of the information being shared currently is phenomenal. It’s common to see founders of companies, even very large companies, responding to questions about that company. Steve Case responds to questions about early AOL decisions. Ashton Kutcher gives his opinion on how to get cast for a show. Evan Williams shares how Twitter managed to blow up at SxSW. Insiders share the thinking behind business deals or technology advances. It’s very skewered towards Silicon Valley/tech/startup but if it can maintain this quality across other topics it will become a vital site for many people.

For cause-focused organizations Quora also provides another powerful platform for sharing knowledge and stories, building authority and connecting with people who care about your issue. This has to be done respectfully, by passionate advocates of the organization, speaking as themselves. Credibility is built by thoughtfully providing answers and asking honest questions about things you seek to know. Admitting you don’t know everything is more likely to build support than pretending you do, and may even bring you unexpected answers and ideas.

It will be interesting to see how Quora evolves under the strain of growing users and the need to improve the user interface to encourage less tech-savvy participants. What I do know is that right now I’m leaning more useful, actionable information from Quora than anywhere else. For those that never likes the 140 character constraints of Twitter Quora might be the social network for you. Here's my response to a question on, where else?, Quora, Is Quora more interesting than Twitter right now? Why or why not?:

Absolutely. It's the best of twitter and blogging together in some ways (although I don't think it will replace or impact either). There is so much knowledge here, freely and cogently expressed, and this knowledge is vastly more searchable and accessible than that shared through Twitter. That said, I'm not sure Quora will be the relationship-building tool Twitter has been for me.

Are you using Quora? How are you finding it?

The new world of peer-funded projects

Цвета музыки (Colours of Muzik)

I have a confession to make. I'm a crowdfunding addict. Or as I think of these emerging platforms: peer-funding. For the first time projects can be funded by those who share the passion and vision of the creator. In other words, not the anonymous crowd, but your global peers getting together and saying "let's make this happen". That's new, powerful and very cool.

Peerfunding (or crowdfunding, if we must) is the facilitation of numerous small contributions to fund specific, time-limited, projects. Crowdfunding is an offshoot of crowdsourcing, the buzz term from a couple of years ago that gave us talent-mobilizing sites such as GeniusRocket for creative and InnoCentive for scientific problem-solving, outsourcing these functions to the crowd. But this new breed of sites are different, and not just because they are asking for money instead of logo designs or film concepts. Crowdsourcing is focused on producing a unique high-quality contribution (be it logo or film or chemical breakthrough), harvested from the crowd, these new funding platforms work cumulatively. Just as Barack Obama proved the power of small dollar fundraising in the political world we are now seeing the power of small dollar philanthropy in new sectors, especially the arts.

This model first caught my attention in the lead-up to this year's Burning Man, as numerous arts collective raised funds for their projects on Kickstarter. It was really exciting to see some of the amazing things in development and to be able to support in my own modest way a couple of projects I thought were most exciting. And I'll admit it, I did it for the perks too, including the promise of a ride on a very cool artcar (which I never took them up on sadly).

The focus on perks is another unique feature of this model of these new platforms. Across all the leading sites it is required that projects articulate "perks" for their funders. And I don't mean the usual "feel good about yourself" perks, I mean "give me something cool" perks. This works perfectly for many creative projects that are object-oriented - if it's a zine or book you can receive it (signed!), if a film you get a dvd or a credit, if an exhibition or catelogue a print. Digital projects tend towards the thank-you pages and downloads of code (woot). At the higher amounts everyone has to get more creative: dinner with the artist; consulting; an event at your house; an award in your honour.

It's all fun stuff, and it beautifully fuses the line between philanthropy and straight-up shopping. I have always enjoyed purchasing hand-made zines, now I simply pre-buy them and in so doing give the creator the confidence and funds to make it. I enjoy film, and spend money on a Netflix subscription, so why not actually chip in to see documentaries on issues I think are interesting or important made? Some of the projects on Kickstarter in particular have blown out their fundraising targets by seemingly-absurd amounts, raising 1000%+ of their goal, but this is usually really just an unexpected run on a groovy new product. Being quasi-philanthropy and quasi-shopping simultaneously attracts more supporters than either approach alone would engender.

Over the past few months I have supported the publication of zines both micro-micro and merely niche via Kickstarter, production of a documentary on avant-guarde culture in Jerusalem via IndieGoGo, a series of social change posters via LoudSauce and the relaunch of a much-loved independent media website via the Australian FundBreak. There is also, which supporters journalistic projects.

These sites are not all the same. Kickstarter and Fundbreak are exclusive to creative projects while IndieGoGo is broader and LoudSauce and even narrower, specifically funding public interest advertising campaigns and journalism respectively. All of these sites except for IndieGoGo operate on an "all-or-nothing" model whereby if the project doesn't raise its target by the deadline they receive none of it, with all contributions returned. This is a perfect fit for creative projects (and advertising campaigns) that have very specific amounts required to produce the project (whether it's printing costs or tv time) or else it can't happen at all. There's a necessary tipping point. If it project doesn't raise the necessary funds then the commitments are returned and its no-hard-feelings. It gives a security to contributors that the project will really happen or their money back and for creatives it reassures them that if necessary funds aren't raised they're not on the hook to those who have contributed thus far.

Not all types of projects have this tipping point and currently only IndieGoGo caters to them with a keep-what-you-raise system. This can create another, also important, sort of confidence, that those supporters people have been able to mobilize will see their support realized and delivered.

The biggest gap I see in the peerfunding space currently, in addition to having several valuable niches currently unserved, is that they are all based around one-off projects. There's nowhere where you can create a stable profile for an organization or enterprise and then fundraise for specific projects over time - building a community across these projects and deepening your engagement with these supporters. I'll have more to say about this soon.

Have you contributed to any projects on a peerfunding platform? What do you think is working and how could it be better?

What has travel taught you?


As part of my participation in the zooGooder fundraising challenge December 2-9, for which I'm supporting Global Lives Project (find out more), I wanted to share why I'm so passionate about travel and why I think Global Lives Project shares some of the important insights of travel to those who may not have the chance otherwise. But rather than just having me blather on and on about travel I thought it'd be much more fun to hear from all of you as well!

So, a little fun: Please join me in sharing what travel has taught you using the #travelteaches hashtag on Twitter. Travel is such a powerful experience which I have personally taken so much from, and I know it's meant a lot to many of you also. I'd love to hear your stories and perspectives. So let's see if we can get a good conversation going and encourage others to use the hashtag and join in as well.

If you're not a Twitter user please leave a comment here instead!

I'll collate all tweets and comments in this post, so hopefully it will grow over the course of the week. Or I'll just be quoting myself, we'll see! :)

Space permitting please link to this page using

Find out more about my Global Lives Project fundraiser.


@gunyahtravel: Not to immediately think every taxi driver is a crook going to overcharge you! Life lesson; book, cover, judge.

@philosert: #travelteaches tolerance.

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me that rice is for breakfast, the pyramids r not lego, smiles r universal, personal space is subjective, & camels are smelly

@lyrianfleming: #travelteaches me to love - the call to prayer, the chiming of church bells, the symbols in a synagogue, the eternity in a prayer wheel

@tomjd: #travelteaches me to be slow and still, to allow wisdom to emerge at its own pace. I find this only happens out of the city.

@noboundariesorg: The world is safer, friendlier, more inexpensive and more welcoming than most people are lead to believe.

@tomjd: #travelteaches me that there are many paths to the same destination, that there's no "right" way of doing things.

@BonnieKoenig: With eyes & ears wide open, travel always introduces new perspectives & ways of viewing the world.

@memeshift (shared in comments): Traveling brings you presence. When traveling about, switching your cultural operating systems between the different spaces you inhabit as you merge, blend, depart and float can do a lot as you get acclimated to the different senses of time, speed and cultural nuances in each inhabitation. It shifts and frees your perception of things to not be so attached to particular ways of life, however pleasurable or not.

BonnieKoenig (in comments): Every trip I’ve taken to another country, no matter how short or long, has opened my eyes to a different perspective that I had not thought about before. It can come from observing people, reading a local paper or hearing a radio report, or more in depth conversations or experiences. It’s a cliche, but true, that nothing else can really replace the learning experience that travel affords. Of course, one gets back what one puts in, and honing one’s observations and listening skills and being open to new learning is important.

@GeoffLiving: Travel teaches me the broadness of the universe, how amazing it is, and what a small role I have in it.

@EdwardHarran: Travel teaches me how to find extraordinary in the ordinary, it helps me embrace chaos and stay present wherever I might be.

@amvandenhurk: how we are all interconnected.

@c_rawlins: #travelteaches the many different definitions of happiness that exist, and how few of them relate to possessions.

@vibewire: #travelteaches a different perspective, a new view to admire.

@noboundariesorg: Cultural and language differences aside, we are all much more similar than we're led to believe.

@k8alexandra: #travelteaches me that we are all different and all the same. It also taught me that Lao people make the most amazing Indian food.

@sarahjansencom: #travelteaches there are as many versions of 'normal' as there are people on the earth.

Alex Budak (in comments): If I had to find one common lesson from my travels it’s that we are all so much similar than we are dissimilar. From a farmer I met in rural India to an Icelandic fisherman, after speaking with them I realized that there is so much more that connects us than separates us. While that may seem obvious to those that have traveled, before I left home and explored I would have certainly thought the opposite. It’s also taught me to be humble, ask questions (lest I experience another fiasco like trying to figure out German washing machines), and learn from everyone I meet!

Alice (via Facebook): There's not really any such thing as 'translation': Another language is not another way of saying the same thing - it's a different way of thinking.

Marian (via Facebook): Everyone loves a good laugh, women work HARD, everyone has to deal with the same shit, how to hold onto my pee for a really long time, there is a lot of plastic lying around, there are hidden deep corners of our world where nature rules and maybe we shouldn't go there.

Matt (via Facebook): People are cool and we should just get along.

Awesome stuff, thanks so much everyone who participated!

The amazing story of It Gets Better

It Gets Better is a grassroots campaign in America launched by sex columnist Dan Savage in response to a horrific spate of teenagers killing themselves after being victimized for being (or being perceived to be) gay. There were 5 suicides in September alone. After another one of these tragedies Savage wrote in his column that he wished "I could have talked to that kid for 5 minutes and been able to tell them it gets better." In that same column, on September 15, he announced he was setting up a YouTube channel for those who were bullied but survived to tell their story, to tell those going through hard times that it gets better. Since then the channel has had more than 1.8 million views and 21,000 subscribers, making it the fastest-growing channel on YouTube right now.

Here's Dan's original video with his husband Terry:


On MSNBC last week I saw Joel Burns, a member of the Fort Worth Council in Texas, share his story, a story he told us he had never told anyone before, in a speech before the council. It's a speech unlike many you will ever hear from a politician. It's raw, personal and courageous and had me in tears.


It Gets Better is another inspiring example of the possibilities of social media to aggregate individual actions, share otherwise-unheard stories and to connect us across borders, classes and generations. This campaign wasn't cooked up in a strategy session and launched with fanfare by a national gay rights organization. It wasn't backed with millions of dollars in funding. It didn't even require its own website. It was one person's idea, a single video uploaded online, and an invitation to participate.

Now, yes, this particular person had a mainstream media platform from which to promote his idea, but without the enabling environment of the internet he would simply have expressed his sadness and, presumably, moved on. Thousands of readers would have nodded in agreement but then what? Now, instead of just an expression of grief there was a call to action, an invitation to participate in something, and a simple, humble, personal video to get things started, and show how it could be done.

As Dan said in his column:

"Gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.

"Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids."

He's right. Thanks to social media, we can.

Six weeks later the videos continue to roll in and the conversation around the issue continues. Employees at Google and Facebook have contributed videos, as have Project Runway's Tim Gunn, American Idol's Adam Lambert and Star Trek's Zachary Quinto. Videos have come in from Muslims and Mormons, gays and straights, teenagers, parents and grandparents. And hundreds of thousands of teenagers have found out that whatever their situation they are not alone, that others went through difficult times and survived and that they need to stick around and give their lives a chance.

Community Managers: Are you a bridge or a wall?

"Community Manager" is the job title of the moment but beyond those with this written on their business cards the truth is that anyone doing social media work on behalf of an organization is doing community management work. You are the face of the organization, front-of-house, the link between internal organization and external community, at least online.

So then, what sort of link are you?

I think there are two basic profiles for a community manager: the bridge and the wall. One represents an open stance, the other a defensive posture. Initially both can appear the same, can project the same enthusiasm, share the same great links, ask the same questions.

The differences are profound however and emerges slowly but surely over time, as the community becomes aware of just how real this engagement is. Or it emerges very quickly, in the face of a crisis. In either case your organizations openness and accessibility will ultimately characterize what sort of a community manager you are.

Characteristics of the 'Bridge' Community Manager:

  • You are an open channel of communications between community and organization
  • The views and interests of the online community are genuinely taken into consideration in organizational decision-making
  • You are considered senior within your organization, with the trust of the executive
  • You consider your first job to be representing the community within the organization
  • You share interests with and consider yourself a part of the community
  • You acknowledge your mistakes quickly and openly
  • When you ask questions, the answers matter, and responses are fed back
  • You think of your community as collaborators

Characteristics of the 'Wall' Community Manager:

  • You are considered a junior role, without internal influence
  • You consider your first job to be representing the organization to the community
  • You have little in common with your community, they are "they", not "you"
  • You ask questions, but the answers don't go anywhere
  • Mistakes are downplayed or denied
  • You think of your community as donors

If your organization is employing you to be a wall, and many, if not most, organizations feel most comfortable starting here, then your job should be to help evolve your role into that of a bridge, and in so doing transform your organization for the better.

What do you think? Do those lists look familiar?

Photo by Jay Cables of a Banksy piece, used under a Creative Commons license.

I'm a zooGooder!

A couple of weeks ago my friend Geoff Livingston called me up and asked me how I'd like to be part of a new group advising Razoo, the excellent nonprofit fundraising platform, on the development of a new personal fundraising tool. The group would involve fundraising, community-building and social media experts who would engage in a series of exercises followed by conference calls and Twitter chats to share what we're learning. In other words, a chance to connect with smart people and learn from their collective wisdom while supporting an organization or my choice to raise funds and expand their community? Hell yeah I'd like to be involved.

The group is know as the zooGooder Council and is every bit the great collection of advocates and nonprofiteers I imagined. In addition to myself it includes:

• Andre Blackman of Pulse and Signal. • Nicole D’Alonzo of Niki’s Notes • Abby Flottemesch of Atlas Corps • John Haydon of his eponymous blog, • Rachel Matthews of A Southern Fairy Tale • William Neuheisel of DC Central Kitchen • Armando Rayo of El Mundo de Mando • Jennifer Roccanti of Miriam’s Kitchen • Amber Rodriguez of Noah’s Kitchen • Jenna Sauber at Lagniappe • Andy Sternberg of his eponymous blog, • Andrea Weckerle of CiviliNation • Jennifer Windrum of WTF Lung Cancer

This is a fantastic group of experienced do gooders and I'm excited to have the opportunity to learn from them and share my own experiences along the way. We'll be testing the new DonateAnywhere widget that Razoo have launched, which allows a blogger or organization to fundraise without sending their visitors to another site.

Unfortunately I cannot fully test out this functionality, which is a genuine step forward, as it requires that the host accept external javascript (that's what allows the widget to process financial payment securely). does not. Another reason for me to update to a install soon I guess.

Regardless I'm excited to play with Razoo's tools and help an organization I admire: The Global Lives Project. I'll be blogging about why I chose this organization tomorrow but if you'd like to check out the DonateAnywhere widget in action and, even better, donate to this cause check out my donation page.

You can participate in the learning and conversation around the zooGooder program by joining the weekly #zooGood twitter chat, 6-6.30pm Pacific each Tuesday.