Bookmarked https://edgeryders.eu/t/is-the-communitarian-internet-back-in-the-wake-of-covid-19-a-conversation-with-howard-rheingold/12971 (Edgeryders)
Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HowardRheingoldJI4.jpg I have been online since 1992 – hell, I practically lived online most of these 30 years. What drew me to the Internet was not the presence of shiny, easy-to-use, free services – they were not there in the early days. On the contrary, you had to put in time and money if you wanted to, as we said then, “connect to the Internet”. But the reward was high. Whatever your tribe, you would find it. Whether you cared about particle...

Good to see this conversation between Howard Rheingold and the good people at Edgeryders (yet another place I’m more of a boundary spanner, link to a G translated Dutch posting I wrote last week) happening. Is the communitarian Internet back in the wake of COVID-19? Howard brings the perspective of the late 80’s, early 90’s, as does Edgeryder’s own John Coate. I too see a surge in online conversations and actions that feel more like back then, than what the likes of FB silos have been algorithmically feeding us the last 5 years or so. It has been brewing for a while already, with a slow but steady trickle back to blogging. Even if that trickle was mostly people returning to their earlier online spaces, which they left for FB and Twitter post 2006. The sudden surge now that everyone and their mother, literally, is coming online more or less full time, may expose a much wider population to the type of community based interaction that was prevalent before social media and ad-tech domination.

Exactly 15 years ago today I blogged the participant list of the London Blogwalk that would take place the next day. I started clicking through the URLs to see who’s still using theirs. Some have disappeared, some are still live though inactive, some still active. A few I still am in regular touch with, but two Julian Elvé and Ian Glendinning are still active but weren’t in my feedreader again yet. So I’ve added them. A pleasant surprise that Julian is using IndieAuth and Webmention on his site, and therefore is an active part of the Indieweb.

Every now and then Elmine and I organize (un)conferences for our birthday party, in our home. We did one in 2008, 2010 and 2014 (with a BBQ party of similar effort in 2012). Each one brings 40-50 participants together, and double that for the BBQ the day after. (The whole thing started as a biannual BBQ in 2004, and we added the conference part to make it easier for friends and peers from abroad and clients to join).

We love the events, and we love the way it brings many from our international network together in an atmosphere that creates lasting connections between participants, as well as the inspiration and energy it gives us. (I think of it as invoking the ghost of Reboot)

But as you see several years can pass between two editions.
They involve a lot of work and energy, cost a considerable amount of money. After each one it takes a while before the itch to do it again plays up, and sometimes major life events get in the way.

After the last one in 2014, Paolo suggested doing these events on a yearly, or at least more frequent basis. I replied in similar lines as above. To which Paolo replied “What do you think you are? The Olympics?” As he’s putting on a yearly conference in Italy himself, simply ignoring his remark does not play. He knows the reality of putting on a proper event every year, let alone our smaller scale lower-key ones. Paolo’s question stuck with me, and has been deserving of a proper answer for the past three years.

I know I’m not the Olympics. I also know the ‘lot of work, and oh the costs!’ line of reasoning isn’t fully true. We started doing the events in our home as a way to cut costs after all (the first edition was in the local university’s conference center). And I organized similarly international meet-ups in my spare time every 2 to 3 months with 20-30 participants, which each event taking place in a different European city, all with zero budget, years earlier.

To me the important aspects that create the type of flow, quality of conversations and energy that make the events such fun are:

  • Picking a topic that fits all backgrounds, so it doesn’t put people off and can attract friends, peers, clients and family alike, of all ages
  • Picking a topic that is challenging as well, as that creates the energy
  • Having participants of diverse backgrounds and nationalities, with most (but never all) having a direct connection to either me or Elmine, but less connections to the other participants
  • Doing it in our home, as it creates an informal atmosphere for serious exchanges, and I think the distinctive flavour of it all
  • Providing excellent food and drinks, for all diets, and plenty of it

The reason it takes so much time to organize is mainly that I try to do it all myself. I’m not very skilled at delegating or asking for help (as anyone who’s ever tried to help me out in the kitchen can attest). Finding a topic on a yearly basis that is at the same time broad enough to potentially include anyone and provoking enough for people to start imagining contributing to it, can be challenging
There is also the suspicion that if we’d do it say yearly, it would attract fewer friends from our international peer network (there’s always next year after all), and overall less sense of uniqueness of opportunity or urgency to attend for anyone. Whereas it’s the mix of people that is a key ingredient.

The time since the last edition 2014, really was a matter of life events getting in the way (2015 a year of multiple losses, 2016 of welcoming a new life, this year of moving to a new city). Now the dust has started to settle, and in the coming month we can look forward to spending a few weeks camping and being away from it all. I am also trying to grow roots in our new city and having conversations with people to better understand the events, spaces and things the city has to offer. Maybe the time has come to use this as an opportunity to solve the “You’re not the Olympics” conundrum.

Asking for help, the location, the scale of it, maybe a bit of funding, setting topics, are all dimensions to play with and to reflect on.

I’d like to do a new event in 2018, I’ve already been imagining it in our new home since we started unpacking boxes (or rather from the moment we were viewing the house already). What will it take to have the one after that not in 2022 but in 2019? Especially if you’ve attended in 2008, 2010 or 2014, what would entice you to join the event in 2018 as well as 2019, what would make you come back?

We have decided to formally end the BlogWalk series.

After 11 sessions, bringing over 250 people interested in social media from all kinds of academic and business backgrounds together across three continents, we look back on a series of very inspiring meetings, that generated all kinds of spin-off and combinations of people collaborating.

When we, Lilia Efimova, Sebastian Fiedler, and Ton Zijlstra, started this in March 2004 it was a different environment. We felt the need to create a space for free format conversations between professionals around shared interest relating to social media. Then that type of space was scarce. Most conferences gave wall to wall death by powerpoint, leaving next to no room for real exchanges between participants. Informal meetings were just that, informal, leaving no room for any real exchanges around professional themes. We also felt the need to be able to meet those that we interacted with intensively on-line in a face to face setting.

The BlogWalk sessions served that purpose well. Our connections to eachother strengthened a lot. There are many BlogWalk participants I am in regular contact with, and there are a good number of them that I regard as colleagues and close professional peers.

The need we felt in 2004 however has been addressed, and the environment nowadays is different from back then. It seems that creating your own event, your own un-conference, has become more normal, and more accepted as a viable format for professional exchange and learning. I find, in fact, that a majority of the events I go to these days follow that free flowing format. Not quite a BlogWalk format though, as we aimed to really open the space up completely, with next to no structuring and programming beforehand. Free enough however to feel our needs from 2004 addressed. And it already showed in the frequency of the BlogWalk sessions in these past years. In 2006 and 2007 we only did one session. That is different from the 5 we did per year before that.

It was fun, it was inspiring, it was extremely valuable. I am glad we three had the chance of doing this in Enschede, Nuremberg, Vienna, London, Umea, Chicago, Mechelen, Sydney, Innsbruck, Seattle, Bonn and Amsterdam. (See a list of all BlogWalk salons) Now it’s time to let BlogWalk as an event go. I’m pretty sure we will keep meeting like this from now on, there is however no need to call it BlogWalk anymore. Even if we may do so every now and then.

Thanks to all of you who participated!

Right from the very first BlogWalk in 2004, I have always been amazed about the effort in time, travel and money people are willing to make to attend a BlogWalk session. It was no different for me at BlogWalk Eleven, in Amsterdam last Friday.
With people coming in this time from such diverse directions as Ireland, Paris, Brussels, London, Copenhagen, Estonia and Bucharest, as well as from all over the Netherlands, mostly just for the one day, I cannot but feel humbled.


Johnnie Moore and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal in conversation (photo: Elmine, CC BY NC SA)

Not that I think all these people are making that effort just for Sebastian, Lilia and me. They are making that effort because they trust themselves to be able to turn meeting 25 interesting people into a day full of worthwile conversations. That we three can be host to those conversations is already enough to feel humbled.


group conversation (photo: Elmine, license CC BY NC SA)

So my thanks go out to those that attended the dinner on Thursday, the day long session and/or the dinner on Friday night. Of course the first impressions can be found on-line already. Both Gabriela Avram, as well as Riina Vuorikari have published their impressions of BlogWalk. Bernie DeKoven created an interesting posting based on the Twitter-messages his colleague Gerrit Visser sent from the venue. And then there are the numerous pictures on Flickr. I could not take any pictures myself due to a problem with my camera (no, it wasn’t the batteries).


Bicyclemark (with cap) giving a guided tour. (photo: Elmine, license CC BY NC SA)

I also want to publicly thank again Peter Kaptein for providing us with the space in his building at Instant Interfaces, and Mark, better known as Bicyclemark, for the guided walk through the back streets of Amsterdam.
This morning I transcribed the text of all the post-its that were created from the discussion and conversations. They can be found in the BlogWalk wiki. I hope they can be triggers for further interaction.


Filling the windows with post-its (aka the WindowsWiki) (photo copyright Sebastian Fiedler)

In the coming two posts I will add some thoughts on the way the format of the session worked this time, and of course talk about my own take-aways from last Friday.


Mark Wubben, Alper Cugun, Carla Hoekstra and Riina Vuorikari walking in conversation (photo: Elmine, license CC BY NC SA)

This is a first attempt at collecting a few thoughts around the theme of the upcoming BlogWalk meeting in Amsterdam.
With the list of participants being filled to capacity, I have a bit of time to try and prepare myself for the contents of this salon.

As said the theme is Digital Bohemiens, the people that have embraced the digital world as their habitat, as the place where their social interaction takes place and starts for the most part. They flock to place that provide wifi, coffee and power plugs, and have conferences for meeting places. They tend to travel a lot, though sometimes less than they wish, and track their and eachothers movements through tools like Plazes, Jaiku and Dopplr.

Three main groups of questions come to my mind thinking about this digital avant garde.
1) The type of questions that has to do with their working environment. What does their workplace look like? What kind of infrastructure do they need, use or build for themselves?
2) Questions that relate to how collect process and share information. How do they interact? How do they filter? What groups are they part of? Which tools do they use to support their information strategies? In what kind of structures do they embed themselves (networks / organisations) How do they create value for themselves?
3) Questions that have to do with learning, and personal and collective development. How do they learn? What goals do they set for themselves, and how do they attempt to achieve them? (orgnisational structures, business models) How do they align their own development with that of others in their network?

And of course: how is that different for other people?

For myself I can answer these questions pretty well I think. I work for an organization that uses no office but is Netherlands ‘most mobile company’. So when I give presentations, and I introduce myself and our company Proven Partners I usually show a slide that looks like this:

I find it triggers a lot of emotion in audiences generally. To them the photo’s look like fun, enjoying yourself, and usually there are those who think it doesn’t look serious enough. To me it looks like hard work, getting results, and steep learning curves.
What does it look like to you?

(btw I also tag this reboot9 as it is closely related to what Elmine and I want to talk about at Reboot: How to be the owner of your own learning path. These digital bohemiens, whoever they are, is just another group of people having their own particular answer to that question.)