Unrequited Belonging

There’s something similar between Circvs Maximus, the Escape Artists forum, FireflyFans.net, any political campaign, Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church.

They want you.

As I came out of my weekend “non-activity”, I realized that I was checking for updates from some blogs and forums – but not others. Maura, Scalzi, Watts – absolutely. Forums? Not so much. [*]

I’ve had a spotty history with forums, really. I was very active in the old BBS community during the 90’s, even during the time I was in Korea. I went to some local meetups, and even visited a few folks that I had only known online. Since then, I’ve tried to get involved with forums. All of the three above I’ve made forays into – and burned out after a while.

It’s not them, it’s me.

Thing is, I *like* all of those forums. But I realized that the thing that turned me off – and also turned me into a non-volunteer for the church, or my son’s Cub Scout pack is the all-encompassing time demands they make. It’s not the length of written material – none of the folks I name-drop above are overly terse – it’s the encompassing sense of “community” that’s practically required to participate.

Again, it’s not their fault. It is the way all of these organizations and forums are set up. But I simply do not have the time to be a “full-time member” of any of the many groups I’d like to be involved with.

Revamping Community

Yet I would like to participate. And this is something that designers, planners, and administrators seem to have difficulty getting their head around. Once you volunteer for one thing, it’s presumed that you’ll be available to volunteer for all things that group does. It’s the sense of having to make an *exclusive* commitment to that group. While none of them actually state that up front, it quickly becomes apparently as threads pass you by or you get asked to do more and more things. While avoiding that total commitment isn’t formally a problem, it quickly leads to de facto social isolation – while still within a group.

This is merely annoying when dealing with social groups. On a practical level, campaigns and other social activism groups need to be especially aware of this effect. Without a huge die-hard core audience, one relies upon people who are interested… but not commit-your-life interested. Even if your organization has dedicated itself to crowdsourcing, you’ll have to overcome the baggage that people – like myself – have gathered over the years. We’ll expect your organization to want all our time, attention, and effort… and I cannot give it all.

The challenge for modern organizations is create a social organization that can both operate like distributed computing and still be effective. The best example I know of so far? Progressive Secretary:

Progressive Secretary sends out progressive email letters to Congress, the President, and other officials on peace, ecology, civil rights and other issues. The letters are suggested by participants in the cooperative and are sent to you as a proposal. If you tell us to “send”, then the letters are sent to your Congress people and others noted in the proposal over your signature and return address. A report is sent to you. If you like, you can send the letters yourself. Letters are not sent without your specific approval.

Highly customizable and responsive to users’ needs. Good stuff.

[*] This effect also spreads to often-updated blogs like Shakesville. I like them (mostly), but I simply don’t have the time to commit to reading it all the time. boingboing is about the only exception I’ll tolerate, and I’ve gotten to where I read the post titles there first.

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One Comment

  1. Maura
    July 8, 2008

    yay me 🙂

    but really, i relate completely with this post, as you might expect. I am the damned Bee girl! Yet.. i do get sucked into comms i should leave because i want to belong to damn, something, anything.
    And for some things, it’s hard to segment and like one but not the other- take shakesville. the classism there is nauseating (zomg! look at my shoez, and aren’t rural religious colleges sooo beneath us?) and i’d personally feel betrayed rather than have your ability to say that “some” things are not agreeable. Count that as a good trait!

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