Last month I started a coffee club so that subscribers to this blog could purchase the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee for each of us. This week we had our first online video conference with five participants. As a result we decided that this would be a good place to have deeper and more meaningful monthly conversations on topics that interest us. These include: self-organizing systems, platforms that enable self-organization, how to better share and filter knowledge and information. Overall it will be a place for learning and reflection. We also decided that future meetings will be recorded and that I will look into creating a secure online space for written conversations and sharing our knowledge.
I have observed over the past few years how critical it is to engage in knowledge networks to better understand my profession and the world. These networks are with people, not platforms and not companies. Relationships add the necessary context, such as what has this person written before, what is their general perspective, and what other factors may influence them. You cannot get this context from algorithms.
“The use of algorithms to give consumers ‘what they want’ leads to an unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs. On Facebook, it’s your news feed, while on Google it’s your individually customized search results.” —Washington Monthly Mag
A Network is Not a Community
Our networks are great places for serendipitous connections. But they are not safe places to have deeper conversations or to expose our points of view. Here is an example.
Last year I responded to a person I know on Twitter. I shared a link to a blog post as well as an image I had created. I did not notice that others were copied on the tweet, as this was a new feature on Twitter at the time. Within minutes, one of those copied (whom I do not know) replied dismissively to my tweet, obviously without having read my post or checking out who I am. I was accused of creating an “MBA chart”. I would like to note that I do not have an MBA, nor do I teach in a business school. But the most interesting aspect of this exchange was how many people felt compelled to reinforce this criticism and ‘shame’ me online. I took all of this with a shrug. Here are some screenshots of the ‘conversation’. [Notice they are mostly men]
This story is a good example of the difference between social networks and communities of practice. In an open network there is increased potential for online outrage and group orthodoxy. It is the major criticism of social network platforms like Twitter. In a community of practice, membership is usually controlled and activities are monitored by people who want the community to be a place of learning. I belong to several of these and have had heated debates in them. But the difference here is mutual trust. While we may disagree, we respect each other. We are not shaming people in public.
As online activity grows, we all need safe places to learn and reflect. Yes, be engaged on public platforms, but find a safe place to have deeper conversations. Nurture these communities for diversity of opinions and experiences. I believe that it is essential for every citizen today to develop and engage with a diverse network of knowledgeable people in order to make sense of the world.
Citizens also need somewhere to integrate their learning and get trusted advice. This is one of the objectives of our perpetual beta coffee club. It is also a core component of personal knowledge mastery and the Seek > Sense > Share framework to which I was referring in my tweet 😉