Pondering Community/Mission Building

Screenshot 2013-10-18 10.48.33One of the areas that I like to cover in the Social Computing ecosystem is that surrounding Community development and management. In the past I have been far more focused on exploring open source platforms and the raw ingredients that have shaped the success of community development as an alternative to push marketing.

Involvement in a variety of community initiatives over the past few years has led me into a lot of reflection on the edge areas around open source/proprietary – volunteer/paid but I have found myself dwelling only in these edge areas and missing some core developments around community organisation – and this morning even more grandiose : Nation Building.

What spurred me to a bit of an ah ha moment was a push from a contact from a decade or so ago that was kickstarting a new documentary BIKES vs CARS (kck.st/1f7i1Xj). He is very actively and creatively not just funding the documentary itself but creating a vibrant community around the movements ideals. Its worth investigating and I suspect I will talk more about in the future. The point to hand though is that he is using a commercial product – NationBuilder. There is a rapidly maturing number of platforms available in this space. NationBuilder promotes itself as an opportunity to ‘turn your life into a movement’. No small promise. Many of these platforms seem to have grown out of well funded and partisan political campaigns in the US – hence a portion of their pitch dedicated to dealing with whether they are partisan or non-partisan themselves. Apparently this is a factor that really matters in this space. As well – if you want to turn your life into a movement – you’ll want to use the platform to conduct some fundraising to pay for its use. It would be very naive to assume we can carry a movement without finances of some sort. I am a little surprised that in this case they don’t even stoop to the crack-cocaine model of marketing and let you use it with no fee for a just big enough purpose to become addicted and pay for it for what it can be. So the reality of fundraising component of the movement is right up front. I suppose there’s an honesty and transparency in that. I really was impressed by their boldness in differentiating from their perceived competitors through a ‘Why we are different page‘ and a further one ‘Correcting Myths about NationBuilder‘. The existence of both of these is I presume a means to try to take control of the debate – it’s clearly a contentiuous and a very intriguing space.

What strikes me though is that they are commercial – unabashedly so. Its a dot com not a dot org. Big political movements (certainly in the US and of course elsewhere) have financial backers – it’s reality. Emerging and existing social media tools do allow individuals and self-organised groups to accomplish much without having to pay for professional services. However, the big time – without real guerrilla creativity – is still a funded space. What this raises is a point I have been nurturing over the past week about groups working towards shared objectives with radically different ways of getting there.  Movement and communities really have to focus on the end point and realise that objectives may be shared, but values may differ – can this work??


11 thoughts on “Pondering Community/Mission Building”

  1. So how is your friend getting on with using NationBuilder? This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it, and I have to admit I had to read your blog piece a couple of times. I went onto the site and had a look around and read the linked pieces, how many times to they have to say that they are non-partisan, do they protest too much? The whole concepts seems pretty good, it’s everything you need to get setup, and relatively inexpensive, but just from looking on the site I get a bad vibe off it (very educated opinion), but there just seems to be an underlying defensive tone, especially the fact that they have to state that they don’t share customer data.

    1. Surprisingly well. It looks like the project will get its funding – and much is to be said for the rather effective way that NationBuilder allowed for them to build and cultivate community. It will be interesting to see how well they can maintain, foster and continue to enrich the community that has been created around the production of the movie and the values that they have chosen to hang it on. Great petri dish to see how things work.
      We are exploring a similar engagement tool – CrowdHall – to see how well it can facilitate developing/determining/shaping a shared set of community values.
      I very much ‘get’ that tone that you were finding with the site. Clearly there is much more to the story of how they came about that we simply are not privy too and I suspect would be quite fascinating to delve into. I am a little put off by the fact that they appeal to individuals to platfomatise their own life – their phraseeology and yet it seems like this would be somewhat financially improbable. I sense they are vwry much directed towards larger campaigns – but as I said in the blog posts I susepct that attracting and landing campaign funding a far more intrinsic part of the political process in the US than it is elsewhere.

      1. Yeah giving startups the tools and opportunities to develop their business is great, but the whole individual side is a bit worrying, especially with their “non partisan” claims, I could see this being a wonderful place for extremists to organise and promote their views. I think you should setup a dummy troll site and see what happens 🙂

        1. MIschevious, but absolutely true – any tool and platform that we identify in any of this has the potential for either good or for evil. Need for critical consumption and vigilance on one’s own behalf.

    2. I think I can understand the defensive tone, and trying to et their message out clearly given how murky and nasty the whole area around super PACs is in the States these days.

  2. That was a lovely video about bikes v cars. The whole war
    still rages here in Dublin. I must say I’m shocked at Toronto’s Mayors stance on it , perhaps he was high at the time he was making them (titter).

    Re the NationBuilder – why not get a group of people together
    who believe in the same thing, to be creative and promote their views to the
    world. And make money. As you said, you need the cash to carry a movement. And this is where the whole thing links back to politics. And that’s when I zone out. But according to their blog they are coming to the UK. Watch this space.

  3. Mayor Rob Ford is
    the epitomy of ignorance and has gone on to prove his (lack of) worth, where he excels in preventing constructive government: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/11/18/world/canada-toronto-mayor/

    Looking more locally and specifically at cycling (as both a reluctant driver and avid cyclist), there are some great comunities in Dublin city working towards developing a better cycling infrastructure and positive awareness of the need for more people to be ‘out on their bikes’.

    ‘Cycling in Dublin’ had a successful Fundit campaign in summer 2013 whereby a
    newspaper on relevant issues relating to cylcing in Dublin was published and
    distributed around the city: http://www.fundit.ie/project/cycling-in-dublin-summer-2013. A great initiative that inspired others to contribute and support it.

    Community building initiatives whether online and offline require the people who want to
    be involved in a cause, one they care about and fully buy into. A productive people striving to make this place better in one way, shape or form.

    I need to to read a bit more on Nation Builder but am interested to see if it is fundamentally a product or a resource, and is it a service that organises/markets people or actually
    builds communities?

    1. Great questions Gavin! I would not quite say that a tool like Nation Builder strictly “builds communities”, I would simply say that it helps marketing and sharing those ideas that form the basis of communities and movements. And I do think it seems to be doing the job quite well!

      Perhaps due to my early-stage and still difficult relationship with social media, before reading this blog post I never even considered that tools like Nation Builder existed and I still imagined “communities” or movements as those spontaneously being born and developing in a university, among neighbours, in the streets etc.…basically I always thought of the physical component of the community, the group of people that meets in person and discusses shared interests. With movements in particular I always associated (perhaps wrongly) a certain spontaneity to the way they are formed.

      Well, I was aware of the whole online-communities situation,I just didn’t realise that there were tools specifically designed to support, encourage and market the building of communities and movements. Despite the fact that I think technology sometimes just remove the spontaneity, I think these products provide a great service in the global space where scale really matters and people have to be reached in any part of the world and quickly. Do I see myself joining a movement through something like Nation Builder any time soon? I am not so sure as in the technology adoption lifecycle I place myself in the Late Majority adopters. I migh keep an eye on this landscape though, as I am sure interesting projects can come out of something like this.

      As a cyclist and non-driver, I enjoyed the Bike vs Car video
      and I think it provides a good example of how effective such tools can be to
      promote ideas and form more or less spontaneous movements.

  4. Reality Bites. With the emergence of companies such as these it is only to obvious there is a market for what they have to offer, it of course costs money to make money or to a least get the response you need to raise awareness of your plight.

    Nation Builder and its competitors are a ever growing necessity to get the response in a time-scale you need, its a simple proactive use of the resources on offer and from what i can see to be quite reasonable price from looking at similar community building and on-line marketing companies in the past.

    Sao Paulo is one of the most congested cities in the world if not the most ,friends there tell me it just a joke, people are switching to motorbikes and bicycles out of necessity and why not they have the weather for it. Bikes Vs Cars is a thoughtful and compelling documentary which I felt was worth sharing to at least rebuke the ignorance of people like Mayor Ford.

  5. I liked the clip on Bikes v Cars, almost stranger than fiction that a car company could get away with buying a bus company and running it down. A city that actively promotes the use of bikes seems to me like a much more appealing place to live. I had never heard of NationBuilder before but then again I have never harboured the desire to turn my life into a movement. It took a bit of time to understanding the concept, looking at the FAQ’s and checking out reviews. It’sa great idea and a good site and fills a need, obviously, given the healthy state of its finances. As for the drawbacks, well maybe it will act as inspiration for something better. NationBuilder has provided me with a new word for my social computing dictionary – interweaving.

  6. This reminds me of a question that was raised in this Eric Von Hippel video Paradigm Shifts in Innovation. There was a point where a member of the group asked him “So, users are innovating and manufacturers are monetising those innovations and improving the design”, everyone is doing what they do best, what’s wrong with that? I think the same principle applies here. Perhaps certain aspects and phases of political movements and community initiatives are best suited to communities collaborating in an open space whereas other aspects and phases are best delivered as a commercial project. Social computing is certainly expanding the intersection between the two worlds which is mutually beneficial. Community projects are finding funding that might previously have been inaccessible and commercial entities are tapping the creativity of the masses at little cost.

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