Communication & relationships

Introductions: The Art of Curating People

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(I initially published this piece on Medium)

Over the years I’ve often found myself in the situation of knowing two awesome people who didn’t previously know each other, and been lucky enough to put them together and see even more awesomeness result from that new connection. I’ve done this enough that from time to time people have referred to me as a hub that connects a bunch of spokes. I blame my short attention span on the fact that I’ve got a foothold in a number of different networks – technology, art, music, etc… – which helps out here as well. To skip to the point, I like connecting people.

Now I should point out immediately that I don’t just connect anyone and everyone, and this is where the “art of curation” business comes in. I could be mistaken, but I think I have a pretty good sense of what people are doing and where they might click and I take considerable care on who and how I introduce people. You’ll see why that is important in a moment. So of course, in thinking about introducing people, how you do that becomes ultimately important. In this, as with many other things in my life, I think about what I like, what works for me, and then try to apply that outward.

What I like: When someone I know and trust connects me directly to someone else they know and trust, gives context for the introduction (who each of us are, how they know us, why we’re being introducted), and then gets out of the way so that I and my (potential) new friend can chat and see what might come from this. I feel like this is the most natural way to meet someone and interact with them, with the least pressure. The best introductions that have ever been presented to me have happened this way.

What I don’t like: When someone I know puts me in touch with someone, or asks to put me in touch with someone, and then tries to play middle man on all interactions, almost holding the contact for this other person at arms length. Right away I feel pressure to say the right thing, or to jump through someone elses hoops and it becomes very difficult very quickly to interact with this new person. I’ve made a few freinds from this, but more often than not talks never go beyond the initial moderated chats.

What I really, really, really, really don’t like: When someone I may or may not know connects me with someone they may or may not know, gives no context for the introduction and then acts like the three of us are instantly best friends, business partners and possibly lovers. This is awkward on every level, and there’s really no way anyone can walk away from it feeling at all positive.

Research, global citizenship

I’ve talked about this idea here and there in the past, and am working on a longer piece about it but I wanted to throw out some ideas here and get some feedback to see what people thought and what issues are the ones most likely to be stickiest. So this is obviously a continuation of some of the ideas that have come from the technomads discussions and kind of gets into the roots of what citizenship is all about. And how that all plays into the world in 2013 and beyond.

When thinking about citizenship I think it’s useful to discuss the pros and cons, as well as the past vs the present. Let’s think of the big ones.

Most obviously the major benefit of being a citizen of anywhere is the support that comes along with that. I think this is the main thing – having a government “watching your back” so to speak – at least while traveling internationally anyway. You could argue that many of the benefits you receive as a citizen inside any country are also shared by many non-citizens inside that country so classifying those as perks of citizenship are difficult. Being able to vote is a plus, at least if you want to help influence the direction of some level of politics. If you don’t live in the country you are a citizen of that becomes less important, until you start thinking about “branding.”

The “branding” (I don’t know what else to call it) that comes with being a citizen of somewhere can be positive or negative depending. In some places in the world advertising that you are an American for example could attract some unwelcome attention – people who are upset with actions the US government has taken might project those feelings onto individuals. Similarly being an American might grant you some extra freedoms in other parts of the world where there are positive relations.

In the past, being a citizen of some place related much more to where you were, since people didn’t travel as much as they do now. And there was risk of neighboring people invading you, so having a country looking out for you was a pretty good thing. These days, with much more bouncing around the world which passport you happen to have is just as likely to cause problems and headaches as it is to open doors. The argument that a citizenship reflects a culture makes sense in really small geographic countries, not so much in widely spread ones.

I’m thinking a lot about the value of “where you are from” vs “where you are” as well as “where you are going” and how these things play together – nicely or not. I have a lot of questions and not a lot of answers. Would love to hear peoples thoughts on anything that might relate to this.

Locals Only

Ripley getting set up in First Class

Several years ago while giving a lecture at The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, the professor hosting my talk astutely noted that everything I’ve been involved with – be it putting out records, putting on art shows, building blogs, etc – all seemed to have a strong desire to build a community, and observed that perhaps a lack of community, or belonging as a child may have led to a life trying to manufacture that community. This was an art professor, not a psycho analyst, but he was more right on then he realized.

I moved around a lot as a kid so I never had the “I’ve been here all my life” experience that many other kids had. I was always the new kid and I was always trying to find my place in a group of friends who had known each other for years before I’d shown up. I was constantly trying to prove my worth and value to that community, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. When I was old enough to realize there was a world outside of my immediate surroundings and that I could actually interact with that world, I realized that world had communities too and that I might find a place that I fit in. And when the internet became an option that got a lot easier. I learned that the first and best way to a add value to a community was to actually build it.

And I love the communities that I’ve been with, but on some level I’ve always been envious of the people who grew up somewhere and were a part of the local community because of that. I have a great amount of Los Angeles pride but I’ve lived there for only 12 years. That’s longer than I’ve lived in any other place, and longer than many people who move to LA, but still nothing compared to people who were born there. And while this may not have any basis in fact, no matter what I do in LA and how much I rep it I’ll always feel that I don’t have as much claim to the city as others.

Reoccurring theme

Many months ago I did an interview about my involvement in Coffee Common and earlier this week I did an interview about Safecast. Both of these were published this week, and I noticed an interesting similarity running through them…

From Birds of Unusual Vitality:

“I look at my involvement with Coffee Common as a lot of trying to get people educated on things so that they can force the change that would never come from the industry itself. More educated consumers ask better questions to cafes, then cafes have to come up with better answers to those questions – and as a result of all of this, things changes. Trying to change something from inside an industry never actually works (or it takes years and years) I prefer the people to cause a revolution.”

From Fast Company:

To date, Safecast’s volunteer team has measured and mapped more than 3 million data points that comprise a rapidly growing dataset that will serve as a valuable baseline for the kind of in-depth environmental data the world largely lacks. And perhaps that will prompt people into demanding more–and more transparent–data sources.

“People assume crappy data is legit, and nobody’s held accountable,” Bonner says. “But by pushing this issue and publishing this really specific data, now people have to answer questions like, ‘Why is your data so much less specific than this data?’ Asking more educated questions is always good.

An Open Letter To Conference Organizers and Panel Moderators

Howdy,

First of all, I love what you do. Really. You’re terrific, and your efforts make our lives better. Don’t ever change. Well, actually, there is something that needs to change.

There’s a problem that persists across almost every conference I’ve ever been to. The good ones. The bad ones. The Amazing ones and the Meh ones. And we need to address it once and for all so that it can be prevented from happening in the future.

Super private email lists

In thinking about and talking to people about the kind of social network I want, the notion of email lists keeps popping up in conversations. Traditionally I’ve been pretty down on email as a means of conversation, and generally try to discourage it’s use when ever possible. Though I’ve listened to the arguments and as a means for keeping a small group of people connected it may just have it’s merits. What’s been most interesting for me recently is talking to people who run incredibly locked down private lists.

Oddly related, I’ve been reading a lot about outlaw biker gangs. I’ve been devouring both biographies of bikers and undercover agents who infiltrated the clubs. I say it’s related because in both situations we’re talking about a goal of a tight knit group that functions well, and in both cases when it’s been made too easy for people to join those groups, or when the groups have become too public, things have fallen apart. When the clubs stay private, avoid soliciting new members, and require very long “prospecting” periods before potential members can join so that all existing members can feel them out, things generally work better.

On leaving Facebook

For better or worse, I consider myself a fairly principled person. That is, I’ve chosen to live my life in a way that reflects my convictions. From what I eat to how I vote to what I spend money on, I consider how those choices impact me, those around me, and the world as a whole. I consider what my actions and choices say about me as a person, and take great care to ensure I like who that person is. Ethics are important. Convictions mean something.

If you know me in person you know this to be true. It’s not about changing the world, or even changing anyone else’s mind, it’s about being comfortable with my own choices. It doesn’t make life particularly easy, but I sleep really well at night.

When it comes to the internet, I’ve always tried to have my online presence reflect my offline presence. I frequently speak out in favor of things I support, and against those I don’t. But I hadn’t considered that where that online presence was also said something about me.

The Network I Want

Over on the NYT Blogs Jenna Wortham has written a piece about Instagram and the internet’s “secret” places. It’s a great piece and she discusses a number of things really interesting to me, especially given the recent acquisition of Instagram. I’ve written before about how the personal nature of Instagram was very appealing and I think that their focus was on just one thing (they didn’t even have a web UI) really worked well for them. It felt private, even if it wasn’t, and that was attractive. But with Facebook, arguably the least private place on the web, taking over the controls there, it’s no longer even a pretend safe haven. Jenna writes:

“…privacy is an illusion. There is no fail-safe way to publish privately online. Top-secret tweets and conversations can always be captured by screen shot and texted or e-mailed.”

Which is true, and something people need to realize more often. I had high hopes that Path would be a private place but it’s hard to feel private when updates are published to Facebook, and it’s hard to see the value in limiting connections, when in a click of a button you can share with everyone. I desperately want a place that doesn’t share with everyone. I recalled a few notes I made last year, kind of a wish list…