Tuesday, May 20, 2008

When individual identities become community identities

Yesterday the Connected Futures Workshop group had a fantastic teleconference/skype chat. It was moderated by Nancy White and the purpose was to kick off week 4 of the workshop and bring forward our big questions. We were encouraged by Etienne Wenger to be flexible and creative in how we engage others in our topic. Some participants chose to post to their blogs so I thought I would follow suit. I had two questions but this topic seems most suited for posting to a blog and inviting comments.

Here's my dilemma...I find as a community coordinator every time I create an account these days I pause while I run these questions through my head:

  • Will I use this for my own work?
  • Am I creating this account for a community?
  • If so, what should I call it?
  • Which email address should I use?
  • Should I create 2 accounts -- one for myself and one for the community"
  • Is that redundant?
In my role as community coordinator for SCoPE I've created a few accounts for the purpose of organizing community resources and conversations -- an account called "community" at Technorati for adding SCoPE members' blogs as favourites to then feed back into the SCoPE site; a twitter account to broadcast announcements and also to create a feed of followers; several separate blog accounts created and abandonned as a way to post announcements and highlights, etc. This is just to name a few; I seem to have accounts everywhere. Of course all of these accounts require an email address and I have simply used one of my own email accounts.

I recently had the task of uploading presentations from the Shaping Our Future conference that were not my own to slideshare. I felt a little stumped. Do I use my own account? Do I create a new account? I ended up creating a separate community account called "BCcampus". The conference is sponsored by BCcampus and is held at SCoPE, and I'm now manager of BCcampus online community services which now includes SCoPE. So that made sense...sort of. Then I started to get notifications that people were following me (the community) and marking me (the community) as a favourite. I thought now what? Do I reciprocate?

Recently I checked a pagecast that I created for the SCoPE community and was alarmed to see that it was called "sylvia"! Good grief, did I just quickly make the pagecast public and as I clicked away it added my username to the URL? I'm working to rename it. Or should I start over with a separate community account?

At SCoPE we use Moodle which doesn't have a site wide feed. So as an easy work around I simply labeled all of my feeds from public SCoPE forums in Google Reader as "scope-sitewide" then made that tag public. The problem with that strategy is that the public page is called "scope-sitewide" via Sylvia. That doesn't feel very community like, does it? On the other hand, does it make sense to create a separate account and repeat the process of adding and organizing RSS feeds ing Goggle Reader? Not really! Hmmm, this is getting a little sloppy!

A social network where individuals share and reciprocate is managed by the individual members. That's the whole idea. When associating a network with an existing community it gets a little complicated. I'm now managing several communities. Does it make sense to have my own identity tied so closely with each community identity? I worry about what will happen if I leave my community coordinator role. It could become quite a task to tease all of this apart!

The line between individual and community identities is becoming blurry. Hey all of you community stewards out there, how do we manage this?


  1. Sylvia, I guess this is a real dilemma of community leadership in the many forms it takes. Because community leaders are also members in most cases, they have to speak with both a community voice and a member voice. So when you ask a domain question, it is important to have a personal voice so that the question is anchored in your legitimacy as a practitioner. But if you need to "kick out" someone who is disruptive of the community, then it is essential that this be done with a community voice and not as a personal thing. So my sense is that it is not a choice to make, but a constant modulation of the two. Does this make sense?

  2. I really agree with what you're saying, Sylvia. And just try to rename all of those accounts -- the account names may have propagated into URLs for resources that are referenced elsewhere, etc., etc.

    And remember all the passwords! Ifn when you move on (or get an assistant) where are all the passwords for all those accounts? :-)

  3. Etienne and John, as usual you give me a lot to think about! I let the comments about the different voices simmer for awhile. Then it dawned on me, this is not an issue only for technology stewards, but for all community members. Anybody can "own" the tools are resources that become integrated in practice activities. For example, in our current online conference at SCoPE Susan Lister created a mindmap (http://newmediaworkshops.com/telblog/?p=92). What a gift that is, when a member jumps in with such energy and skill. However, she has complete control over this resource that has become a very important element in our work together.

    Does that matter? Do we need to worry about it disappearing? Probably not. Is the role of technology steward becoming distributed? Probably!

  4. What matters may not be the login/id's but the awareness of the multiple identities.

    It is sort of like when I have two hats on, facilitator and participant, or facilitator and "subject matter expert."

    I might behave or use different practices depending on the hat. It is not that they are inconsistent with ME as a whole person, but they may have practices that, if not distinguished, may be in conflict.

    So when I read about your multiple log in issue, I felt the same quandry all over again!

  5. Sylvia, I first considered your dilemma from a needs perspective. I started to think "what features of some existing or new technology would address this problem?" I see your dilemma as a failure of the technology designed for a different paradigm. Technology built around individual ownership seems to be the problem (not to mention existing institutional arrangements).

    So I tried to imagine what I would need. Here are some things I've thought of.
    - I want the ability to make my contributions public, semi-public, or private. They might start off private and become public, or start off public and become private (as, for example, when I might make a notation to myself that is person), and so on.
    - For a group tool, I don't want to lose my contribution when my affiliation changes. I recently left a job where I lost access to everything that was on software or hardware owned by the institution. If I hadn't duplicated key work elsewhere I would have simply lost everything. Interestingly, for the software that was web-based and initiated by me, I retained ownership simply because no one was capable of taking over ownership due to a lack of requisite skills and desire.

    So far, thinking of these needs hasn't helped resolve your dilemma. Indeed, in my warped thinking, the way I've expressed those needs presents a hopelessly complicated problem (e.g., how would "my" contributions in the context of others contributions be clearly marked? In a learning community, what is an individual contribution separate from the context?).

    So my expression of needs (or desires) only points to keeping an eye out for new technologies and new features that might help address the problem.

    Finally, to add something perhaps more useful, it seems that accounts "owned" by the community make the most sense. "Tagging" for community use and personal use would be separate (as Etienne suggests: you act in a role a tech steward and as a member).

  6. Sylvia, your post also got thinking how you have to get more disciplined about naming things with so many accounts, tools, URLs.

    A simple example: Which username do I choose? btrayner, bevtrayner or beverlytrayner (with more options if you count underscores)?

    Each name has a different connotation for me and I've felt comfortable with different ones in different contexts and at different times in my life.

    But I wish someone had told me, when I first started leaving digital traces, to choose one user name and stick to it.

    Multiply that by all the other dilemmas you mention! But try telling someone to choose names carefully at the start of their journey, when you've just been telling them all the exciting things that Web2.0 tools have to offer!

  7. Nancy's comments reminded me of a very important question somebody raised during a presentation last summer about the SCoPE community: How closely do people associate the community with Sylvia Currie?

    My response was GOSH, I hope people don't think of it as MY community! I'm not prepared to take credit for all of the great things members have contributed. And I rattled on trying to take the focus away from myself but at the same time remembering how uncomfortable I feel when I see my name and face pop up way too often on the main page, in every form, beside every issue title in the MicroSCoPE newsletter forum (a moodle thing!). So of course that's what people see...hence the question from the audience.

    The advice from one participant was to organize your coordinator role as though you are planning to leave tomorrow (The ol' hit by a bus tomorrow approach!). Otherwise you become burdened with all details that continue to mound up until it becomes an impoosible task. Distribute, document what you do, share key information with a core group, etc.

    So this is good advice. But as Bev says "I wish somebody had told me". Isn't it so true that we can be so stubborn about taking all of this good advice! Sigh, hindsight :-)

  8. Steve, and to tag on to my last comment, your story about everything going poof when you left your job, except for the access and admin for the web-based software is also what brought on my story. It's such a perfect example of how sharing these experiences will help us to learn how to manage our digital lives. Well, because nobody is going to do it for us! But at the same time we need to be aware of our organization and the impact on the community around us -- as John mentioned, "account names may have propagated into URLS for rsources that are referenced elsewhere..."

    Eee gads. I feel like I'm getting to a point where I know what I need to do but I'm not entirely sure how yet! :-)

  9. When we started talking about this workshop I wanted to include an Identity Exercise. (partially because of other things I'm interested in). A few of us tried this:
    with a trusted friend investigate each others digital identity, it revealed some interesting traces.
    For a number of reasons the exercise didn't make it into the workshop but my interest remains. We need to be able to advise people about the decisions that they take place when choosing user names, and so many other things.
    Locally (at Reading) we are planning an unconference we are calling “my digital self” it would be interesting to try something like this with some of the workshop people.
    Can you do an unconference online?

  10. Shirley, your "My Digital Self" conference sounds neat! And absolutely you can do an unconference online. I always say YES, it's possible...before I get too deep into the details! :-)

  11. Hi Sylvia,
    I think you are the best judge of what is right for you as an individual. We many wear many hats but when it comes down to leadership, being connected and aware of our inner self makes a lot of sense. You may find Richard Boyatzis and Anne McKee's Resonant Leadership (2005) interesting reading.

  12. Thanks Nellie! You always have suggestions for books and articles at your fingertips. It's an amazing gift!