What I’m Learning: Hall.com


This looks like an interesting idea to talk about a given topic or allowing others to engage and create a community. So far it seems to be a little light on functionality, but everything that exists is super intuitive and quite beautiful. They may have something here.

Hall.com: “Our Story

Frustrated by communication tools that were siloed and did not solve real problems. The team quit corporate america to solve the problem.

The company is headquartered in Mountain View, CA.”

Question 341 of 365: What are our values of community?

A community consists of trust and shared vision.

In order to cultivate trust within the community, we must establish the following:

  • The primary communities are always friends, family and vital organizations (schools, churches). We must never forget that.
  • We do not know better than our users. We must listen to whatever criticism or praise is offered by the community and we must react accordingly.
  • Direct requests require direct responses. We must never ignore direct communication from someone in our community.
  • The community is made up of real people with real stories. There is no automation within the community. It is a visual and vibrant place to collaborate with others.

In order to cultivate shared vision within the community, we must establish the following:

  • Users should push its boundaries and they can think of new uses for it. Each one of these uses will be fed back into the community to further its growth
  • People are better than resources. We will value connections over content, always.
  • Self-Organization is the cornerstone. All contributions and collaborations are voluntary and based upon a shared interest in seeing a better future.
  • The pressures of the daily life are enormous. Any relief that we can provide for a lack of time, resources or support is in the best interest of all stakeholders.
  • Conversation is how solutions are created. We will focus all our efforts on promoting good solutions through conversation rather than hollow answers.

Question 318 of 365: What is the difference between support and sales?


You will support your ideas any way that you can. You will defend them. You will decry alternatives. You will link to items that reiterate your claims. You will pursue those who want to debate you, and you will wrestle with the intellectuals that try to pick your words apart. You believe in something and no one is going to turn that belief into doubt.

But there is a difference between doing that as a member of a community and doing it is someone that is trying to sell the idea to the community from the outside. A community member has credibility. A community member is welcome in off-topic conversations as well as brainstorming sessions for solutions. A salesperson is welcome no where that isn’t a hosted space, no where that doesn’t directly involve a transaction. As a salesmen, you have no real friends. You have contacts and leads.

Support is what members of a community do. Annoyance is what salespeople do.

Injecting yourself into a conversation just to plug your idea is regarded as spamming the community. We chuck spam out with every other processed ideastuff. And that is all you have to offer. You aren’t creating anything new. You have an ideastuff that manages to look slick, but under the microscope of everyday use and asking good questions it fails miserably. Support backs off, thinks thoughtfully about the needs of those around and shifts focus with the conversation.

Support tracks usage. Sales brags about it.

Support forges relationships. Sales is always closing.

Support listens. Sales talks.

So, how can I support those that are interested in what I have to say? I can connect those that are interested with one another and create a space for all of us to collaborate. I can let everyone know that I love telling stories, especially others’ stories of success. I can wrestle with the hard questions and admit when what I am doing is wrong. I can push the development of my ideas until they work for those in my community. I can take breaks and let others do the supporting. I can promote others and not just myself.

My successes are measured in conversations and not units. The better the collaboration, the more fulfilling my work is. The larger and more engaged the community, the more change is enacted. The more I support, the less I have to sell.

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Question 229 of 365: Who started it?

Illustration depicting thought.
Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes the best ideas are not our own. Definitely not mine, anyway.

Sometimes when we check into our communities, we realize that they have gone on without us. They have brilliant ideas about what should come next and they don’t require us for much of anything. The ideas abound. Ones that we would have never considered, or at least considered useful. Others can and do create what we would have thought too difficult to manage or attempt.

And yet, we can and do jump in. We take one look at the big plans that others have started in motion and we take part. We tend to our communities and it becomes something that is a part of us as well. I’m okay with the plans that others people have for me, or the ones that we co-author over time.

Today, I checked in on one of my communities and they were working on creating a broadcast, of the community itself. How is it that they came up with that idea before me? How is it that they started developing it, sharing phone numbers and emails? How could they have figured out how to advance the community beyond the current set of messages going back and forth?

And yet, I injected myself into the conversation. I created a collaborative document for them to help plan. I encouraged them to fill out their roles and their ideas for the project. I gave them ideas about how to broadcast and which tools would help them to make it valuable to the rest of the community. I made myself useful, sure. But, it wasn’t my idea in the beginning. I didn’t start it.

And that is a pretty wonderful feeling, all around.

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Question 67 of 365: Why is time theft so seductive, and in many cases, productive?


I am a time thief. I take away time from my current employer in order to work on things that are not in my job description. I will admit that freely, even to the people I work for. But, up until recently, I have been able to keep it under control.

Until recently, I have kept my Twitter habits down to asking questions and sharing resources. I have kept my blogging to a few times a month. And until very recently, I have not tried to create brand new communities on the fly. In other words: I used to be an undercover time thief. I was able to couch everything that I was doing in the guise that I was working very hard on some specific project that someone has asked me to do.

Now, though, I brandish my time theft, hoping that people will catch me in the act. I blog daily. I have set up a new twitter account, and I have been creating a community of folks who are interested in working through the creative process as I am.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I get my job done. I answer my e-mail and all of my deadlines are met. I work on the things I have been assigned and even take on “official projects” that aren’t tasked to me.

But, here is the difference: I used to cultivate resources and ideas just in case the opportunity arose that I (or someone else I worked with) might need them. Now, I build those resources and explore those ideas and see if they are worthy of exploring further. I used to wait upon future productivity, and now I am productive, constantly.

This is the virtue of Google’s 20% time. It is the virtue of being 80% done.

I am now a firm believer in the idea that no authentic conversation is isolated. I believe that everything that I create can be used for multiple purposes and that the knowledge that I gain from stories in one arena directly benefits me in all other arenas.

Now, I can say this because all of the things I am interested in are in roughly the same genre. I am not, for example, working on crop dusting instead of building an online school. What I am doing is figuring out how to better ask questions, create networks, garner feedback, and create buy-in. All of these things are ones that I have needed to figure out in my school district, but I have lacked the audience necessary to get them done. Because I no longer have a group of kids that I get to think things through with on a daily basis, I must turn to figuring things out within a network.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to figure out that I had to be a time thief in order to create that network, though. I’m also not sure why I hid it for so long. I believe that we should all be time thieves. We should all be looking to create something new that could directly benefit the work we are doing if only someone would ask us to do it. I believe that doing these things within my daily work schedule allows me to see what is coming and to create an environment that is ready to receive it.

I now believe that doing your job as it was created is tantamount to disloyalty. Stealing time should become an honored tradition. It should be something that we should tack up on the walls of our companies and schools.

“This is what I did, when I was finished with all of the other things that I had to do!”

“These are the conversations I had.”

“This is what I created.”

Because, let’s call Twitter what it is: Time Theft. It isn’t a required function of your job, and yet you do it anyway. Let’s call blogging what it is too, and facebooking and recording videos, and doing Google Chats with colleagues across the country. All of these things are time theft and until we celebrate them, we will never truly understand the power that doing something “else” will bring. We will never get the authentic environment we all crave. We will never learn to be better.

Question 66 of 365: What kind of relationships do our communities require?


I have a daughter and a son. My wife is my best friend. I live in the suburbs. Whether these are cliches or not, they are the truth that I live each day. The seemingly mundane existence found within these three facts is a lot of what makes me who I am. And yet, a lot of the communities that I have tried to be a part of, do not value these kinds of relationships.

Many of the communities I believe in are not interested in “staying home” with my son on Tuesdays and Thursdays so that my wife can go to work and school. These communities could not care less about the fact that I would rather watch a dvd with my wife than answer e-mail or tweet more consistently. They require a certain amount of commitment that I reserve for my family. And so I must be on the outside looking in, sometimes.

That is not to say that they that they aren’t worthwhile, or that the people that are more committed have given up their families. I believe that there are some families that understand the level of commitment required to take part. Mine doesn’t want to understand that. And, I respect them for it.

Yet, the communities of Entrepreneurs, and Ed Tech folks that I am interested in allow for many different ways of engagement. I can lurk and I can attend on occasion. I can go to a bar to talk about an idea. I can travel to a conference out of state.  I can attend a webinar. I can blog.

These little pieces of attendance that I can string together will allow me to keep the pulse on these communities. They will not allow me to lead them, but they will allow me to engage people in conversation and create something with those people who can overlook my unwillingness to get past my “other commitments.”

I do look forward to a time, however, when my family and life in a suburbs will not be a liability. I look forward to communities that do not make the distinction between having a family and creating something great.

When I come right down to it, I will not be able to develop software or create engaging professional development as fast as someone without children or a significant other. I just don’t have that kind of time. What I can commit to, however, is creating something every day. I can commit to the knowledge that my family sustains me more than any amount of work ever could.

My wife pushes me to blog every day. She makes sure that I have deadlines. My children always make me think from their point of view. They make me understand what it is to be human and learn things for the first time.

And those are the type of people I want to work with. I want people who would rather go out for dinner with their family than people who want to go out for a night of drinking. I want a community that requires deep relationships, not a lot of tenuous ones that are interchangeable. I want a community that respects all forms of taking part as equal, and not just the folks who have the most time on their hands. But, I may just have to create it because I don’t see a whole lot of it going on right now.

Question 57 of 365: Who is doing the asking?


As I have been asking a lot of questions of late, I thought it was time for me to see who else is doing the same. I should have something in common with those other who are also looking for answers, right? A kind of community could be formed around this practice, and in time, we would be able to figure out what makes each of our questions important.

However, after quite a little bit of research, the community may have to wait. It seems as though each site that helps people ask and answer questions isn’t really trying to create a community of practice so much as they are trying to create a database of answers or a platform for connecting questions with answers rather than people together.

This somewhat disheartening notion came from these facts:

So, I guess I am just a little disappointed with the platforms currently available. More than that, though, I am disappointed that more people don’t seem to be noticing that they are connecting with a system rather than with people when they ask questions. I am surprised that they aren’t clamoring for a better community of practice, but perhaps they don’t know how.
Perhaps, the people doing the asking don’t know that they can ask for more. Perhaps, they don’t know that they can get an answer and a network. Perhaps they aren’t aware that the process of asking the question and iterating on that question to find a better one and debating honestly as people instead of avatars can be one of the most rewarding experiences online or offline.
So, who is doing the asking?
Well, right now it is those who have a need, but don’t see what that real need is. It is people who will may find an answer, but won’t find an experience. It is just individuals, and it will remain that way until something allows them to come together and find real solutions, rather than just words.
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Question 24 of 365: When should you fire your community?


Cultivating a rich and supportive community is one of the hardest and most worthwhile things you can do with your online presence. It is something that usually requires endlessly making contacts and leaving comments. It requires a consistent voice and a steadfast level of interaction. Most of all, a good community requires time. They are not made overnight and anyone who believes that they have found a shortcut to a great community is taking the term “friend” way too seriously.

So, if all of these things are true, why in the world would anyone want to fire the community that they have cultivated and start fresh with a different set of people? Many are afraid of starting over, afraid of making connections with a whole new set of people. This is one of the reasons why people stay in jobs they don’t like or frequent bars that no longer serve a social purpose. We are creatures of habit. And because of this, we are members of habitual communities.

Habitual communities are like legacy software. It is the same thing that we have done for so long that we can’t remember life without it, and it did seem to get us to the right answers and solutions when we picked it originally. We use legacy software because it is easier than making an enormous change, even though it may fit our needs better or revolutionize our learning and working processes. We stay in our community because it has, at one point or another, been “there for us.” It has gotten us through some hard times and it has kept us going on the path that we set out on.

Yet, I would like to make the case that we should be willing to fire our communities every once in a while. We should look at those people providing comments and theories in topics we care about. We should look at them and see if they are really the ones that will guide us into our future. We should look at them and see if they are holding us back.

This is exactly why I am not sure finding old friends on Facebook is a good idea. While it may be fantastic to make contact with people from your past, you are reconstituting a community that you fired at one point or another. You are surrounding yourself with people who may no longer yield any new benefit for where you are headed. They are people that made sense for a given time and space. Trying to recreate that time and space is counterproductive for the one you exist in now.

However, I do not take this process lightly. Firing my community is not something I would be so willing to do without first knowing that there is another community that might take me in. I know that I need the social interaction of other community members on a daily basis to become a better person (both online and in real life). I need them in order to make better decisions and have innovative ideas. But, the people that I follow right now may not hold the keys to where I am headed. They may not continue to nourish all that I can be.

But, where will the new community come from? Who are those people who will, once again, be willing to put in the time and effort with me to create a community together. Perhaps I need to construct a personal ad for my community (in the least creepy way possible), and perhaps I need to craft a Dear John letter to my current community.

Personal Ad for my new community: I am seeking a community of people who are interested in building new things no matter what sector of the world they may exist in. I am interested in open source, lean startups, educational technology, and asking lots and lots of questions. I am looking for people who are interested in communicating about ideas that will change the world. If you are looking for a person who never gets tired of learning something new or creating an interesting workflow out of many diverse ideas and tools, pleas contact me about your community. Thank you.

Dear John letter for my current community: I am so sorry, but things just aren’t working out. I thought that I was interested in learning about the newest and best podcasting, blogging and presentation tools for the classroom, but I no longer have much interest in tagging those for later reference. I now find that many of your links and recommended readings are somewhat recursive and never really seem to provide the case study analysis that would move the conversation along. If you are a person in my current community who is also interested in building new technologies, learning platforms and ideas; I think there may be a place for you in my new community. However, if you are still only interested in having conversations about how to use Google Docs in the classroom, I think it may be a good time to part ways. While I still want to know that people are putting the technology to practice in high schools around the country. I am just not satisfied with the stories of teachers learning about Delicious or RSS for the first time. My community can’t be about wondering what the next big thing will be. It must be centered around actually building the next big thing.

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Conflict of interest


I accidentally posted this too soon, but here is the official version
of this idea (which is bound to change at some point).
What does it mean when you are faced with the following challenge:
The place that you work has given you the freedom to explore different
learning platforms, work with creative people, collaborate on process,
policy, and pedagogy, and the means to not have to say no too often.
The future you see for education is different than what is being planned.
The opportunities to branch out and create your own learning spaces
have never been more numerous or more engaging.
The community you actively engage in advocates for open communication
and documentation of every move forward that you make with your own
The boundaries on that communication have never been more clear: “Some
meetings are secret.”
The platforms for learning and support that you use are at odds with
“having someone on the other end of the line” when something goes
So, what here is a conflict of interest. Can all of this coexist and
not create chaos, unrest or animosity between my job, my network, my
living, and my passion?
(Too vague? Give me a few months, and perhaps specifics will surface.)

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Communal living


I never realized just how important community was to me until my wife
and I asked our best family friends to come and live with us while
they are saving up to buy a house.
For many years I have written about online communities as being an
essential part of authentic learning. Yet, I have never lived in such
close quarters to another family, and thus did not know how much is
learning by being a part of a close-knit real-life community.
Daily I learn what actions by my children and theirs “really mean”. I
now know why personal space has so much value. I know what to expect
from our community and what my community expects of me.
The reason for this post is that it has gotten me thinking about our
need for a nurtured real-life community that supports everything we
attempt to change in education. While I would like to think that the
twittersphere is all that I need for support and community, I need the
people that I can look straight in the eye and brainstorm the greatest
learning activity with.
I guess I will just state this idea as a challenge to myself: if I am
not cultivating my real community as hard as I am doing so for my
online community, I will never be able to accomplish all of the things
I would like.
Or, to put it another way:
The number of people you can touch with your work depends upon how you
work with the people you can literally touch. (Although, that sounds a
little creepier than I wanted.)

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