Tools for coordinating community events

n Sunday morning, I woke up with the germ of an idea. I had been doing a lot of soul searching about what to do for my final project and I realised that a lot of what I was thinking of made sense for other peoples’ ideas of who I am, but not what I find important. I went back to what I loved doing as a kid. I have always loved coordinating communities in creative tasks. In middle school, I created my own version of Dungeons and Dragons, and made drawings of monsters and lands that my friends and I would invade. After that (probably with a sense of guilt when I heard that D&D was actually Satanic (!)) I coordinated a Bible study group (gasp!) with the kids in the neighborhood using little activity booklets that I designed.

I continued the community stuff (also known as ‘lust for power’) by being the ‘Entertainment Representative’ in just about every committee I was a part of – including the Junior City Council in Pietermaritzburg where I was responsible for breaking city by-laws by running a chalkathon where we would ask businesses to donate money to charity in exchange for their name in chalk on the city streets. Nice.

After I graduated from university in 2000 wanting to be a ‘communication designer’ (the forerunner of UX designers, I think) I went on to managing a Johannesburg non-profit’s website and realising that the Web was the reason I was born in 1978, just in time to see the rise and dramatic fall of online business, and the consequent stickiness of the stuff that the Web does well. There is a lot of hype about the Internet as a new geography (the phrase: ‘Governments of the Industrial World, you weary giants of flesh and steel, I come from Cyberspace, the new home of Mind’ is the now considered to be mindless ‘hippie-talk’ of the 90s) and a lot of it is bullcr%p but I do believe that the Internet can bring people together.

With me as type-cast “Representative of Entertainment” and a penchant for stories of heroism and humanism, I’ve been involved in and run a bunch of F2F (face-to-face) events in the past 10 years – all to (ironically) celebrate what’s great about the Internet(s). (With all that education, sayeth my parents, she is just a glorified event planner!) It’s hard to own up to, but yes, that is what drives this sack of South African-ness to various corners of this large earth.

In celebration of this recent soul searching, I’m thinking of building tools for those who coordinate community-driven events just like the ones that changed my life and are changing the lives of others every day. We’re learning that technology can help open events to enormous possibilities, but that the best events, the life-changing ones, are those that ramp up the flesh-and-bloodness of the F2F.

The thing with community events (like Barcamps, InfoCamps, MiniMakerFaires and their friends) is that people like you and me end up organising the bloody things when we have no idea of what’s involved. We always start from scratch – trying new, fancy technology when a lot of the time we spend more time on making the new fancy technology do what we want it to before actually getting down to the community-building that’s required for the success of such events. So I want to tackle this problem in a way that will enable more and more people organise more and more fabulous events to change the lives of more and more people. F2F is where it’s at, but information can get us more F2F time, I’m sure of it – especially when it enables us to replicate events that are hyper-local and save the crushing effects of travel and jetfuel.

That’s the initial pearl. I have had this idea for almost 36 hours now and I still think it’s a good one. I’ve just spoken to my brilliant digsmate, Thomas, about it and his interest was genuinely piqued. He’s making me think smartly about which part of this experience should be ‘templated’. Interesting ideas. More soon. Now is the time for inspiration, if you have any dashes of it for me 🙂 Thanking you in anticipation!

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