For this week’s ITConversations show I interviewed Mike Caulfield about BlueHampshire.com, the influential New Hampshire political blog that he, Laura Clawson, and Dean Barker started a year ago. The lessons that Mike has learned will be of particular interest to folks who might want to launch political blogs for other state or local communities, but his advice will also be useful to anyone who wants to nurture online community participation.
One of the points that resonates strongly with me: Don’t say the last word. Like me, Mike enjoys doing a comprehensive analysis of an issue and writing a definitive piece laying out his conclusions. But he noticed that when he did that, it tended to be a conversation stopper. People read the essay, but didn’t feel there was anything they could add.
So instead, he’s learned to plant seeds that can grow. A smaller, less finished posting to which others can add may wind up being more influential than a polished essay, because it engages a community of contributors.
Another lesson learned: Reward those contributors, early and often, with attention. it’s crucial to acknowledge their contributions, and to feature them in prominent locations on a site.
Regular listeners will notice that the audio sounds a bit different this time. That’s because Mike lives in my town, so we were able to record face to face. And thereby hangs a funny tale. Mike’s allergic to my house (well, to the cats in it), so we thought we’d find a room at the public library where we could record without disturbing patrons. It would have been a perfect demonstration of the notion, which I advanced in my recent Remixing the library talk, that public libraries can become centers of production as well as of consumption.
But nothing doing. Meeting rooms were available, but not to us, not for this purpose. We were directed to the second floor landing, far enough away from the main hall so as not to disturb patrons. There, surrounded by locked and dark meeting rooms — gorgeous richly paneled rooms! — we sat and recorded the interview. Hence the faint echo you’ll hear in the recording. That second floor landing is a large space, not ideal for audio recording.
I know the library was only following its rules. Those rooms are for non-commercial groups whose meetings are open to the public. But I rarely see them occupied, and I’d like to think that recording a podcast about BlueHampshire.com for ITConversations.com would be a qualifying use.
Seriously, think about it. Where, in our society, can people get together in a public venue to do this kind of productive work? Restaurants and coffee shops shouldn’t be the only answer.