Rob Cottingham's blog

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The netroots are coming to Second Life


RootsCamp - a series of gatherings for progressive Americans and members of the "netroots" to discuss and debrief on the U.S. midterm elections - won't just be happening in San Francisco, New York City, Bloomington, Washington DC and Columbus.

The first of the planned conferences won't even be happening anywhere you can find on a map.

Instead, it will kick off on Better World Island... deep in the heart of the avatar-based Second Life virtual world.

The conversation launches at 1 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Wednesday, November 8, and runs through November 14. It's an unconference (wha'?), open to anyone who meets the exacting criteria:

Attendees must give a demo, a session, or help with one, or otherwise volunteer / contribute in some way to support the event. All presentations are scheduled the day they happen. Prepare in advance, but come early to get a slot on the wall. The people present at the event will select the demos or presentations they want to see.

If you're politically minded and you've been dying to learn more about the Second Life weirdness you've been hearing so much about, this is a great way to dip your toe in the virtual waters. And if you're progressive and a SL veteran with something to share about the election campain, well, you've probably already signed up.

For more info, visit the RootsCamp Second Life site. And see you there!

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Could have been the forums, might have been the blogs: make your online community a party

Scaling enjoyment in your online community is your best growth and success strategy

If you've been online for a while, you've probably seen them: would-be online communities that echo with emptiness.

John Gladding at A List Apart offers a handy metaphor: hosting a party where nobody comes. (Dammit... must I relive high school again?!) And he uses that metaphor to offer some solid advice – pitched particularly at people operating forums, but useful for the rest of us, too.

Among his best tips:

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Trick, treat... or giving

Giving smarter and more to your cause, through mashing a holiday tradition with online fundraising tools

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For every regular contributor, nine occasionals and ninety-nine lurkers

Online participation

Working with everything from political groups to online discussion boards, I've heard the same lament: "We have so many members. Why do we have so few people participating?"

Hard though it is to admit, for the vast majority of members, that organization or web site that occupies the dead centre of our universe lies at the outer fringes of theirs. Whether because of interest, attention or life's many other demands, they'll only partake of a little of the array of functions and content we've set out before them.

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A sense of place at Social Tech Brewing

Last night's Social Tech Brewing meetup (when are we going to start calling them brew-hahas?) profiled three very different projects with one powerful thing in common: a sense of place.

(Speaking of a sense of place: WorkSpace in Gastown was the perfect venue for the event. I loved it for BarCamp, and for this kind of meeting it's ideal. Consider them for your next event... or for your nomadic workplace of choice.) 

Up first: James Sherrett and, a place for people from the Pacific Northwest to "celebrate salmon’s contribution to our communities, and share their salmon experiences, stories, and thoughts." The site's backers (the Pacific Salmon Foundation and Fraser Basin Council) are hoping that, when you think about salmon, you'll think about more than just beauty shots of intrepid fish swimming upstream; you'll think about how we can work together to ensure the wild BC salmon survives and thrives.

"If you don't have salmon in a watershed, you don't have all the other things that rely on salmon," James pointed out, including bears, birds and even the trees themselves. He said that even some Okanagan wines are made from grapes containing phosphates that can be traced back to salmon.

The site is already seeded with video, photos and text, but it will come alive as more and more visitors begin participating. And that's where place comes into play: each story that users share can be geocoded; the site then draws on the Google Maps API to plot maps of stories.

Kylie Turner, the site's lead copywriter and editor, spoke about needing to lower barriers to entry. "When you think of stories, some people think they have to have perfect grammar and be this wonderful, beautiful textual thing," she said. "We need to show them they can just submit a picture or a child's poem."

Next up on the seat of heat: Vancity's Kate Dugas, presenting (Why, yes, we did build that site. Thanks for asking.) She explained that the credit union wanted to launch an online community related, not to Vancity products and services, but to the changes important to people in the communities Vancity serves.

After going live in July, the site officially launched in September. Kate said there are now hundreds of users on the site, and the tone of conversation is great: no need yet to delete content or put out fires, and plenty of mutually supportive comments.

Several audience members suggested being even clearer on the front page that the site is not tied to product and service marketing, and that no information is being passed on to the folks in sales. And asked how to bring in new features without seriously disrupting the community, Kate answered, "by involving the community in shaping those features."

Finally, it was Rochelle Grayson and Jennifer Ouano from Elastic Entertainment, talking about their new project, MadeInVAN. They describe it as a "participative cultural urban guide", where Vancouver residents upload stories tied to specific places (called "stops" in MadeInVANese). Users can then compile the various stories from several "stops" into an itinerary for a tour.

Working with, MadeInVAN aims to target mobile devices – mainly with text at first – so users can find out about locations on the fly and get an insider's take on how the city really lives. It's based on an existing site, MadeinMtl, but will extend that site's static platform with social networking and location-aware functions, built in Ruby on Rails.

There's a business model to the project, with sponsorship and contextual advertising but also possibly (and most interestingly) with various local venues kicking in to host their own communities.

Thinking about each of these projects, it's a little funny: back in the distant mists of time (that is, a decade or so), the Internet was going to erase the influence of geography. Instead, we're finding an increasingly powerful – and exciting – potential for mutually reinforcing interactions between physical and online community.

Thanks to everyone who presented, and everyone who came – it was an inspiring, enjoyable evening. And check back soon for details on the next one!

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Google, MyYahoo! and Netvibes have a competitor: you

Drupal module allows you to build your own homepage

For a while now, folks like Google, MyYahoo! and Netvibes have been vying to be your ho

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Northern Voice returns!

Great news... Northern Voice is on again. Now in its third year, this Vancouver-based conference draws an international audience that ranges from novices to leaders in blogging and the web.

This year, Northern Voice - organized last year by Boris Mann, Brian Lamb, Cyprien Lomas, Darren Barefoot, Kris Krug, Lauren Wood and Roland Tanglao – has moved to bigger digs at UBC. It's running from Feb. 23 to 24, and if it's anything like the last two, it's going to be fantastic.

If you're going to be in or near Vancouver next February, check back on their site regularly for updates – so you can register as soon as it opens (the conference fills up awfully quickly). And if you aren't going to be in Vancouver in February, well, compare the winter climate here to yours and adjust your travel plans accordingly.

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Social Signal at the Blog Business Summit

Blog Business Summit 2007

We're pleased to be sponsoring the 2007 Blog Business Summit, running Oct. 25-27 in Seattle. It's a gathering of some of the leading voices in business blogging:

We’re hoping you can join us to compare notes and discover the latest tools and techniques that will help you take your blogging, videoblogging, and podcasting efforts to the next level.

Business Blogging gurus like Robert Scoble, Matt Mullenweg, Jason Calacanis, Mary Hodder, Buzz Bruggeman, Maryam Scoble, Janet Johnson, Steve Broback, John Furrier, and DL Byron have already said they’re available to take the podium during this year’s event, and many more experts will be joining us onstage during the three-day confab.

And because we're sponsors, we get to offer a special discount on registering. (That's right: we spend money and pass the savings on to you!) Enter the sponsor code SOSIGNAL06 on the second page of the registration site, and they'll knock $100 off the fee. Not bad for a conference that offers everything from the very basics to the latest trends.

If you are planning on coming, let us know – we'll look forward to seeing you there. (And it's your chance to see Alex's now-legendary laptop!) 

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Looking at the Liberal leadership web sites

2006 Political campaigns engage with social web, but fall short in building vibrant online communities

Political campaigns are supposed to be innovators when it comes to the online world; witness the breakout success of the Howard Dean campaign and the increasing significance of blogs in U.S. politics.

So whenever an election is underway, it's worth having a look at how campaigns are using the web and the power of online community – and in Canada, the big electoral news right now is the Liberal Party's leadership campaign.

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SpeechList moves to Social Signal!

SpeechList, my free newsletter about the craft of speechwriting, has officially moved to Social Signal with issue #7. Along with the usual news, tools and practical tips, this issue has a feature article on breaking into speechwriting:

Maybe you've written a few speeches for yourself or others that went over well. Maybe you're just attracted by the glitz and glamour of the profession. (Maybe you just fell over laughing.) Whatever the reason, you want to start speechwriting professionally.

But where to begin? Unlike aspiring doctors, bike mechanics and chefs, speechwriters don't have a prescribed course of study and internship. There aren't a lot of jobs out there labeled "speechwriter", and no one career path to follow.

The bright side is, that means there are a lot of ways into the business. Here are five tips for anyone who wants to make the leap into professional speechwriting.

Check out the latest issue here – and if you want to subscribe, just click here

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Get more out of Evernote with Alexandra Samuel's great new ebook, the first in the Harvard Business Press Work Smarter with Social Media series!

Available on Amazon, iTunes and HBR.

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