The right tool for the job: my first 750words.com story

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I am fascinated by online tools. Tools in the proper sense, of technologies fitting the job. It never ceases to amaze me how clients often think that “anything goes” when digital tools are concerned. Everybody would agree that a carpenter needs a whole toolbox full of different hammers, drills, and screwdrivers. Yet, when discussing the digital platforms they need for often very complex collaborative networks and communities, managers often say: “but we already have a website/blog/Sharepoint/Facebook-page…” This will not do. Online collaboration takes places in very complex socio-technical ecosystems. Task-tool fit is not trivial at all. On the contrary, developing the right set of tools for the community often takes a long time of trial-and-error, tinkering, and continuous re-adjustment as and when the community evolves.

To drive down this point,  I’d like to share an example of a tool that perfectly seems to fit its task. 750words.com has a very simple premise. Just keep practicing writing 750 words a day, every day, just for yourself, and you will get better at it over time. As the tool’s authors say: just ordinary blogs won’t do, as you may mix up public and private posts, are not prompted daily to write, don’t receive friendly & fun nudges, and there is no sense of community with fellow sufferwriters. To deal with this, they developed this delightful site, around which a lively community grew. A great example of a tool fitting the job. To show proof of concept, I share my first story I wrote on this site, just because it was so cool to do:

This is my first attempt at writing at least 750 words daily. I’ve been toying with this idea for a long time. And yes, tools matter. I really like this idea of a protected space, where you are your only audience. Nobody else to criticize you. A stream of consciousness suffices. It’s really about breaking that writer’s block. To the unpracticed writer-newbie, 750 words seems an awful lot. Is it really? The real pace killer is probably that you want it to look perfect. But if, indeed, all you want to do is to exercise your writing muscle, then this amount of words seems quite doable!

So what am I going to use this “personal blog” for? I have many writing projects that have been stalled way too long. For example, I have this CommunitySense blog. My orginal goal was to have regular updates, at the very least once a week. In those early, pre-social media days, I actually managed quite well at sticking to that frequency. Alas, so many distractions these days. Still, the urge remained, and hopefully this tool will help me better satisfy that urge!

The secret to keeping the use of this tool going probably is to choose a topic related to your own interests and then do a total braindump on that very topic. Trying to cover too many topics at once is probably deadly. If other topics come to mind, I will probably just write them down and delve into them another day.

I wonder if, by using this tool daily, my writing rate actually will increase. I suspect it will. Practice makes perfect, right? What would be the maximum speed I could write at? Are there any comparative figures about this? Perhaps provided by 750words.com itself? It would be really cool if over time my rate would go up.

I also wonder what effect the kind of topic one writes about has? Would writing a piece of fiction be easier than, say, writing a professional post related to one’s expertise? Writing fiction might be easier in the sense that one is less constrained. On the other hand, that lack of boundary might also be paralyzing, as there is nothing to hold on to, conceptually. We shall see, I will probably try my hand at both types of prose.

So, what would be the best strategy to keep those words coming? Think for a while first, then get started, or start right away, and see where the flow takes you? Would making an outline help, or actually be detrimental to the flow?

One interesting effect I can already see happening, as I am writing my very first 750words piece. I observe a slight mental fatigue, such as experienced when jogging or cycling long-distance and that first wave of tiredness sets in. That moment when you realize that you still have such a long way to go, yet your body says, “that was nice for now, now relax”. But hey, in fact, I am already way over the hill: 506 words, and counting! 🙂 Now it should be possible to reach the finish line without too much effort. Just one or two more topics should probably do.

So, let’s see, what have I covered so far: trying not to strive for perfection, the so far unsatisfied urge to write, sticking to your topic, the kind of topic, increasing the speed of writing, the writing strategy, and combatting mental fatigue. That’s quite an impressive list already for just-another-braindump!

Okay, I just experienced a mini-writer’s block. Nothing to worry about, it’s nothing compared to that massive wall of concrete that I regularly ran into during those so terribly exhausting PhD dissertation-writing years. No, just a friendly, suddenly-I-really-seem-to-be-running-low-on-inspiration kind of writer’s hurdle. But no problem. A famous writer’s trick is to “go meta” in such a case. Just start writing about your experiencing that blockade and new ideas will start forming. It’s like being on a mountain hike, when you have been trodding along for quite some time through sticky, dense forest, harassed by those annoying stinging flies, and suddenly the trail starts winding upwards. It’s still hard work, you’re sweating away in the blistering sun, but suddenly, there is that breathtaking, panoramic view all around you. And you are only 40 words away from the finish line 🙂 Almost time for that so deserved break by that mountain lake, overlooking the scenery, drinking in the panorama, feeling so satisfied by your achievement. 750 words, I did it!

Mind you, in collaborative communities task-tool fit is much more complex, as it is about often very complex social networks of individuals, organizations, and communities collaborating, with widely diverging requirements and technical capabilities. Still, if already for such a “simple case” we need to think different tools, then it should be clear that there is definitely no one size-fits all solution for collaborative communities.

 

New publication: Communities in Context: Towards Taking Control of Their Tools in Common(s)

Just published: A. de Moor (2015). Communities in Context: Towards Taking Control of Their Tools in Common(s). In The Journal of Community Informatics, 11(2).

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Abstract:

In this exploratory paper, we outline some issues of inter-community socio-technical systems governance. Our purpose here is not to solve these issues, but to raise awareness about the complexity of socio-technical governance issues encountered in practice. We aim to expand on the rather abstract definition of community-based Internet governance as proposed in the Internet for the Common Good Declaration, exploring how it plays out in practice in actual collaborating communities.  We introduce a simple conceptual model to frame these issues and illustrate them with a concrete case: the drafting and signing of the declaration. We show some of the shortcomings of and socio-technical fixes for Internet collaboration support in this particular case. We end this paper with a discussion on directions for strengthening the collaboration commons.

 

New publication – CulTech2015: Cultural Diversity and Technology Design

Just published: H. A. He, N. Memarovic, A. Sabiescu, A. de Moor (2015), CulTech2015: Cultural Diversity and Technology Design. In Avram, Gabriela; De Cindio, Fiorella; Pipek, Volkmar (eds.) (2015): Proceedings of the Work-In-Progress Track of the 7th International Conference on Communities and Technologies, Limerick, Ireland, 27-30 June, 2015, pp.153-156.

New publication: Expanding the Academic Research Community – Building Bridges into Society with the Internet

Just published: A. de Moor (2014), Expanding the Academic Research Community – Building Bridges into Society with the Internet. In T. Denison, M. Sarrica, and L. Stillman (eds.), Theories, Practices, and Examples for Community and Social Informatics, Monash University Publishing, Melbourne. ISBN 978-1-921867-62-0.

bridging the gap

Abstract

Academic research is under threat from issues like lack of resources, fraud, and societal isolation. Such issues weaken the academic research process, from the framing of research questions to the evaluation of impact. After (re)defining this process, we examine how the academic research community could be expanded using the Internet. We examine two existing science-society collaborations that focus on data collection and analysis and then proceed with a scenario that covers expanding research stages like research question framing, dissemination, and impact assessment.

New publication: The “Kids’ Knowledge Base”: Connecting Junior Science to Society

Just published: A. de Moor  (2014), The “Kids’ Knowledge Base”: Connecting Junior Science to Society. In Proc. of Chi Sparks 2014, The Hague, the Netherlands. The Hague University of Applied Sciences, pp.108-111.

Abstract

Universities try to reinforce their connections with society in many different ways. Introducing children to science at an early age is an important part of this mission. The online “Kids’ Knowledge Base” is a key instrument for presenting showcases of various scientific fields to primary school children, thereby aiming to pique their curiosity. We outline the architecture and development process of the Kids’ Knowledge Base, and describe how it is increasingly being embedded in an ecosystem of online and physical tools, stakeholder networks, and activities. We show how it has been used since its launch in March 2013, and discuss how combining different modes of offline and online interaction helps to promote its overall usefulness and use. We discuss some applications and extensions of the current digital infrastructure and how these may help increase the quality and quantity of the online interactions with the knowledge base.

See also: Kids’ Knowledge Base, B@ttleweters.

Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation: The Dutch – US Connection?

As part of my visit to the  University of Alabama in Huntsville I gave a presentation “Creativity Meets Rationale – Collaboration Patterns for Social Innovation” at the College of Business Administration. It was based on the book chapter with the same title that was published earlier this year in the book “Creativity and Rationale: Enhancing Human Experience by Design”. The slides can be downloaded here.

From the discussion, it seemed that Europe is ahead in implementing scaled applications of social innovation,  although the US is catching up and making it a national priority as well, as indicated by the White House having created an Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.  See also the Economist article Let’s Hear Those Ideas. It would be interesting to see to what extent collaboration patterns for social innovation are alike and differ in the US and European contexts. As Huntsville has an incredible wealth of high-tech engineering knowledge seeking new applications, it would be a very worthwhile exercise to build and compare libraries of collaboration patterns in the Dutch Noord-Brabant and US Alabama cases. A common theme to investigate could be civil aerospace applications, for instance.

Expanding the Academic Research Community: Building Bridges into Society with the Internet

Below the slides of the honors lecture I just gave at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The slides can be downloaded here.

The talk is based on a book chapter with the same title that will be published by Monash University Publishing in the fall.  A preprint of this chapter can be downloaded here. Thanks to the students for all your great questions. If there’s any more, feel free to post them here as comments.