Building and Using Your Personal Information Network

So, last time I mentioned the importance of building your Personal Information Network or PIN (PS, thanks for the great comments – keep ’em coming!). Today I’d like to share an example of how this can work in practice.

I woke up this morning and fired up Google Reader and Twitter first thing to see what I’d missed overnight (told you I was addicted). Found a Tweet from Chris Brogan, social media guru, with a link to an article on Twitter Best Practices at a blog I’d never heard of. I don’t know Chris, but I follow him as part of my PIN, to keep up with what’s happening in the world of social media. Chris is a particularly generous Twitterer and blogger, and so is a veritable fount of information. Trusting Chris’ insight, I clicked on the link which led to David Lee King’s blog and a gem of a post on “Twitter Best Practices So Far.” It’s a great post, with great tips like writing a great profile, making sure to say hi to people who follow you (PS, this is how you build community, folks), and even taking care to put up a background image on your Twitter homepage (the handsome devil on mine is my Second Life avatar, Ricetopher Freenote. Say Hi if you’re ever in-world). Please take the time to read and absorb David’s Twitter suggestions.

So, I read through David’s blog, really found his first few posts useful, so I added his blog’s rss feed to my Google Reader folder on Social Media. BANG! Another node in my Personal Information Network. I would have added David to my Twitter stream, but could not find his Twitter information. Lesson? Always make your Twitter address easy to find and add. PS, that’s how you build community, folks! At any rate, another valuable addition to my PIN.

As a bonus, David’s post included a link to a site I’d found and bookmarked before, but had forgotten: TwitterPacks. TwitterPacks is a great example of using a wiki to build a common knowledge base around a particular subject (yes, I promise to blog about effective use of wikis soon!), in this case, Twitter. It proposes the simple question: “If someone were joining Twitter today, who might they follow?” TwitterPacks is a collection of Twitter contacts, organized by subject area. So, if you wanted to find the Twitter contacts of people involved in education, social media, public media, etc, you could go the the appropriate page and find them, look at their Twitter stram, and then decide whether or not to add them to your PIN. A grassroots organization could build a similar wiki with Twitter contact info for their members organized by areas of interest, geography, etc. Check out Twitter Packs and start adding to your PIN today!

I hope you’ve found this follow up on how to build your PIN through Twitter to be helpful. If you have any other suggestions for how to build your PIN, won’t you please leave a comment and share the wealth with others? PS, that’s how you build community folks! 🙂

See you next time with more on potential uses of Twitter for activism.

Why and How I Use Twitter

Hi, my name is Chris and I’m…I’m a Twitter addict.

Hi, Chris.

So, yes, I’m a Twitter addict. Just a moment ago I cursed loudly (LOUDLY!) at Twhirl as it pitifully looked at me and told me that Twitter wasn’t talking to it right now because Twitter was so damned busy. So yeah, I need need NEED Twitter even though it has let me down a lot lately. The platform still has work to do in order to scale in a feature-rich way. It can be very frustrating at times.

However, in my work as an educator, researcher and consultant, I find that there are a lot of potential uses for Twitter, for professionals and for activist/nonprofit organizations. Let me tell you about two important and easy uses for Twitter: Building a Community of Practice and Building Your Personal Information Network (PIN).

Building a Community of Practice

I tend to use Twitter as a continual, low-level informational tool to keep up with what’s going on with people of interest to me. Some are close friends, some are professional acquaintances, some are people I’ve never met. It lets me take a look at what they’re thinking about, and sometimes people will post (using TinyURL) links to things they are reading or have written. For me, the end result is that it creates an ad hoc community of practice around my personal issues of interest, keeping me informed on a more-or-less continual fashion as to what’s going on and who’s doing it.

In terms of community building, Twitter is great because the transaction costs per interaction are so much lower than blogging, forum participation or even email. Twitter can be run on your desktop or laptop, or you can use your phone if you’re more mobile (but you need to have Unlimited Text Messaging if you follow a lot of people). Community arises naturally out of using the tool, and you can participate as much or as little as you like. Twitter is being used by activists in places like Thailand and Egypt to coordinate Flashmob-type action.

By linking up with people in my vicinity doing social media work, I’ve learned a lot about new social media platforms, tips on how to use them effectively, and have been able to find solutions to small problems. In the process, it’s also allowed be to expand my personal network and begin to build friendships that would have never happened otherwise. Twitter has helped me to get better at what I do while meeting more people who do related work. In short, it has helped me to build a community of practice.

Building Your Personal Information Network

One great way to use Twitter is to build a Personal Information Network (PIN). Take a look at the Twitter pages of people you are interested in and see who they are following. So, for example, if you go to my Twitter page, you can hover over the mini-icons of people I am following, click on them to go to their Twitter page, see who they are following, and by repeating this process, find plenty of people thinking about issues you are interested in. Each tweet is only 140 characters long, so messages are short and to the point (which is why you need TinyURL to post links).

This differs from Building a Community of Practice in that you are following people in order to gain information on a variety of topics, not necessarily because you are trying to enter a network or community or trying to build a personal relationship with them. These will often be the people on your Twitter “following” list (people whose Tweets you read) and not on your “followers” (people read your Tweets) list. for example, I follow Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction to keep up with what’s going on with their comics work, Xeni Jardin to follow her journalism and work on Boing Boing, Sustainablog to keep up with news on sustainability and global climate change, Barack Obama to follow the campaign, etc.

I don’t expect these people to follow me, but I follow them to engage in what Futurists refer to as the scanning process. Follow as many or as few people as you like to do this. I try to add more and more of these type of people all the time. You must beware of throwing your “signal-to-noise” ratio out of whack when doing so. For example, I recently dropped one such person from my Following list because she was starting to Tweet WAY too much, with too little value. She was introducing too much noise, overwhelming the signal of the information coming in. So i dropped her. You’ll have to experiment with this to find the right balance. Journalists are beginning to follow people on Twitter in order to get the jump on breaking stories. You can do the same with your PIN.

In my next post on Twitter, I’ll talk about ways in which organizations could think about using Twitter to enhance their work. For example, one interesting application for activist organizations might be a page on their website site which functions as a collection page for the RSS feeds of their membership/community members, presenting a rolling feed of what everyone is up to. Or, imagine a Downtown Lexington activist group at a city council meeting in which strategic updates flow between phone-equipped activists in real time during a meeting, allowing adjustment of strategy, passing of information and relevant data to improve efficacy of speaking during hearings. There are many possibilities for enhancing activism using tools like Twitter.

In the meantime, I’d love for you to leave a comment or email me with the ways YOU use Twitter in your personal or work lives.

Intro to Politics 2.0: Online Politics 101

The amazing folks over at e.politics have recently released a new edition of “Online Politics 101: The Tools and Tactics of Online Political Advocacy”, a nicely packaged collections of articles from the site explaining the basics of using social media tools for online political activism and campaigning. This 52pp. FREE PDF book covers everything from online fundraising to Search Engine Optimization to viral campaigning to social networks. It’s a quick read, but chock full of helpful tips for incorporating more online tools into your organization’s work. Well worth your time.

I also have e.politics as a regular read in Google Reader. Check out the site and let me know if you find it useful!

The Important Difference Between Media and Social Media (Debate Edition)

Over at It’s Not a Lecture, David Wescott totally gets why the Democratic presidential debates last night show that the debate over whether or not we should just call social media “media” now is bogus:

I hope this debate serves as the wake-up call for the traditional media. This is why we can’t yet say “social media” is “all media.” When all media is truly social, the most prominent and important questions will be raised. That’s why the YouTube debates were so effective and so important. It’s only a matter of time – and not much time, at that – before they become the norm and not the exception.

Social media is about the democratization of communication, turning political communication into hot media once again, as opposed to the coolness of the traditional media. The chattering classes and talking heads were made very, very uncomfortable during the YouTube debates this cycle, especially the Republican YouTube debate. It makes people like the Gibsons, Matthews and Russerts of the world uncomfortable when the people begin to ask questions that really matter to them, as opposed to whatever the Village consensus is.

A true Open Source Politics looks a lot like the YouTube debates: people ask questions meaningful to them. However, one major modification would be the incorporation of a Digg-like system to filter the questions. I place much more faith in the American Public to filter the questions than people like Charles Gibson or Tim Russert. Open Source Debates are a lot more fun than the Perez Hilton/TMZ-style debates we’ve been getting. Run the filters on the screen in real-time, along with a dedicated Twitter feed with a cloud-style visualization. Link it to maps, so we can geolocate opinion trends (there’s one way to get past the whole Red State-Blue state bullshit).

The debates might be more chaotic and frightening, but they’d be a hell of a lot better than what we got last night. Social media isn’t the same as traditional media. There is a substantial qualitative difference, and an Open Source Politics needs to make certain the politicians and the public are aware of this.

PS, David runs a really great blog on Social Media, which is a regular read for me now. You can also follow him on Twitter.

EDITED TO ADD (4/17/08, 1pm): A lot of people have noticed last night’s hackery. And when those people have access to cheap and easily available social media tools, well, lots more people begin to notice (h/t AmericaBlog):


Transactional vs. Transformational Politics

Digby has a great article on the important difference between transactional and transformational politics over at Campaign for America’s Future’s “Blog for Our Future.” Here’s the money quote from the end of the article:

Cramped transactional politics should not be used as a definition of progressivism. While they are a necessary part of the system, they cannot fuel a transformation of our politics. Our job as activists is to pressure and prod our elected representatives to advance the progressive project and reward them when they do it. Winning office should be the beginning, not the end. Transformation is not just a goal, it’s a process.

So many times liberal and progressives, as well as anarchists, get caught up in the drive for immediate results. “We have to win this race – who’s the most electable person we have?” or “We’ve got to <insert outrageous anarchist act of resistance here> because if we don’t destroy the system now it will keep getting stronger! Fight the Power!”

Well, one reason for the success of the conservative movement over the last 30 years or so has been the willingness to forgo immediate gratification and electoral success in the interest of building a movement. It was the putting into motion of the old slogan “free your mind and your ass will follow.” Where the conservatives started to experience EPIC FAIL is when they started worrying about ways to win elections and use mechanical/procedural strategies and stopped worrying about building and nurturing a movement. Hence the fragmentation of the Republican party during this election cycle. Democrats who were willing to back the Clintons early were also vicitms of this same idea – they never quite understood the need to build a new national movement. This movement building instinct and effort has been what has made Obama’s campaign so successful, I think. This is why I often take issue with anarchists who want the big flashy spectacle now – propaganda of the deed as their only method – rather than focusing on the more difficult, but ultimately more effective, method of transvaluation. System change is slow at first but grows exponentially as it successfully progressive.

This is the difference between transactional and transformational politics.

Head over and read Digby’s article. It’s better than watching Wolf Blitzer on a Sunday afternoon!

Thoughts on Nostalgia in the Face of Peak Oil/Global Climate Change

Over at the Oil Drum, Stuart Staniford has an excellent, data-driven argument for “Why Peak Oil Actually Helps Industrial Agriculture.” I really appreciate the research that Staniford has put into this piece, as it provides a nice tonic against the alarmism and doomist approach of people like James Howard Kunstler. Yes, Peak Oil is a problem. Yes, things are going to get quite, quite ugly over both energy and water. In all likelihood, there will be no avoiding this. We will be facing a number of major problems all at once: Peak Oil, Water Crisis, Global Climate Change, Global Financial Crisis. However, it doesn’t mean we should all stop what we’re doing and run around with clapboard signs reading “REPENT – The End is Nigh!”. Quite the opposite – we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work on fixing these problems collectively, with an intensity we haven’t yet managed to summon. I have little patience anymore for this idea that the collapse of civilization is imminent and we’ll all have to move back to the land and sit around strumming the guitar and telling folktales by firelight.

I call bullshit on that.

As Staniford concludes :

[T]he reversalist future of local food production on smaller farms with higher labor input will not come to pass as a result of peak oil. The industrial agricultural sector owns most of the land, and will be in an excellent position to increase their land holdings as remaining subsistence farmers fail or consolidate in the face of high food prices. Industrial farmers will have no reason to sell out to impoverished urban dwellers. Thus the industrialization of the land is not a reversible process any time soon – it is a fallacy to think so. The reversalists are expressing wishful thinking and nostalgia for the past, not a reasoned analysis of how the future is likely to play out. And urbanites worried about their future should not be looking to buy or rent a smallholding as a solution to their problems – industrial farmers are extremely efficient, and there is no way to compete with them except by becoming one.

Translation: This back-to-the-land-oh-noes-its-the-end-of-the-world reeks of nostalgia (think hippie patchouli-stink, just a bit milder and laced with a pheromonal whiff of panic). A nostalgia for a particular type of agrarian past, often coming from people who didn’t grow up on a farm or have farmers in the family. If you think closely on the issue, as Staniford does, you see that there is no going back, no return to an idyllic past that really only existed in your head and a memory clouded by nostalgia erupting in the presence of fear. There is only going forward: What are the trend lines? How do we live more sustainably given the realities of where we are now? What technologies do we need? What changes in how we relate to one another can we bring about without it being imposed by some arbitrary authority?

For example, I don’t find it ridiculous at all to begin talking about the need for urban farming. I also think that most all of what Kunstler and others have to say about returning to light rail, walkable communities, etc. makes a hell of a lot of sense, and is, in fact, unavoidable to some extent. This is a helpful aspect about learning to build a sustainable, livable future.

But please: as we progress into a sustainable future, let’s do so with our eyes wide open, with an eye to promoting a sustainable culture of abundance and promise, rather than the doomist future of reduced resources, massive sacrifice and lower standards of living that so many so-called environmentalists seem to be trying to sell. People like their cars, their iPods, watching films, plaing Second Life and World of Warcraft. People in Kentucky enjoy drinking coffee from Guatemala and eating bananas and having Tomatoes in the winter. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get up for drinking chickory and never enjoying banana ice cream again. So how do we build a sustainable, equitable future of abundance and high standards of living for everyone? What energy future do we need to build (see the Apollo Project for a great vision of this)? Can we build cars which help wean us off of oil? Could virtual worlds like Second Life help us to lower our carbon footprint by reducing travel? Can we grow our own gardens and feed ourselves largely through intensive local urban farming while still utilizing a large, energy-forward agricultural production system which uses less energy and water while preserving topsoil? Nordhaus and Shellenberger do an interesting job of discussing this discourse of hope and abundance in their important “Break Through.” I highly recommend it.

So, my 2¢. I’ll stop the rambling now. I’m more interested in hearing what YOU think about this. Leave a comment or send an email, I’d love to hear from you.

h/t: Jamais Cascio (OTF)

EDITED (1/22/08 1:45pm) TO ADD:  I do NOT mean to offend any farmers out there. That was NOT what I was trying to do. What I was trying to say is that (1) farming is hard work, often glamorized by people who have never done it, or think they’d be great at it because they managed to raise a few tomatoes and cucumbers without killing them; and, (2) I oppose the idea that we have to give up in the face of these monstrous challenges and that there is only one “correct” way out of the crisis. I have no problem with people who are (a) hippies, (b) like patchouli, and (c) have an honest desire to escape modernity by pursuing an authentic agrarian lifestyle. I have the utmost respect and love for Wendell Berry. However, I have no desire to pursue such a lifestyle and reject the discourse of lowered expectations and diminished dreams. I enjoy shopping at the local Farmers’ Market and I plan on returning to large gardening this summer because I miss the fresh produce and the discipline of gardening. But I also enjoy Second Life, Gmail, digital photography and my iPod. The key is how to do all of these things in an environmentally neutral or, preferably, environmentally positive/regenerative way.

I hope this clarifies things a bit.

“Hi, I’m a Mac. I’m a PC. And I’m Linux.”


I love this video (found on a thread at the Whitechapel board). It’s so true.

I also like the video because it simply, and humorously illustrates what the Open Source community is all about. Nice. Simple. and Short. We need more Burst Culture like this in the Open Source movement. Information and Ideological Downloads through the Pop Single form.

Sustainability in/and Appalachia

I’ll be speaking on a panel at tomorrow’s sustainability conference at UK. The panel is titled “Sustainability in/and Appalachia” and I’l be speaking about nonprofit organizations and sustainability in the region. Other panel members include Ernie Yanarella, Herb Reid and Dick Levine. The panel will start at 1pm in Room  359 of the UK Student Center. I hope to see some of you there.

This also means the 2pm PS 240 class will be starting at 2:10pm tomorrow instead of 2pm. I’ll just lecture faster. 🙂

The beginnings of our hyperlocal future

My friend Patrick sent me the link to this new(-ish) wiki, Make Mine Local, which is designed to help central Kentuckians support locally grown and locally produced products. The site strongly emphasizes organic and sustainable agriculture. The site is still new, so it’s a little light on content and is still a little too text-based, but as far as I can tell, just a couple of people have managed to put up a nice little wikispaces site which has already provided me with some extremely useful information. I plan to put a couple of the available categories (meats, cafes/coffee shops, music) in my feed reader to keep up with updates.

There are a couple of great things about this site:

First, it is a great start into creating a hyperlocal Lexington/Central Kentucky. So much of the web has been focused on larger scales and larger issues. Now the trend is coming back toward hypertexting the local. Bruce Sterling has written a few interesting and provocative pieces on this over at the Wired website, and I continue to believe that localblogging will prove to be a greater influence on the national elections next year than the A-list blogs. Steven Johnson‘s project,, is also a great step forward in aggregating and geotagging community-based blogging. The great thing about the Make Mine Local site is that it’s a hyperlocal portal designed to get people thinking locally about their consumption habits. It would be great to see them not only continue to build out their directory of local producers, but also to introduce some comparative calculators (see the cautionary info on buying local my previous post on this) and some more social elements (like a custom googlemap build or something like Platial, maybe a way for people to share their links related to local matters through an rss feed, forums, maybe a social networking element through Ning or something similar).

Second, I really appreciate that they’ve built this site as a wiki, which opens up the hyperlocal project to a more participatory framework, and wisely employs the open source culture. Now if the word could just get out to more people (say through a blog badge or a Facebook widget), I think the project would really take off. Why not get some folks like KFTC, MACED, or Community Farm Alliance to help in spreading the word through their websites and newsletters?

At any rate, I strongly recommend the site to my fellow residents in the Bluegrass region, and encourage you to not only take information from the site, but add to it as well, in the interests of promoting an open source, participatory hyperlocal future.