Aug 02 2006

People talking in another language

At 4:37 AM Sydney time, Shawn sends me a message on Skype chat:

    Shawn: Hi John
    Shawn: When I call the Skype conf call number there are people talking in another language. Is this a timeshare arrangement?
    John: yikes!

Somehow, I imagine the worst! We have vandals taking over our telephone bridge! Is the new bridge defective, mixing up different conversations? I quickly call in and find Shawn on the bridge, chatting happily with Susanne Nyrop and her guest (they were also there early because they were a little anxious to make sure the technology was working; since they had thought they were the only ones on the bridge, naturally they were speaking Danish.) It turned out that Shawn and Susanne were both playing a leadership role and had met and done some coordination via chat, but Shawn didn’t recognize Susanne’s voice until after he’d left me that scarry instant message

I think there are several interesting points about this annecdote:

  • Communities depend on the passion and generosity of people who are willing to get up out of bed at outrageous times so as to be ready to facilitate a call that’s convient for others in the community! And on people who are willing to deal with new infrastructure and are willing to show up with their friends to make sure they’re able to connect. Wow.
  • It’s really important for someone to show up early for community calls. There are enough glitches that turn up at the last minute, so having someone there to help can make a big difference. So leaders need to be more than punctual: they need to be there before anybody else arrives! I guess 18 minutes is a bit extreme, unless it’s a really important meeting.
  • It’s really important to have a back-channel, so that when something seems wrong, people who are producing the event can communicate easily and instantaneously. There’s no time for looking up someone’s IM handle at the last minute.
  • None of the technologies that we use to interact in a community give us a complete image of each other: we can become familiar with someone’s style in a chat and then respond to them as if they were a stranger

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