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December 01 2011

15:20

LocalWiki Launches First Pilot, Announces Major Software Release

Hey friends! We've got two extremely exciting announcements for you. Our first focus community, serving Denton, Texas, has launched. And we're making the first major release of the new LocalWiki software today!

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The LocalWiki project is an ambitious effort to create community-owned, living information repositories that will provide much-needed context behind the people, places, and events that shape our communities. We were awarded a 2010 Knight News Challenge grant to create an entirely new sort of software to make our vision of massively collaborative local media a reality.

Launching our first pilot

The DentonWiki, serving the community of Denton, Texas, has officially launched to the public. Check it out.

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Denton is a small, college-focused community in North Texas, about an hour from Dallas. Being a college town, it's easy to see parallels to Davis, Calif. But it's a radically different place than Davis, as anyone who's been to the Dallas area can attest.

Folks in Denton had been building up and playing around with their project for a few months. With the new LocalWiki software at a good point, and a solid amount of interesting pages on their project, I packed up and headed out to Denton for two weeks to help them get their project ready to launch.

We held several marathon editing/hang-out sessions while there, met with lots of local Denonites, got a feel for the community, and did a bunch of work to prep the site for launch.

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The Denton project has already seen a higher level of participation and usage than DavisWiki did in its early days. And we're really seeing our extreme focus on usability pay off -- I watched many non-technical people simply get handed a laptop and just immediately start creating great stuff without any guidance.

If you want to read more about DentonWiki and the launch process there, check out some information we're compiling on our guide site.

This first focus community launch -- the first of many -- is a huge milestone for the project.

LocalWiki software released

Today we are also excited to announce the first major release of the LocalWiki software! Check it out at localwiki.org. Make sure you watch the video.

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Starting today, any community can create a local wiki using our new software. The software is designed to be installed by someone who's somewhat technical -- someone who's had some experience working with Linux, for instance. We worked hard to make the software as easy to install as possible.

Most people will simply use the software -- not install it, though. We're hoping that over the coming months many technically-savvy community champions will set up LocalWiki for their communities. The localwiki.org site is currently focused on targeting these sort of technically minded folks.

There's a list of communities currently running LocalWiki here (and a map here). We'll let you know as more come online, develop and launch!

There's so much more we have planned for the LocalWiki software -- but this day marks a significant step toward realizing the dream of collaborative, community-run media in every local community.

xo-
Philip & Mike

A version of this post first appeared on the LocalWiki blog.

January 18 2011

16:04

Camps: Lessons from the Pilot

After a few years hosting a Global Conference in conjunction with our open innovation Challenge, we found that we had a room full of interesting, smart, excited changemakers. But, we also had a huge portion of our global community that couldn't be in the room. In the summer of 2010, we tried something different: NetSquared Camps, a pilot in regional events. Working with a small group of motivated NetSquared Local Organizers, we distributed all of the resources associated with organizing our annual conference. In this two-part post, we want to share some of what we learned in the Pilot this summer and get your feedback on what we could do next year.

Is Local the new Global?

As the NetSquared Local network grows (events currently happening in 79 cities and 25 countries) we continue to explore the potential of a distributed event model for organizing and community building.

Highlights from the Pilot

Throughout the 2010 Pilot, we shared thoughts, notes, and ideas in real-time with weekly blog posts in the Camps Notes tag. We also connected with the participating organizers to get their feedback, ideas and insights to help mold the program for next year. Some of what we learned from those organizers includes:

What worked:

  • Vetted participation: The NetSquared global network reaches tens of thousands of individuals. In order to vet participant engagement for trusted, community leaders we sought out pilot participants from Local organizers who already hosting monthly face-to-face events. We cast the call to the 135 volunteer organizers to join us for a Camp orientation call. A sub-set of about a dozen from the network joined us to discuss scope, roles and responsibilities and worked with us to develop a formal contract for the pilot. We plan to continue this process with our Local Organizer Network in the coming months, as organizers said it was easier to work in an environment and with people they already knew and trusted.
  • Resources: NetSquared team translated the lessons learned from organizing our annual conference in an easy-to-use format so that others could build on what we had already tried and tested. Specifically, all organizers had access to the planning guides, templates, examples, and files via an online handbook and we continued to developed additional resources as new needs emerged.
  • Accessibility: Our team remained accessible to organizers throughout the process, to ask hard questions, and address issues as they came up. Organizers had access to TSG staff via email to support Camp organizing efforts throughout the process, as well as well as weekly ‘coaching’ conference calls focused on addressing obstacles standing in the way of organizing the event. Coaching calls focused mostly on recruiting participants and volunteers, sponsorship and logistics.
  • Promotion: We created separate pages on the site for each Camp event and promoted events across our online (and offline) channels. Organizers confirmed the value and the attention this support provided and we plan to expand outreach efforts for Camp organizers in the year to come.

Where we can improve:

  • Unconference model: Some people attend unconference-style events all the time, and are comfortable with the format. Others, are less comfortable with a format that is more informal and demands participation in a way that traditional conferences do not. We’re still working on balancing the strengths of “unconference” model with its limitations. Strong facilitation, and a participatory culture where actors have a clear sense of (a) What they want to discuss (b) How to orient people around their work in an unconference-like setting. Moving forward, we’ll continue to integrate programmatic support to the unconference model in order to help organizers develop a framework for an agenda that maps to the local community’s expectations to be sure people at all levels of experience can participate.
  • Shared planning: Everyone works a little differently, so even with a shared planning process (developed via Basecamp and the wiki), we struggled with finding the sweet-spot in supporting organizers with enough structure to organize tasks and milestones in a way that harnessed the diversity of needs from organizers. Moving foward, our planning efforts will focus on activities at the “Milestone” level in order to simplify communications on the project, while making TSG staff avail to organizers interested in tapping expertise when and where they need it.
  • Language barriers: The NetSquared network reaches all around the world. To this end, we hope to tap into the knowledge of the community to translate documents and reuse for Camps organizers and participants beyond the English-speaking world.
  • Sponsorship: This is the area with the most opportunity for new partnerships and engagement both at the global (sponsors that support the program or all Camps events equally) and local (sponsors that support the event/s nearest to them) level. We are thankful to our sponsors, SAP and Blackbaud, who took a leap of faith in supporting the global program last year, and are eager to work with them and other companies and funders interested in community-driven models. More details to come regarding plans for 2011 shortly.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can review the Camps Pilot pages, check out the Camps Notes series, or stay tuned for part 2 with details about Camps 2011 later this week!

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