First Snippet From The Book

Well, with the project officially announced, I think it may be time for a sneak peek. What better to kick off a sneak peek than to share with you the very first two pages of the book, lovingly reproduced here for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The Art Of Community

“Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent Van Gogh

As my watch ticked over to 6pm, I knew I was in trouble. First of all, I was late, and not fashionably late either. In fact, at the time, I was about as unfashionable as you could get for someone staring 18 down the barrel. Long hair, Iron Maiden t-shirt, baggy camouflage trousers and a thumping-great leather jacket. I left my parents house and got into my small van, adorned with oversized speakers and a tree shaped air freshener. It was time to roll.

“Rolling” was optimistic. Instead, I sat in bumper-to-bumper in traffic with half of Southern England, all joined in curiosity about whether or not that film with Michael Douglas could become a reality on this cold English day.

This wasn’t helping my nerves. As a fairly outgoing angsty teen, nerves were not usually my bag but tonight, I was dining on them.

You see, tonight was different. Tonight I was doing something unusual, something that had seemed like a great idea…when I wasn’t running 30minutes late, hammering my way down the motorway, with my Number Of The Beast cassette ritualistically sacrificed to the gods of hi-fi just for good measure.

Thankfully, the world’s longest mechanical conga line decided to crank it up a notch. Before I knew it I found myself on a street I had never been to, in a city I had never been to, about to head into a room full of people I had never met before, all united by one simple symbol…

…a penguin.

An hour ago that penguin had seemed so inviting and friendly. It was a symbol that encompassed everything about the movement it represented: a movement that came together in spirit and mind to build a system that drove a new generation of technology and freedom…a movement that celebrated this drive by forming user groups in unknown streets, in unknown cities and with unknown people.

But as I stood there, doorbell already pressed, none of that was even close to my conscious thoughts. Instead, the brain of one Jonathan E J Bacon was buttoning down the hatches, preparing for ultimate, unparalleled discomfort as I walked into a place where I both did and didn’t want to be at the same time.

Then, the door opened and a rather nice chap called Neil welcomed me into his home.

Community is a funny beast. Most people– the kind who watch talent shows on television and occasionally dip bread in oil in an expensive restaurant– don’t understand people like Neil. Why on earth would this guy decide to open his home, free of charge, to a collection of strangers who met on the Internet?

Why would he want to spend an evening drinking tea and making jokes about something called ‘emacs’? And why would he fund online resources like fliers, a mailing list, and a website from his own pocket, start a book lending service for the group–and even shell out for tea and biscuits?

One person who really didn’t seem to understand was Neil’s wife. Somewhat bemused, and referring to us as his ‘Internet friends’, Neil’s significant other decided tonight was the night for visiting a long lost (or possibly ignored) relative, rather than sticking around and faking interest.

But Neil is not unusual. At least, not in the Open Source, Free Software, Libre and Free Culture world. There are many Neils all over the world: organising groups, setting up mailing lists, scheduling meetings and coming together to share the ethos.

In the last ten to fifteen years, we have seen Free Culture in technology, art and media explode into our consciousnesses. The entire machine is driven by people like Neil: people who volunteer themselves to the concepts of community and togetherness wrapped around an ethos.

There are Neils outside the Free world, too. They’re in church groups, helping the poor and unfortunate; in Neighborhood Watch and Meals on Wheels campaigns, reaching out to those around them; and in public art installations, political groups, and craft fairs. They volunteer, perform, and share their opinions and creativity on anything from aerobics to knitting to yoga.

What intrigued me when I first walked into Neil’s living room was the concept of a collaboration driven ethos, although at the time I had no idea what those words meant. What that experience taught, and what that evening inspired in me, was an excitement about what is possible when you get a group of people together who share a common ethos and a commitment to furthering it.

In my world, that ethos has thus far been Free Culture, Free Software, digital rights, and breaking down the digital divide, but it can be as critical as solving world peace or as fanciful as sharing photos of kittens playing guitars on the Internet. The importance of community is not in the crusade, but in how you unify people to march forward together, side by side.

At its heart, the Art Of Community is a distilled set of approaches and thoughts about how to build community. The book is a collection of experiences, observations, and thoughts from my career and elsewhere. My aim is to bring this grab-bag of concepts and curiosities together into one consistent text.

Although I am confident in my approach, I am conscious that we seek to frame the essence of community and community building with a strong sense of realism. I don’t want you to blindly follow my guidance, but to use these concepts as a foundation for your own ideas. As we will discuss later in this book, experience is the real magic that we want to create, with theory merely the glittery jacket and spinning bow tie.

Community is fundamentally a soft science. Compare it with, for example, programming. If you want to write a computer software application, you write it in a programming language. These synthetic languages are vessels of logic. They live and breathe in a world where the answer to a question is yes or no. There is no maybe. In a world where maybe does not exist, you can plan ahead for an answer.. With community, the importance and diversity of the question is equally essential.

Within the Art Of Community we are going to explore a range of very specific areas in the area of community management.

More to come soon!

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