communities


relayImage by matsugoro via FlickrI talk a lot about the most interesting parts of life being where things connect – where seemingly distinct topics run into each other.  Not so much that they abut, but in their doing so, they reveal or allow tendrils of overlapping elements to lap out to one another.

This past weekend, I filled-in on a team that was running 92 miles across the state of New Jersey, in the 13th annual River to Sea Relay.  The day was the embodiment of connecting:

  • Each 7-person team came together through any number of connective threads – around family, work, geography, life, death, marriage… (one team was called “Runaway Bride” – I guess this was their idea of a bachelorette party).  We were the “Village Idiots”, and while we could easily have passed for the sister team to one called “Beauty and the Beasts” (we had plural of the former and singular of the latter) I think our name served us well.
  • Each team handed off to their next runner with a swipe of the hand or high five (or waive across a busy road) – connecting step-by-step, and hand-off by hand-off from the western border of the state, on the Delaware river – to the beach on the eastern side of the state.
  • Every runner ran two of the 14 legs that comprised the course – getting back out there after having a few hours to stiffen up on their way to their second leg, while chasing and supporting their teammates.  Since most of us don’t run twice in one day, each person connecting their two runs provided a unique opportunity to see how it feels and to realize that you can in fact do it.
  • A hundred separate teams came together around one “basic” objective (and many unique ones), and greeted each other with competitive spirit and supportive friendliness.
  • At interchanges, people from different teams discovered they knew each other through someone else, had gone to college together, had worked at the same place, that their daughters are in the same singing group at college – that they share another common element (and a swig of water, thank you, or directions at a turn…) besides just being a nutty runner/adventure seeker.

When you take a trip like this, as I did with these six women (yes, my wife knew – in fact she was one of them) who made up the rest of my team – a 29 hour adventure, including a road-trip, hotel stay, dinner out, sleepless night coupled with a really early morning, countless switching back and forth between chase cars, 14 back-to-back legs of running with all the interchanges and support encounters, a finish at the beach, something to re-nourish yourself at the end, and the trip home – you discover you’ve gained, (groaned), learned, (ached), enjoyed (maybe griped).  I won’t repeat what I heard one runner say, because you get to say things out there knowing that they won’t be repeated – “honor among nut-jobs” and all.

Everyone worked hard – really hard, dealing with the heat, sun, each other, silence (course rules prohibited use of music players), rain (on two legs, the sky opened up), lightning…  As the race director summarized, “Despite a short howling storm that raced through central Jersey at around 12:30pm ( thunder, lightning and ferocious rain ) for about 20 minutes,100 stalwart teams-of-seven successfully navigated [the] 92 mile course from Milford on the Delaware River to Manasquan at the Atlantic Ocean. Teams started [on a staggered basis] from 6:00am to 10:15am…”.  The fastest team (not ours) was going at a clip of 5:18 per mile!  Teams took anywhere from eight- to fifteen hours to finish the course.

People connected – with each other, with each others’ ideals, with group and individual goals, one border to another – town-by-town and county-to-county – even connecting with elements of yourself along the way.

Zemanta Pixie

We had quite an electrical display in the sky last night in Maplewood, NJ – along with some high winds and torrential downpour – for about fifteen minutes. Here are a few pictures I took around town:
(use the control buttons in the window below to page through the slides)

(click “view” if slide pane doesn’t appear above)

Update – Following the overnight drone of a generator, the sounds of chippers and chainsaws continue. Related stories:

As usual, last night’s NY Semantic Web Meetup was a pleasure, with presentations from/on Hakia and DERI (Linking Open Data), a lively group, and lots of conversation.

In one of my side-conversations, we dug a bit into the concept of “traversing”, not just to travel across associations, but to applying patterns of associations to people and situations that exhibit subsets of those same patterns, to expose opportunities. To the business, this is cross-marketing, to the analyst, this is pattern recognition and application. One participant in the conversation voiced the sentiment that this may be a key gateway to leveraging semantics for revenue generation.

Speaking of running for the money – and in the spirit of traversing, my wife is doing a little of her own “connecting ideas for the creation of value”. She’s run a few marathons before, but by dedicating her upcoming Boston Marathon run to something that matters to her, (her story about what/why… starts half-way down her page) she’s threaded across otherwise disparate areas of interest. While not everyone who has contributed is a runner, she’s clearly (judging by the numbers) tapped threads of common interest in cancer research.

Ultimately, powerful leveraging of semantic capabilities will enable greater networking and cross-connecting, or traversing, to occur in ways that are more graceful (perhaps less personal, but hopefully not) than were used in the example above, but in any case, toward the end of connecting ideas and creating value.

Networking is often thought of in terms of finding people – either for work or social purposes, and as an essential means of information sharing (for both gathering and spreading). There’s another interesting thing to be learned – about you – through examination of who you network with and how you do it.

An interesting article on network analysis, while covering the traditional concepts of network analysis, has some hidden gems – emphasizing the role people play in the world around them. For some, examination of this can bring to the surface a facet of their own character that they might not generally recognize or appreciate.

There is so much emphasis on title or position, in business or organizations and even in our communities, that individuals often lose sight of the role they actually play (through their interaction) and the impact they make.  The directional focus of the article is on identifying people and channels for increased information flow and impact.  Thinking about this in reverse, from you as an individual, in terms of who you touch, how and why… can be worthwhile and enlightening.

There’s no question, we’re all trying to figure out how to keep up with the things we’re interested in. One of the tricky parts is finding it all; trickier still, is keeping up with it.

There was a good question posted to one of the semantic-oriented sub-communities in which I participate (SWNYC with its static store) . The answer happens to bridge a number of interesting areas within information access and sharing, communities and their architecture and tools, ease of use, user centricity, interoperability, and of course the semantic space.

The post essentially asked: “Other than reading blogs, what online community can I join in order to keep up with (and participate in) general and technical discussions relating to the semantic web (tools, architecture, query and storage engines, ontologies… )? Most of the forums seem to be application specific, or are sparsely attended. Where can I find the online version of our wonderful meetups? Where do you semantic web people hang out online?”

My response, there, was essentially that “the hangout” is fragmented into pockets which are focused on particular subtopics – be they oriented to a particular industry or sector, element of architecture, phase of process, geography, company / product or application. I’ve listed (down below) some of the related links I shared where there is a good amount of activity for this particular space, but I went on to make two points, which I expand further upon here:

  1. When you participate through one means of interaction (e.g., meetups, conferences), extending interaction through offshoot means of engagement (e.g., email lists, forums) in combination can broaden, deepen and enrich sharing, and can transform an event into a community. (Of course, the number of participants, and the period across which they participate, go to whether you consider it to be an exchange, a community, or a mess, but that is another discussion). Affording a group of people the means of fluidly integrating their exchanges, across modes of interaction, is a key to community vitality.
  2. If you can handle the load of it, a feeder for your personal information funnel can be built by joining numerous online lists relating to your various areas of interest – across the sectors, elements, process phases, geographies that might touch those areas of interest. This is where it gets interesting, but it can be ugly too – and a real burden to keep up with, organize, maintain and manage. If you were monitoring just blogs, readers such as BlogBridge can enable the task, tracking all your feeds of interests together, providing visual tools for managing and making use. For communities though, while there are platforms that integrate useful capabilities within a community, none seem to enable integration across communities – and particularly across community platforms and modes of communication.

The approach I describe in item two philosophically takes a semantic approach to the matter: let in all that you think may have relevance, and filter down from there. Taking this a little further brings me to a concept I’ve been mulling for some time – a dynamic virtual community. Through actual semantics, content would be exposed dynamically, from within all sources identified as relevant, you see just the material that aligns with what essentially amounts to your then-current interests – no walls, just windows.

There is, after all, only one exact “you” – and that “you” doesn’t perfectly align with any one community or set of communities. Your interests cut across community barriers, and you may only care about subsets of material within each. Imagine a contextually tuned portal revealing interactions (from stories, events, emails, community posts, blog entries) that relate to what you care about, at a level of complexity that suits you, from participants you’re interested in. An example I like is one where a members of a plumbing society see content coming from an agricultural community, when the latter happens to be discussing irrigation systems.

In this ideal world, through natural language processing, concept extraction, ontology navigation and management – you would have the ability to dynamically discover interactions of interest and those things that match your unique perspective, and which evolves over time with you. Most of us could never figure out how to create such a thing, but when the pieces get put together (to enable the things we all do or want), many of us will surely take advantage of those enablers – and it is then that the Semantic Web will be.


As I mentioned up top, here are some active lists that carry on the semantic discussion:

While the initial question sought communities rather than blogs, some such sites bubble to the top as being particularly relevant within a domain. For the semantic space, Paul Miller’s Talis blog and podcasts have a good flow of interviews of interesting people – in fact, today’s was an interview with Tim Berners-Lee (transcript). He’s now also doing a related column on ZDNet. ReadWriteWeb also provides great coverage of interesting material.
Again, you face the overload issue, but tools such as BlogBridge can help you to try to keep pace while you monitor them for material that catches you. [Posting comments to them may not seem like community interaction, and posting to your own blog with trackbacks can feel a bit solitary too. All together though, this interaction is a feeder to anyone whose community view includes them.]

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