ACTLab 2019: Making Community Real

Logo for The WELL

A talk presented by Jon Lebkowsky and Kevin Welch at ACTLab 2019.

Online communities preceded social media as a way to participate meaningfully online – truly social spaces like the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link), supporting sustained interaction over time. This was an important aspect of community: a consistent set of members building history together, hanging out together, and potentially taking action together. This has not been replicated in what we call “social media,” a label produced as marketing professionals grappled with the increasing shift in attention from traditional media to interactive environments on the Internet. Their challenge: how to leverage the new interactive media environments as contexts for marketing and advertising. Money changes everything: when marketing engines were integrated with social spaces, online environments became less like neighborhoods and more like marketplaces – primarily for selling attention in social contexts to corporations. Given that intention, it was better to have “drive by posting,” dynamically shifting objects of attention, maximizing opportunities for exposure to marketing and advertising messages. This kind of context is not friendly to consistent focused interaction, or support for affinity and social history. However it is still possible to leverage the Internet as a platform for community. For instance, the WELL still exists, though it isn’t thriving. Some communities may exist within Facebook groups, and some email lists might still work as loose, somewhat unfocused communities. We want to consider community developments that have worked, and experiment with the creation of a new community, starting here and now, at ACTLab 2019.

Author: Jon Lebkowsky

Co-wrangler of Plutopia News Network, cohost Radio Free Plutopia. Podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. Former editor/publisher, FringeWare Review; associate editor at bOING bOING and Factsheet Five; writer at Mondo 2000, 21C, Wired, Whole Earth Review, Austin Chronicle; sub-editor at Millennium Whole Earth Catalog; blogger at Worldchanging. Digital culture maven, podcaster, writer, dharma observer, enzyme. On The WELL, Cohost of VC (virtual communities), Media, and Civil War (.ind) conferences.