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Chris Pirillo – Community WebVisions: WordCamp San Francisco 2009

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Hello, everybody; I'm glad you decided to come here and not listen to the Google guy— or one of the Google guys—Google's quite an alluring title there. So, I first met Matt virtually— He really liked the stuff that I was doing years ago, at least, on the Web, and then we changed the site design through something that happened—we had a wonderful web designer for lockergnome.com, which I've been running since 1996, a site that's driven by content, usually stuff related to technology. We had this wonderful, beautiful design, with CSS, and it was just wonderful, and the web designer quit because he wanted to become a male stripper. So this left us in the lurch, and we couldn't do things. He had everything so broken-out, we couldn't move forward. So we had to go with something a lot more utilitarian, and Matt ended up posting on his blog, "What the heck? This is such a step backwards." But there was a reason why, and I couldn't explain the set of circumstances, so that's how I came to know Matt; I wasn't hooked into WordPress at that point in time, but to give any perspective, I was one of the first registered business users of Movable Type, years and years and years and years ago. And I switched over to using WordPress—well, WordPress MU, or WPMU—pretty much at its first public release, and also have been using WordPress for my personal blog for quite a while. I am nothing more than just a geek, that's it— hey, J—he's someone I would consider part of my community, because I know him by his first name. And that's what community is all about, really: getting to know people. Because the Internet is not so much a series of cables and wires so much as it is a connection between people. Without people, the Internet would be nothing. It would even exist. I still remember the first time I sat down in front of a computer. This is—well, no, not the first time; I can't remember that time—the first time I sat down in front of a computer to email somebody who was sitting no further than this far away from me in a computer lab back in 1992. And I emailed him something, and I just knew—that moment—my life was forever changed. And it was true. That was a defining moment of my life; I was like, "this is it! I must do this for the rest of my life!" I don't know why, but it thrills me every day to wake up and check my email, despite the amount of spam that I get; I still love email. Because it's the connection that I make with people from all around the world. It still amazes me to this day; it's a miracle. And obviously, I don't need to proselytize you; you know that. But if you just sit there and think about it: how powerful that is... community is already inside you. Now I'm going to try to remember what it was like to be back in high school in advanced math—I'm not the mathematician, not a scientist; I'm an English major, or was; my degree is in English education, which means I'm only qualified to teach nouns and verbs, everything I do now is just out of passion; I was very lucky— but there's this idea of a Venn diagram. Are you familiar with the Venn diagram? OK, essentially—I'm Italian, so I can use my arms while I'm talking— It's like, you've got these circles. And in-between, they kind of cross over. Right? And in the middle, where that cross over is like this little thing, can you imagine that? The Venn diagram? I like coffee. And I also live in Seattle. And in the middle, I like coffee and I live in Seattle. And there are other people who also like coffee and live in Seattle. And since I don't have three arms, I can't do a third one—that'd be kind of crazy, arm juggling—but I also use Mac OS X. Now, in the middle of that Venn diagram— I use Mac OS X, I drink coffee, and I live in Seattle—how many other people do as well? Well, not everybody. Did someone say everybody? In a perfect world, sure. But we're not living in that perfect world. That Venn diagram, where that point at which everything kind of crosses over— I have all these interests; I have these things about me; this is who I am. OK? I don't let somebody else define me. That's controlling. That's bad behavior. I am this person. I'm a walking Venn diagram. We all are. We're not unidimensional. We're multifaceted. Every one of us, despite what you think about yourself, you are. Many things about you. And you carry these things about you wherever you go. That is community. It's inside you. And that is why you can go from one Web site to another to another to another to another, and it's the experience that it helps you have. But it's already inside you. Because if it doesn't exist inside you, no Web site, no Web service, nothing is ever going to change that. I have a thing against PR and marketing people. It's not that I don't like them, it's just they don't always get it. And I hear the word "community" thrown about; every so often, I'll get pitched, "We've got a business where we're going after the real estate vertical, and we're going create a viral community." I do not ever want to be a part of anything "viral" in a community. That's me. It may be a part of your Venn diagram, great. Nothing against viruses, or communities, really. But when you have an idea that you're going to create something from scratch, and it's just going to happen, it doesn't work that way. Now, there's a community in here—there's a variety of communities in here, intersecting—I see a lot of Apple notebooks; How many Apple notebooks? Just raise your hand. I mean, I can see, but there's quite a few; and a few PC users as well. I'm not going to—yeah, raise your notebooks— I don't want to pick on the Vista users; I've kind of beat that dead horse. That's a community, right? It's a community that's just there. You're probably passionate about it, as Apple users tend to be—sometimes a little too passionate— but you care a lot about the product, potentially. Maybe you have an iPhone, maybe you have other Apple products, you become an evangelist without even realizing that you're an evangelist because you love the product. Maybe you don't love the product, but you're using it anyway because everyone else is. Is it the company, or is it the community? Well, it's a little of both. But the company has created something that the "community" wants. I didn't like the iPhone when Apple first released it. I—really, in fact, I—have eaten a lot of crow for posting 20 reasons why I wasn't going to use the iPhone. And then a month later—you know what did it for me? The weather app. It freaked me out. I was like, "it can't be this usable." "I've been using mobile devices for so long." "It's not this usable." It was such a shift in thinking. I actually cared about a mobile device for the first time in my life. After saying "no, it's not going to happen." But it did. And I'm not the only one who likes the iPhone, who likes Mac OS X, who thinks it's a wonderful choice for consumers. But it's not the company that's telling me, it's feeling like I identify with my computer. Like I feel for technology. I grew up when PCs—I used to make fun of people like me. Of course, people make fun of people like me all the time, it's not going to stop them. But it's not about the company that creates the product, so much as it is the culture I see you've got an Apple notebook, you've got an Apple— I can connect; we can connect—we can talk about our favorite apps, an iPhone; we can talk about our favorite apps; it's the culture. Forget the company. I've said this about Macworld, too, with Apple dropping out; I don't think it's as big a deal as people have made it out to be. Because Macworld is more about the community than it is the company. That is my opinion. Back in the day—way back in the day—I may not look it, but I am 35 years old, been online, as I said, since 1992. That was before the Web. Hard to believe. I would connect with other people using newsgroups and BBS's. I fingered people; I fingered Coke machines; I subscribed to Scott Yanoff's list of things to do on the "Internet", it was a mail—it was a piece of text—that told you what you could do online! And it was the definitive resource of what you could do online. I'm sorry; not to make some of you feel young. (Maybe I am.) But you would only be able to go to certain places to communicate. You had to go there; if I wanted to talk about The Simpsons; if I wanted to talk about "Weird Al" Yankovic; if I wanted to—you know—share my ASCII art; if I wanted to do one thing, then I would have to go there, because that was the only place that existed for that affinity. For sharing information. And it's not that way anymore. It's not. And that's a good thing. Instead of community existing in just one little pocket, it's everywhere. It's OK to be everywhere, but just keep that in mind. Now, people who—you know—aren't really... exploratory, online—I mean, they see the Internet, they can check their email, maybe they get on Facebook, and that's about it. Maybe some shopping or whatever. They see the Internet as potentially just what Facebook gives them. But—obviously—that's not the way it is. And it's not going to be that way forever. Of course, I'm not going to go into the political debates on identification and owning—who owns your identity, who owns your content; this is not a political discussion. But just keep in mind that as the Internet expands, and you're that walking Venn diagram, hopefully at some point those two things will come together. Right now, we're still trapped inside of somebody else's idea of what an experience should be for you. It always made me laugh when I'd see a portal that said, "My Such-and-Such." I'm like, "that's not my anything, it's just your my something." Being distributed, though, it's certainly reaching its frustrations. I'm trying to think of how better to explain this; Instant messaging. You've got Windows Live (or MSN), you've got Yahoo!, ICQ, AOL, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk or Jabber; you've got all of these different protocols, and they're all competing with one another. Do you bucket your friends that way? "I'm sorry; I can't talk to you; you're not on AOL." It's unintuitive. That's why I like using Adium on Mac OS X; some people on Windows may use Digsby— [gagging noise] I'm sorry; I can't even say the word. It's a unified instant messenger that brings them all together into one. And it's free. But it's the idea of basically letting the Internet come— and the experiences on the Internet come—on your terms, rather than on somebody else's terms. We're getting there, and with community, it falls very much into that same hole. This is the one that always trips me up. And I hope everybody can read the slides; are you guys good in the back? OK. It kills me when I'm either asked a question or I hear someone saying, "Well, I put up a blog, and nobody came!" Duh! "I set up a forum, and no one participated!" Duh! The tools are ubiquitous. They're everywhere. A blog is just a tool. And if you think a blog is a community, then you too are a tool. [applause] Going back to the PR/marketing thing there. It just—I cringe, but at the same time, I'm just like, "Go ahead, do your thing, man. Do it, because I know what's going to happen." Community exists in one place: and that's here. In your heart. That's your Venn diagram. Your heart. Because without heart, what is community? Without passion, without connections, without a feeling of belonging, what is it? Well, it's not community; at least, not how I would define it, or how I would care to define it. Maybe that's idealistic of me, and you know what? I'm OK with that being idealistic of me. Because to me, you can't build this. It's either there, or it's not. And you know you've got a vibrant community when it takes care of its own, instead of eating its own. To take care of, to empathize, to connect. To build. To collaborate. To share. To listen, to talk. It all comes from here. And without this, it is just a set of tools. Anybody can go out right now and set up a Web site, with different features: online chat, forums, blogs, upload photos, videos; you name it. There's a lot of tools out there. Anybody; which means if you've got an idea, "Well, I'd like to create a blog about coffee," well, the chances of someone else having done that before are pretty strong. Pretty strong. Right? Not strong coffee— well, hopefully; I like strong coffee— but it's not the topic; it's not the idea that makes it valuable. It never is. Because there are a lot of— well, as Philip was just referring to; he's had photo.net up for a while— there's a lot of photography forums online. A lot. Where do you go? Do you go anywhere, if that's something you care about? They're everywhere. Community is everywhere. And sometimes, the same people exist in a variety of the same types of communities. Sometimes, people only exist in one community, or another, or they go after this one because everyone else is there; all their friends are there; therefore, they need to be there. So, in a way, it is—the tools are a commodity. But each one of you is not. Even if you are an identical twin. Or triplet. Or octuplet. You're still unique. You still have your own set of morals, ideals, beliefs; you have your own heart. And you take that with you wherever you go. You are the asset to the community, not the other way around. It has kind of been my experience that when people come and ask, "Well, how do I control the community? How do I stop them from saying something about me that I don't like?" And the answer is: you can't. And I hope we all know that. Do we all know that? One of the reasons why I started out this particular presentation explaining how I met Matt—he said something that was absolutely accurate: our stuff sucked. And in fact, I would go so far as to say that our stuff still sucks. I'm not a designer, nor am I a developer. But I've got to use the tools at my disposal to make something happen. I didn't tell him to take his post down; I emailed him; I said "Yeah; you're right." And then I met him in Seattle—I think I bought him a beer, too— this was before I was using WordPress. You can't control the message—but you can guide it. Some people have asked, "Well, how do you go about hiring community leaders? Managers? People who come in and take care of your stuff?" Well, you can; you can go on Craigslist, or LinkedIn, look over a few resumes: community, experience, blah blah blah, but I've always discovered that the best community leaders come out of the community, rather than dropped in, like a food shipment. "Oooh, it's a foreign thing. What is that? Oh, sustenance." If you cultivate, if you feed, if you water it, it's like a plant; it'll grow. And it'll sprout branches, and out of the branches, leaves, and grow. And there may be some dry seasons, certainly. But the stronger branches are going to come out of that community. The pillars of your community. The louder voices. You may not always agree with them, but if you empower your community, if you guide your community, if you take it upon yourself to become someone inside a community, you'll lead it before you are ever given the title. That's organic. I have more in common with a guy who lives in Ireland than I do my next-door neighbor. When I was growing up, I would never have imagined that I could press a button on my computer and within—within not even seconds, talk to someone on the other side of the world, about something that we both cared about, that we were both passionate about, that we made a connection over. And I didn't have to pay anything to connect to him. I don't really use–I mean, I use Skype, but I'd much rather with group chat, in an ad-hoc construct would rather use something called Ventrilo, which is used a lot by gamers, and an open source equivalent would be called Mumble; low-latency, high-quality audio group chat, ad-hoc. So much better than Skype. But I can connect with anybody. no matter where they are, versus growing up. Now in the seventh grade, my dad saw this little segment on CNN where Topps—you know, the people who make baseball cards— were starting to print out these things called Garbage Pail Kids. So he brought three wax packs home— that's what they used to call them, because they were made with wax; they'd seal them with wax— it's all plastic now. Little bubble gum in there that tasted like cement. And he brought home this package—I've got two younger brothers— and he opened this packet of little stickers, and it was like, "Oh, this is great." And I started collecting Garbage Pail Kids. Do you guys remember Garbage Pail Kids? OK. I know some of you don't; you're Googling it right now. So in the seventh grade, collecting something was a pain in the neck. I didn't know who else liked Garbage Pail Kids. It was like, "Are there any kids in my neighborhood who do? You do; you don't. You do; you don't. What do you have? What can I trade? I need this one; I need to find that one." I need to get more Garbage Pail Kids. But I need to find where they are, so either I have to call around town to gas stations: "Do you have Garbage Pail Kids?" I'm sorry; this was like seventh grade. [higher voice] "Do you have Garbage Pail Kids?" [normal voice] "What?" …was always the answer. "Huh?" Or, I'd have to drive around town, because I had my hot spots, and I couldn't drive; I was in the seventh grade, so I had to convince my parents, "Please, can we go? There's a new edition out. I need to complete the collection." Of course, I wasn't that annoying. Or maybe I was. I'm romanticizing the past at this point. It was difficult to get information; it was difficult to share affinities. Nowadays, because, yes, Topps has got what they call a new series— I still collect Garbage Pail Kids; I've got 'em all; bound; it's just wonderful to see— now, I just go to Ebay, and I click a button, because someone's selling the whole series. All right. It's no longer fun. But now, I can talk with other people who are discussing the direction and the art— yeah; there's an art to it— and connect with them. And I couldn't do that growing up, and there's some of you who are a lot younger than me, who don't remember what it's like to live that way. And of course, there are some of you who are older than me, who can tell—"I remember the first time; we had rotary dial, and we liked it." I used to have nightmares about rotary dial. [laughter] Do you? I'm serious. OK; rotary dial was on a phone. You'd pick it up; it would be corded, this little curly— like a pigtail—and you would have to stick your finger in a hole. And move it—you would rotate it in a clockwise direction. And you would get all the way through the seventh digit, and you'd miss it by a number. "Aw, $&#@." And you'd have to hang it up, you'd have to pick it up, and you'd—I still have nightmares about that. I'm going to go to my grave having nightmares about rotary dial. But now I can share those experiences with anybody from around the world. I don't even have to pay for a phone call to connect with someone. I can do it online. Lickety-split. No longer just have to communicate with someone down the street. I want to reiterate this point. I really do. The voices, the strong voices are— it's in them. It's in you, to be a strong voice, if you have something to say. Of course, if you're just regurgitating what somebody else is saying, well, you don't really have a lot to say, you just have a lot to say about what someone else is saying. That's not really leadership so much as it is follower... ship. Worship. If you have a voice, use it. Exercise it. Make those connections. And before you know it, you will be a leader, whether you know it or not. When you get an email or a direct message or a comment from somebody that you never would know, or maybe someone walks up to you at a conference, says, "Oh my, I listen to your podcast, I was—you know—I had no idea what was going on with something, and you helped me so much." You just became a leader. And maybe it's a mutual admiration society, where the person who's connecting with you, you didn't realize, "Oh, dude, I read your stuff all the time!" "Really? I read your stuff all the time. Let's be pen pals." OK; that kind of doesn't really exist anymore, but you made this connection you didn't realize; that you both liked each other's stuff. Have you had this experience before? OK. Good. That comes out of your voice. This one's a tough one for people to wrap their heads around. And I'm going to say it: community is the antithesis of ego. Community is inside you, but it's not about you. This is one of the reasons why a blog, which is very egocentric, or can be, let's set aside the idea of a group blog, a personal blog. In fact, the funniest remark I ever received, and I think it was a comment in my blog: someone was accusing me of being too egotistical in my personal blog. And I wasn't sure how to take that. I was like, "Well, then I guess I've succeeded." "Yay me!" That's the easiest way, by the way, if you ever want to deflate someone who's just fired off something nasty to you; maybe they spent a good amount of time, four or five paragraphs in the email; reply, and just wink. You know: semicolon, paren. And then hit send. That's it. And they'll email back and write twice as much. And you don't have to respond to that point; you've made your point. I heard you. OK. Not worth your time. I learned that lesson years ago. When I first started publishing Lockergnome— this is back in, I think I'd been doing it for a year, so this is about 1997— I got an email from someone doing just this, and he was ripping me apart. I mean, I put my heart and soul into what I do. Everything I do, my heart and soul is there. So when he just ripped me apart, I took it personally. My roommate walks into the room. I had a roommate at the time. He's throwing popcorn into his mouth, as he was prone to do. He said, "What's wrong?" I said, "Ah, this guy just ripped me apart, because I wrote this one thing and he was offended." And he kind of nods his head and says, "Uh-huh." He said, "How many people are you distributing to now?" I said, "I don't know"—at that point—"30,000 or something." You know where I'm going with this. He says, "And how many people complained?" I said, "One." He said, "Then shut the #*%$ up! What are you worried about? He had a bad day! One guy, out of 30,000 people, complains! He doesn't know you! He doesn't know who you are." I was like, "Yeah; I guess you're right." So as much as I would connect with people inside of my community, I realize it wasn't always about me at that point. It was about their experiences— with me. The strongest voices in a community are devoid of ego. Which isn't to say that you don't know who they are, or what they like, or where else you can find them online. It's just that the first thing on their mind isn't themselves. That's a tough one to get around, especially with Twitter being very egocentric; with blogging being egocentric. Just keep in mind that community is not. And everywhere you go, you're bringing community with you. I'm not sure how much time we have left; I can't read that. I'm blind. Thank you. I'm out? Oh, zero. Thank you.

Video Details

Duration: 30 minutes and 47 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
License: Dotsub - Standard License
Producer: Michael Pick
Views: 141
Posted by: wordpresstv on Jul 22, 2009

Chris Pirillo's presentation on web communities, recorded at WordCamp San Francisco 2009.

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