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Interview With Joe Lennon, host of Electric Minds "Electric People" Conference

by Nancy White

Joe Lennon is host of the Electric People conference of Electric Minds. He has been a warm and welcoming presence in the community.

NW: How would you describe the benefits of having a host or facilitator for a community?

JL: The responsibility of the host is to serve the community by facilitating discussions, answering questions, and greeting newcomers. Hosts can also enhance the interaction by asking questions of the various participants. These answers would add to the community's content.

In addition, the host may also be called on to mediate disputes, and/or remove members who consistently break established community standards.

NW: How do you describe the role(s) of the online community facilitator?

JL: If there is a difference between a facilitator and a host (often they are the same things), I would guess that a facilitator would be a behind the scenes type of position, appearing only when absolutely necessary, like a stage hand. To that end, I also think that a host, while more visible, should be as unobtrusive as possible. The exception would be that rare person who, by name recognition, or by force of magnetic personality, can bring about the emergence of a community around themselves. The rest of us, IMO should let the community - it's purpose - be the star.


NW: Do you have a particular approach or style of online facilitation that you use? If it varies, why?

JL: I think I pretty much am myself. I hide some of my personality warts, but when people interact with me, they get me. Some folks can pull off an online persona. I tried it and I just came off as a phony. I really want to know about the other people. I think that's a key element in hosting.

NW: What are some important things to pay attention to when you are training and managing other online facilitators?

JL: I don't know. I wouldn't know how to teach someone to do this.

NW: What is the worst thing that has happened to you as a facilitator online?

JL: My online experiences are mostly good ones. I've been misunderstood a few times, but I really don't have a horror story. I am grateful that I don't.

NW: The best?

JL: I get to meet and work with some really wonderful people. I have friends from every corner of the planet. It is truly marvelous.

NW: How do you approach/handle conflicts in your community?

JL: It depends on the conflict. I'm not very proactive. That's part of my style. I'll never be accused of

Over-managing. I really believe that community members will work out most of the conflicts between themselves. They usually do. There are, of course, exceptions. I'll send e-mail to someone I believe is behaving errantly. In the mail I will usually ask for an explanation of the behavior. Also I will usually give an example of better ways to handle a situation (if the behavior is the result of a conflict between members).

Deliberate abuse is another issue. Abuse should not be tolerated. However, it is not always easy to tell when someone is being abusive, or just demonstrative. I cannot tell the difference between someone who actually intends harm, or an 'in joke' between friends. It all looks the same in cyberspace. The only way to discern this is experience. I have hosted one community for over two years. I pretty much know where the regulars are coming from.

NW: How do you approach/handle low activity in your community?

JL: Post. Start new topics. Send email to formerly active members.

NW: Who are some of your online facilitator role models?

JL: Howard Rheingold, Harry Pike, Jeffery Field, Heather Dugan, Nancy White

NW: What do you think is your strength as an online facilitator?

JL: I am friendly, I try to be helpful.

NW: If you had to choose one or two golden rules for online facilitators, what would they be?

JL: Don't jump to conclusions. What the other person said may not be what you think you heard. Ask people questions about themselves.

NW: What resources or references have you tapped to help you be a better online facilitator?

JL: That assumes I have improved. Everything I have learned, I have picked up from other hosts. Please understand, I am very much a student. I don't want to give anyone the idea that I think I've got this hosting business figured out.

NW: Why do you facilitate online communities?

JL: It has been a very satisfying endeavor for me.

NW: What do you see in the future for online communities?

JL: They will probably go through an evolutionary process. It's hard to imagine what it will be like when these communities move out of the realm of text and include real time video with sound, and perhaps someday, virtual reality. As the web becomes easier to use, more people will get online and more will participate in VC's. The sky is the limit. The applications will be business,

social, personal - in short - for every reason people get together in RL, there will be that many reasons to get together online.

NW: What will your role be in that future?

JL: I will be a participant.

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