The foundation of collaboration is open and easy communication.
After the first Dev Workshop Conference, I recognized the need for tool to communicate with and connect conference members during the event. Turns out people didn't need much help during the conference, but realized that it would be beneficial to keep people engaged with Dev Workshop between events. The problem was that despite all the benefits that realtime chat provides, there was not enough value in the community to justify keeping the program open all the time. Which is a must if people are to be available and collaborative.
A year or so later I helped found the Open Indy Brigade, a loosely affiliated Code for America chapter with an independent vision of becoming the "shepherds of open data policy" within Indiana; as many decisions are made within the city and state without proper technical knowledge. We aim to provide this expertise on behalf of the citizens of Indiana to shape a better future.
In helping shape this community, I recognized that the Brigade would need a similar tool for similar reasons. Now more than ever, I needed to engage with our member base to keep enthusiasm alive between major and routine events. But now we have mutual compounded benefit from putting two different groups into the same communications platform. We could cross pollinate and share audiences with zero effort on the user's part. Anyone from Dev Workshop could instantly find out more about Open Indy Brigade and vise versa.
Think of the network as a series of nearby water coolers; each one attracting a different but similar group of people looking to good, and do it well.
On this hypothesis I began an experiment called The Ansible Network. A simple comms tool could be the key to converting a punctuated gathering of people into a connected community of people able to share ideas and organize quickly; either through direction from community leaders, or creating something entirely new of their own. At it's most basic form, it is a Slack team with a Slackin invite portal branded for each of the member organizations and website explaining what The Ansible Network is all about. This way, their members could join their own, and a greater community online without feeling as though they were being dumped into something unrelated to their group. The unique link to each of these portals is to be given out by the community leader to make registering easy, but not quite as open as a public Slack Team.
Developing a small social network targeted at a specific subset of a population is difficult, but I believe that if we develop enough value in the network and engage with community leaders, people will use it, and at catalytic mass it's multiplicative effects will truly shine. So I began reaching out to other leaders who would benefit from a managed and moderated comms tool, are open to moving away from email for conversation, and believe in the power of collecting our individual victories into something greater than the sum of it's parts.
The value adds for the community leaders are simple and achievable. Higher engagement with your audience, access to a vast audience of potential members, and eventually a centralized support structure. Most community leaders started their groups to share ideas and make a difference in people's lives. It's only after they got going that they discovered all the work required to maintain a community. They're responsible for event planning, sponsorships, partnerships, speakers, food orders, and so on. I'd like to "take the headache out of helping people."
That can start with something as simple as a shared Slack team, but I'd like to make it much more than that. It just so happens there's a group in Indy already working on a very similar vision. Indy Hackers shares this vision to centralize the most mundane and redundant aspects of running tech meetups in a single city. Without striping any one group of it's identity or independence, they hope to make it easier for people to continue meeting and building great things in Indianapolis. I'm confident that together we can make that vision a reality.
We're meeting in Q1 of 2016 to talk about the future and I could not be more excited.