Creative Commons Grand Canyon photo by maureen via Flickr

Building Kommunity


The first draft of this post was written a year and a half ago. It’s been edited quite a bit since then, but the main reason it never got published is – I’m ashamed to say it – I was afraid of how it would be received. I still have no idea how it will be received, but that doesn’t really bother me anymore. And although the landscape has changed since I first wrote this, I think the basic points still apply. And, more important, they still annoy the shit out of me.

Creative Commons Grand Canyon photo by maureen via Flickr

Creative Commons Grand Canyon photo by maureen via Flickr

Here’s the thing: I really don’t like Klout. More specifically, I don’t like what it’s done to blogging – or bloggers.

When I first started hearing about it back I-don’t-remember-when, I was intrigued. Measuring social influence? Yeah, actually, that does sound like it’d be a valuable thing for both bloggers and the PR folks who work with us. But when I poked around a bit more to find out just what the heck they were measuring, I was less enthusiastic. The short version is that social influence is still way more nebulous than any of us really wants it to be, and measuring it based on well-informed gut reactions (by smart people who do their research) still seems more effective than going by a tool like Klout or Kred when the data that’s pulled in is flawed to start with.

Not to mention the fact that I seriously hate how I can’t say “clout” or “cred” – y’know, the actual words – anymore without sounding like a tool myself.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not a numbers person. I would very much like there to be a gizmo that would give me a reliable read on someone with whom I was thinking of working or a PR company who had invited me on a trip. Klout or Kred or some as-yet-unlaunched thing may eventually be that gizmo – but, to my mind, they aren’t quite there. That’s fine – perfecting a new tool takes time, especially when the landscape is changing every nanosecond. What bothers me, though, is that so many of my cohorts are already using these tools as if they’re infallible – because, frankly, it fits the downward spiral pattern they’re already on.

When you’re focused on outside (and imperfect) measurements of your community building rather than trying to determine what your community really wants, what you’re building isn’t community. It’s Kommunity.

Build enough kwality kontent, establish enough konnections, and in no time at all you’ll be well on your way to high Klout scores! Dominate keywords (making them look like organik linking), generate kick-ass komments, and you’re a kommunication rockstar! (Or should that be rokkstar?)

We’ve all seen examples of what I call Kommunity building – services that retweet stuff from other people in the “tribe” you joined without you really being aware of it, Twitter streams filled with retweets of the same people in some informal scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours band over and over again, travel blogs that publish keyword-stuffed posts on irrelevant topics to please sponsors or ad buyers at the expense of readers, claims that it’s not at all disingenuous to buy Twitter followers and Facebook fans… There are people I like who do some of this stuff, and it makes my heart hurt. I understand why it might seem appealing, but that doesn’t make it any more palatable.

What we sacrifice when we chase Kommunity is our actual community. Someone’s needs are being met when you engage in Kommunity building – either your personal needs or your sponsor’s – but those needs are not likely your community’s. If that’s enough for you, if building a sustainable and real community isn’t necessary to achieving your goals, then the path is Klear.

Real community building is slow. It takes time and dedication. It requires consistent interaction and availability on a human scale, not a points system. There is no shortcut to community success. You can do research on best practices or hire someone to help you get from 0 to 60 more quickly, but if you think buying Facebook fans is the path to success then you’re in for a harsh reality check.

Yes, there are people acheiving something they’d call success because of their high Klout scores or fake Facebook fans, but I’d spell it “sukkcess” instead. Quick fixes usually end in tears for the people who thought the duct tape would hold, and the worst part is that counting on that shortcut means you’ve spent no time building a sustainable foundation for when everything else comes crashing down.

Think about it: who do you think of as your community? Whose needs do your actions really serve? If the answers you give don’t jive with what you put on your site, then at best you’re just lying to yourself. At worst, you’re lying to your community, too. They’re not stupid. They’ll figure it out. And they’re much harder to get back once you’ve lost them.

The tortoise wins the race in the end. Don’t ever forget that.

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: March 14 – April 7


Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, March 14 through April 7:

  • The Sexy Lie We’ve Been Telling Ourselves
    Caroline Heldman, chair of the Politics department at Occidental, sheds light on the lie that sexual objectification can be empowering. I think of myself as pretty aware of this stuff, & I realized I still do MANY of the things she talks about. It's humbling. And sad.

    If you have time for ONLY ONE VIDEO today, make it this one.

    All of you. Men & women. Really.

  • NPR Pulled a Brilliant April Fools’ Prank On People Who Don’t Read
    "The real question isn't why we don't read anymore, it's why we comment—passionately and with the utmost confidence—after reading only a headline."
  • Serious reading takes a hit from online scanning and skimming, researchers say
    (And in more reading news…)

    Researchers say there are actual brain changes taking place when we read so much online – changes that make it much more difficult for us to then read OFFLINE.

    Fascinating (if not all that surprising).

  • A Theme Park For Foodies? Italians Say Bologna
    The guy behind the Eataly stores is making plans to open a "food theme park" in Bologna in late 2015. I don't even know what a "food theme park" is (isn't that Eataly??!?), but I'm intrigued. Because, DUH.
  • Venice flood barriers pass first test
    "Barriers designed to protect the Italian city of Venice from flooding during high tides have been successfully tested for the first time."

    And this? This is my super serious happy for the day. No, the week. Month? Year? Really, it's very good news.

  • I bought 1000 Twitter followers for $20 and it sucked
    Every time I hear about people buying followers on social media I get ornery, so I was really glad to read my friend Celeste's honest account of what can happen when you do actually push the "buy" button.

    Spoiler alert: Those supposedly "real" followers you're paying for? Are not real. And they will unfollow you. Leaving you with the same number of followers you had before, & less cash in your bank account.

  • World Airports Voronoi
    "Each region consists of the points that are closer to a particular airport than any other. This partitioning of the sphere is called a spherical Voronoi diagram." This interactive globe (click & drag to move the planet around) is so weirdly cool.

    via @grantkmartin on Twitter

  • Sir Ian McKellen & Sir Patrick Stewart Act Like NYC Tourists
    These guys are THE MOST ADORABLE. In the history of EVER.
Paris Metro map by Adrian Tombu via Flickr

Learning to Ride

Paris Metro map by Adrian Tombu via Flickr

Paris Metro map by Adrian Tombu via Flickr

I can no longer conjure up a clear picture of the day I learned to ride a bike. My memory tells me it was the summer after I turned eight, riding in circles around the unusually large driveway at the Cottingham’s house near Newtown. It was just me, riding in circles, until I got the balance right.

Not much later, my newfound skill would be packed up – with my family and all of our stuff – and moved 3,000 miles away to Oregon. My brothers and I would spend many summer days for years to come riding through the nearly-empty parts of the Oregon State University campus that started across the street from our house – a campus empty enough that three kids on little bikes could ride for hours without worrying much about cars or even many other bikes. When my family moved again – to New Hampshire, four years later – I brought my bike, by that time an almost adult-sized ten speed. That bike transported me to friends’ houses in our tiny town, when no parents were willing to play chauffeur.

I have a clearer memory of the day, during my junior year in college, when I stood in front of the multi-colored spaghetti of a Paris Metro map and the proverbial light bulb went off. I had spent a few days following others in my group who knew how to navigate the Metro, not paying attention to what they were doing. And then I was on my own. It took me a few minutes, but then suddenly it all made sense. The braided lines disentangled themselves and seeing my path from Point A to Point B became simple.

Last month, I visited Washington D.C. with my boyfriend, his mother, and his eight-year-old daughter L. I am not well-versed at traveling with kids, but when we descended for the first time into the D.C. Metro I figured it was worth a try to explain the Metro system to L. This was only four colored lines, not 20. When we got onto our train, I pulled out the map and showed it to her.

“Okay, so this is where we started – Union Station – and this is where we want to go – Dupont Circle. They’re both on the same line – the red line – so all you have to do is figure out which direction to go. And that’s the name of the station at the end of the line in that direction,” I told her, pointing out the points on the map. She didn’t get it. The next time we rode the Metro, I walked her through each step as we were doing it. She sort of got it. The next time, I handed her the map, told her where we were starting and where we wanted to go, and asked how we would get there. It took some prompting, but she figured it out. And by the end of day two, I would hand her the map as soon as we got to a Metro station, at which point she essentially navigated us along our route – including, on a couple of occasions, a transfer from one line to another.

I have this adorable picture of her showing the map to her grandmother, explaining how to read it – passing on her newfound knowledge. She later said that she’d like to go to college in Washington D.C. When we asked why, she said, “Well, I already know how to use the subway.” We did not test this theory out (because, hello), but I am perfectly confident that if L had been sent into the Metro on her own she’d have been able to find her way.

Two weeks before we left for D.C., the training wheels had come off of L’s bike for the first time. There’s video of her pedaling up and down the street, eagerly going faster and faster, clearly loving the speed and her control of it. When we walked toward a Metro station on day three, something occurred to me.

“Y’know,” I told L, “Learning to ride the subway is a lot like learning to ride a bike. That freedom you felt when you rode a bike for the first time on your own? That’s a freedom you can take with you anywhere there’s a bike you can ride. It’s the same with the subway. Learning to ride the subway, to navigate that map – you would be able to navigate the Paris Metro if we plopped you in the middle of Paris right now. That’s pretty awesome.”

She agreed, and although I’m not sure she fully grasps the connection, I look forward to the day when I can hand her a Paris Metro map and let her do the rest.

creative commons photo by Gareth Simpson

Happy 9th Blogiversary, Andiamo

creative commons photo by Gareth Simpson

creative commons photo by Gareth Simpson

It was nine years ago today that I started my first blog. It was in anticipation of a trip to Asia (that never happened), and I have clear memories of not knowing what in the hell to write about nor why anyone else would care.

It’s been a funny path I’ve been on since then – one that has included copywriting for various online outlets, transitioning from on-the-ground community management to online community management to social media, building a community from scratch to several thousand readers, expanding my own definition of platforms on which I shared my writing, buying several domains, and building websites for myself and others. Sometimes I still wonder what in the hell to write about, and question whether anyone really cares – but most of the time I try to think about the blogger equivalent of that old saying, “Dance like no one is watching.” I often write like no one is reading. Because, at least in the beginning, no one is.

At the beginning of 2005, I couldn’t imagine my life with a blog in it. Nine years later, I can’t imagine life without this blog – or any of the other websites I maintain. It was some gentle prodding from a friend that got me to set up that first Blogspot blog, and I remain thankful for it.

Happy 9th Blogiversary, Andiamo.

Amuse-Bouches [Links I Love]: November 12 – March 12


Here’s the latest list of stuff I found interesting on the interwebz, November 12 through March 12:


Cooking (& Living) from the Hip


In the 17+ years since I last lived on my own, a few things about me have changed.

Okay, more than a few.


For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on one thing – my cooking. Back in my early- and mid-twenties, I had barely graduated from dorm cuisine in my first couple of solo post-college apartments when I moved in with two bandmates (and benefited from a bit of communal cooking now and then). Soon after that I moved in with the man I would live with for the next 16 years – a man who loves to cook. I spent all those years thinking I didn’t like to cook, and that I was genuinely bad at it. I loved to eat, however, and thoroughly enjoyed cooking shows, talking with chefs, and learning about different dishes and ingredients both on my travels and in restaurants at home.

So now that I find myself living on my own again, it turns out that I actually do enjoy cooking – and that I’m not so terrible at it.

stuffed peppers

I have a lot to learn about cooking – it feels a bit like alchemy sometimes, when certain ingredients magically transform a runny sauce into something viscous, for instance – but my taste buds spent the last 17 years refining themselves into a decent cooking tool. I’m usually not sure how to proceed on the implementation front, but I almost can’t help myself coming up with ideas for ingredients or recipe tweaks.

Who knows, by the time I’m 50 I might just get the hang of this.


Toward that end, I booked two spots at a Hipcooks class for my friend Toni’s birthday, and we spent three hours learning to make a bunch of tapas dishes (and then devouring them) with a dozen or so other people. It was great fun, the food was delicious, and the “from the hip” style of cooking was really accessible. They made cooking seem easy, which was perfect for me. As you can see from the photos in this post, the Hipcooks folks know what they’re doing – I’m looking forward to taking a few more classes from them in the coming year.

Maybe my favorite lesson of the evening was in making aioli. It calls for only the yolks, and the less of the white you can get into the bowl before you start whisking, the better. So, that means not just shifting the yolk from one hand to another, it means rolling the yolk down your arm. You read that right – you actually roll the fragile yolk down your forearm to remove the last traces of egg white. It’s a helluva cooking party trick.

My firstborn Type-A personality may never let me cook completely “from the hip,” but it’s hard to overlook how valuable that attitude could be for the rest of my life, too.