14 Sep 2006
On Friday 22 September I’ll be interviewing Howard Rheingold for BBC 5 Live’s Pods and Blogs. Howard has done so much over the past 10 – 15 years of his career that I need your help coming up with some focused and interesting questions to ask him during the fifteen minutes I’ve managed to squeeze out of his busy schedule. [skip to bottom of this post if you are familiar with Howard's work]
In 1993, Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community, a book largely based on his experiences of the Well and has since been widely credited with having coined the term “virtual community”.
I first came across Howard’s book in 1995 and a year later encountered him online for the first time inside Electric Minds. If memory serves me correctly, I’m likely to have waded in saying he’d painted a far-too-rosy picture of the positive benefits of online community and that there were real dangers that people would use them at the expense of the offline, geographically based communities. I also remember argueing that online communities were nodding head shops for groups of people who shared the same viewpoints and not – as he’d claimed in his book – places of democratic, open, and insightful debate. Much to my dismay, Howard agreed with me: some people would use online communities as an excuse to turn the back on those around them, some online communities were nodding head shops, some online spaces were not at all likely to have positive political benefits. And so Howard made me realise with a few quick posts that he was both wise and skilled at debate and online communication. I later became the first host, alongside Howard, of the Life Online Conference at Howard’s Brainstorms community and that seems to have landed me my first job at the BBC in 1998/9 where, soon after ariving, I co-authored a training course for online community hosts that was largely based on the ideas and skills Howard has shared with me.
Since then, Howard has remained an active and influential researcher, observer, thinker and pundit in the areas of online community, technology, and social software. His 2002 book Smartmobs, which itself spawned an excellent and popular group blog of the same name, was well received by all sorts of audiences and around the world.
In 2005, Howard taught a course at Stanford University on A Literacy of Cooperation, part of a long-term investigation of cooperation and collective action that he has undertaken in partnership with the Institute for the Future. The Cooperation Commons is the site of his ongoing investigation of cooperation and collective action.
Howard is currently teaching a course on Participatory Media/Collective Action at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, Digital Journalism at Stanford University, is a non-resident Fellow of the Annenberg School for Communication, and – the purpse of his visit to the UK – currently a visiting Professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, UK.
I’ve had many online discusions with Howard over the years, and have read most of his work. The problem with that is, I’m probably going to have a hard time asking focused and inciteful questions unless I’ve got a list in front of me.
So, rather than coming up with my own list, I thought I’d ask you to help me. You’re in charge of the 15 minute interview I’ve arranged to do with Howard Rheingold for BBC 5 Live’s Pods and Blogs – what do you want to ask him? Post your questions as comments below…