Bridging The On-Line Real-World Gap

As I was Googling for something from an old work project, I stumbled across this interview with Marshall Kirkpatrick from 2006. Marshall and I had met a few years before at the Nonprofit Technology Conference. He has gone on to become a leading blogger on new media issues and is now a Senior Writer at ReadWriteWeb. I’m pleased to say that I think what I said still makes sense over 5 years later, and I would give nearly the same advice today (in principle).

Bridging The On-Line Real-World Gap: An Interview With Ruby Sinreich Of Netcentric Campaigns

Ruby Sinreich is the Web Maven at Netcentric Campaigns, a division of Green Media Toolshed. She is also the founder and editor of, a progressive multi-author blog about politics based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Previously, she was the Online Organizing Manager in the Public Policy Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.Ruby and I talked in the following interview about Netcentric Campaigns and building an effective on-line strategy to support off-line, real world political organizing.


Network-centric advocacy is based on a philosophy of empowering the grassroots, your supporters, the “network.” We try to build strong networks between activists so they collectively form an effective movement. There are five aspects that we think are necessary for effective social networks

  1. You must have strong social ties so that the members trust each other and know who (with what skills) is in the network. Friendster/MySpace/Orkut/etc. are one way to build social ties, but so are in-person gatherings. Happy hours can also build your movement.
  2. There needs to be a common story that ties members together. They should have a shared sense of what the problem or what the goal is. This can vary widely, it might be a generally shared value, or it might be a mutual bad guy.
  3. There has to be a dense communication grid so folks have many ways to meet and communicate with each other. Blogs and social networking tools are a part of this, so are instant messaging and face-to-face gatherings.
  4. The members should share resources with each other. This could be money, space, information, etc. Like a directory that members can access, or sharing expertise.
  5. Finally there should be a sense of purpose so the network members know what the network is for. So they think of it as a tools for collective action or whatever the goal is.


It seems that there has been work to bridge the online world and the offline world for progressive causes for at least a few years now. Are there specific lessons that have been learned that have changed the way that you now advise organizations to, for example, build strong social ties with online and off or build a common story?


I don’t really think much about the distinction between on- and off-line. When we know our goal and our strategy, that leads us to tools which may or may not be online. We want to use a lot of online social networking and self-publishing because it’s very supportive of the kind of ties we want to build.

The internet itself is very network-centric (at least right now) so it lends itself to organizing in this way.

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How to keep thinking like a network

I had a great time today at the 2010 N.C. Tech for Good Conference. (Izzy enjoyed the reception afterward.)

I did a talk called “How to think like a network,” which is my latest iteration of my favorite subject: the five aspects of effective networks, a.k.a. network-centric advocacy. I’ve been talking to nonprofits, geeks, and activists about this approach for five years now (!) and while the technology has changed a lot, I think the strategy is as relevant as ever.
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Mind the gap, part 1

This is the first part of a rant I have been mulling over for about 3 years now. I want to get it up before the end of the event, so I will save my proposal for a second post. Cross-posted at

Advanced nonprofit technology practitioners need a place to connect and learn from each other. Who will fill this gap?

For years this was the collective whine from the hundreds of NTAPs who attend the Nonprofit Technology Conference to help other colleagues in the sector. When NetSquared was announced in 2005, I was excited to hear they would be bringing together the best minds from the nonprofit world with the leading technologists. Would this be the long-awaited venue for advanced “NPTECH” conversation?

In 2006, I attended NetSquared and it was one of the most useful and impactful conferences I had been to in years. (See my blog post here.) I eagerly signed up to come and participate again this year.

As you know if you are reading this, N2Y2 has a different goal, which is to connect innovative projects with the funding they need to succeed. I question whether $25,000 is enough to really make much impact, but I appreciate that this is a good goal. But it’s one that I don’t have any personal investment in, and it leaves the need for interaction largely unmet.

Tune in for Part Two: Eating our own dogfood, and meeting our own needs. To be posted here and at

Following NetSquared

So NetSquared is going well. As expected: tons of great people and too much information (in a good way). I’ve been posting updates on Twitter, you can see mine and other people’s comments at

I also started a new “back channel” as the official IRC wasn’t working for everyone. We’re using the free and very easy Meebo (as inspired by Alan Benamer’s NPtech chat). See us at

There are already a bunch of pictures posted at


I’ll be getting up veeery early tomorrow morning to head west for the second annual NetSquared conference-thingy. Last year’s event had a profound effect on me. It’s where I first started using Second Life , and it’s where I had the opportunity to deepen my relationship with the brilliant Micah Sifry which led to my eventual involvement in techPresident and the Personal Democracy Forum. In other words, some of the most interesting and professionally beneficial things I’ve done in the past year grew out of NetSquared.

N2Y2 (as they are calling this second event) is going to be very different from last year’s conference. In fact, they’ve thrown out the standard conference format and instead are focusing the entire event around 21 projects that were selected by the NetSquared community (ie: anyone who wanted to vote). The entire event will be about improving the projects from a technical, financial, and management perspective.

I’m not really sure yet how I feel about this change, but as with many conferences, much of the value comes in the wonderful people you can meet, and I’m sure this year will be no exception. You can follow the action via the N2Y2 tag and NetSquared’s Twitter friends page. Read Beth’s Blog or the NetSquared community blog for more goodness.

As I mentioned before, my special part to play will be as one of 21 “champions,” each of whom is helping one of the projects through the process. My project is the Genocide Intervention Network, which aims to utilize social networks and social media to build the movement against Darfur and other atrocities. For my homework, I plan to spend some quality time on the plane reading their excellent proposal. If you get the chance to read it, I’d love to hear any feedback.

Widgets for change


In honor of the launch of’s new political actions tools and of the fact that I am going the be the “project champion” for the Genocide Intervention Network next week at NetSquared, here’s a widget that brings them both together.

The Genocide Intervention Network envisions a world in which the global community is willing and able to protect civilians from genocide and mass atrocities. Our mission is to empower individuals and communities with the tools to prevent and stop genocide.

More on both subjects later. Right now, I have a job to do (for 3 more days)!

A collective “nice to meet you”

It seems like after every conference I come away with a handful of business cards and the intention to follow up with lots of new people and possibilities. However, my intention does not always translate into action. Although I still hope to contact these folks and/or blog about about all the cool things they are doing, for now I am going to do a brain dump to document (and lazily ping) everyone.

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Thanks for making it happen with me

I just got home after a very long day of inter-coastal travel. I will post a longer thing tommorrow about the rest of the awesome people I met at NetSquared.

So I was recruited to lead a Making it Happen: Tips & Tricks session at NetSquared. I called it: how to be more cause-based, aka network-centric advocacy, aka bottom-up, aka cluetrain advocacy, aka user-centered, aka movement building. Basically I gave a little intro to the above topic and discussed it with anyone who wanted to stop by. People asked a lot of good questions and together we came up with a lot of great ideas for how to empower the supporters of our issues and help them lead our movements for change.

Thanks to everyone for chatting with me:
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NetSquared was one of the best conferences I’ve been to in years. I kept having experiences that were so interesting I wanted to blog about them but the coolness didn’t stop and I was torn between doing cool stuff and blogging about it. (Yes I am a geek!)

There were just as many cool people as at other conferences, but less chaff. One of the most radical transformations for me: I have now joined the world of Second Life. Gotta go have some experiences…