What’s old is sometimes new again.

View of Chicago from the roof of the Green Technology Center

View over the rail yards to Chicago from the solar-paneled roof of Chicago's Green Technology Center

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I joined a group of colleagues on a private tour of Chicago’s Center for Green Technology. In the center of the metropolitan rail yards and what was once, but is no more, a thriving industrial district, the Center for Green Technology serves as an oasis with its swaled landscape and deliberately designed gardens. The lesson to be taken from here is that everything is included for a reason: a Purple Martin house sits in the marshy garden area so as to attract the ravenous mosquito eaters as a means of creating a natural balance and keeping the bug population down; chives are blossoming above in the vegetative roof gardens, their dirt and roots soaking up the rains of spring while offering an aromatic addition to the day’s culinary offerings.

As I listened to the story of the cisterns that tower above the building’s landscape in multiple locations, I recalled hearing my father complain about the old cistern water systems in houses and how progress had been made over the years in this regard to make everyone’s life better and easier with city water. It seems as though we forget over time that there were reasons that things were done the way that they were, and that progress is sometimes fleeting. Why not capture rain water for reuse in the garden or for flushing toilets? Maybe the answer is somewhere in the middle. As some of the only folks in our housing subdivision who lack a sprinkling system, my husband and I are always tickled by the fact that our grass seems to come out just as green as our neighbors’ at the end of the day, even though we haven’t spent a measurable amount of our summer hunched over broken sprinkler heads. Nature seems to have a way of finding a balance.

Sometimes when we don’t plan for all of the potential outcomes of a situation, we find out why the status quo existed in the first place. Take, for instance, the rise in cases of “Supergerms” such as MRSA, and the correlation with overuse of antibacterial cleansers in our environment. We rid our environment of germs using tougher chemicals, and the smart germs get tougher while our bodies become less practiced at defending against them.

It seems as though we have to look at our actions in the short and long term scenarios: If I proceed with this change, how is it making life better or easier in the short term, and at what potential cost? In going down this path, what elements of the equation am I not taking in to account that might come back to haunt me or society later, and for how long?  What are the alternatives? It wouldn’t matter whether you are talking about a process or a product innovation, a website redesign or a miracle drug, the questions would be the same.

Of course, the offshore drilling question looms large as the contemporary poster child for this quandary, with New Orleans readying for yet another hit on its economic well being caused by the relentless and unquenchable quest for oil to fuel our carbon-hungry lives. It probably looked like a good idea at the time to those who needed to feed their families and boost a Katrina-addled economy. The long term toll on the shrimp and oyster supply and upon those whose lives depend upon providing it has yet to be determined, however.

It’s never an easy answer, but perhaps we should always ask ourselves if what’s old is good enough to be new again, because improvements aren’t always what they seem.

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Posted in Decision Making, Sustainability, Trends, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons on community building from the dog park…

I’ve been taking advantage of the time off and the beautiful weather of late to make sure that I get the dogs out for their daily romp and socialization. After all, they don’t like staring at the same four walls any more than we do. This year, I invested the requisite $25.00 per dog to obtain permits for the local Will County dog park that resides within a five minute drive from our home. I like it there. All of us, even the humans, have something in common as soon as we set foot inside the gate and remove leashes to let our dogs run free together within the eight acre confine. We all know that no one is going to get in our face about our dogs. I’ve had clothes slobbered on; I’ve been smacked in the kisser with big, wet dog tongues; I’ve had muddy paws reach up and give me a big hug. Since I’m a dog lover and I’m there with my own dogs, both of whom are capable of their own indiscretions, I’m nonplussed about all of those things.

Watching the dogs interact at the dog park has allowed me to draw some parallels between the canine world of interaction within that eight acre environment and organizational environments I’ve either bench-marked or  in which I’ve  practiced/preached knowledge management principles in attempting to evangelize communities of practice. Here are a few of the observations worth sharing:

  1. It’s all about trust. The other day, a couple brought their 6-month-old Husky to the park for the first time. At first, they were very nervous about entering with all of the “regulars” waiting at the gate to greet the newcomer. The Husky came in with his tail between his legs at first, cowering as he was sniffed and sized up by the pack. When they decided that he wasn’t a threat, they went about their usual business. The Husky, ironically, decided that my 10-year-0ld Rottweiler was the safest bet for this first visit, dancing around her while she stood in one place and accommodated him. Which brings me to my second point.
  2. It’s not about the size or breed of the dog. There are two sides to the dog park: One for small dogs, and one for large dogs. Many people with small dogs go ahead and bring them into the side for large dogs, because their small dogs don’t have any notion that there is a difference. They just come in and run with the pack and contribute to the fun like everyone else, despite what may at times be an 80 or 90 pound difference. There are dogs that people paid hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars for, and there are lots of mutts and rescues that came to the area on transports just an hour or a day shy of being euthanized. They don’t seem to discriminate when it comes to interaction at the dog park; they are all well loved dogs who enjoy the companionship of their own kind. Communities don’t care about hierarchy either; they care about finding answers based upon stories and experiences.
  3. The pack will democratize the environment. When Cesar Millan has a dog that doesn’t want to learn its place, he carts it back to his “pack” in Los Angeles and lets the pack teach the dog a thing or two about basic operating guidelines. The regulars at the gate would have done this with the Husky pup had he shown aggression or dominance upon entering. Don’t get so caught up in trying to control the community that you kill the willingness to share – the community’s collective wisdom and experiences will auto-correct for the most part.
  4. Unnecessary restraint creates tension and breaks down trust. Occasionally, you’ll see the dog owner who comes into the dog park and tries to walk the dog on a leash within the fenced space. Naturally, the rest of the pack finds this curious, and will inevitably rush up to the leashed dog and try to figure out what’s up. The leashed animal feels confined and unable to defend itself, and signals this anxiety to the others, which can result in an escalation of dominance and an ensuing struggle. As Cesar says, “energy first with dogs.” Many of the savvy dog owners will encourage such a person to remove the leash to avoid such conflict. Communities need to be open to the sharing of new ideas, even though some will be far out there, in order to foster innovation. Be careful with the term “best” practice, and remember that practices are predicated on sets of varying circumstances.
  5. Everyone participates in their own way and at their own pace, and that’s ok. There is a path around the perimeter of the dog park. One day as I was walking the path, I heard a muffled barking off in a stand of trees along the side of the path. As I got closer to the noise, I looked closely and saw only the hind end of a Beagle, the rest of him head first and deep-down into a self-made hole, kicking up dirt and digging to China after something that he knew was down there. He didn’t care about running with the pack, he was off making his own discovery. A few other dogs, my own included, ran over and checked out the hole with the Beagle in it, then continued on their way and left him to his own devices. Forrester Research articulated ways in which we orient ourselves to technologies when they segmented consumer groups accordingly  in their book, Groundswell. Some of us will be Creators, some will be Joiners, and the majority of us will just be lurking around seeing what all the fuss is about and picking up a few tips along the way. They are all benefiting.
  6. If everyone brings a little water and is willing to share, there is plenty to go around. By the benches near the entrance and exit gates at the dog park, you’ll find a multitude of bowls and water bottles spread out, provided by the various dog owners present at any one time. There is no way to police or monitor the water in such a way that only your dog drinks your water, so we all bring a little and let them all have a go at it. There are labs that come up and try to make swimming pools out of the  bowls, there are dogs that cool their feet in them, and there are dogs that use them for their intended purpose. The point is, when everyone is willing to pitch in and share, there is enough to go around.
  7. The park isn’t just for sunny days. Sure, it’s wonderful to go hang out at the park when it’s 75 and sunny, but the dogs get just as much out of it when the snow’s a foot deep and the flakes are falling. Maybe they need it even more on the lousy days, just like we do. Knowledge sharing isn’t something we should be looking at only when things are rosy, either, because it’s when the chips are down that we need to learn from one another and our experiences the most in order to weather the storms together.
  8. Support is important. One day as I was relaxing on the benches, a gentleman who owns a very slobbery Mastiff named Otto was telling me that he had just had to put his Black Lab of fifteen years down. Now, if he had made that statement or shared that information in any number of other environments, he may have encountered any number of insensitive remarks – but he was at the dog park, and I am like all of the other dog owners who take the time to see that my canines are fulfilled and cared for, so my heart broke for him, and I invited him to share a few memories of that dog with me. Such is the stuff that community is made of, whether you’re talking about business practice areas, rock bands, ice skating, or dogs. There is an undercurrent of trust among members, and the sharing flows along that current. Which takes me back to Number 1: It’s All About Trust.

What lessons about community would you like to share?

Posted in Communities of Practice, Knowledge Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Whether groceries or widgets, don’t forget the customers.

This is a story about usability, borrowing an analogy from my grocery store. I’ve been shopping at this same store for over fourteen years now. When you move to a new place, you can pick just about any grocery because they are all the same to you in terms of non-familiarity. After you’ve invested some real time in getting to know where everything is, it becomes more of a burden to switch, knowing that you’ll have to invest more time in getting to know the layout all over again. How beautiful is it to know that you can run into your favorite store and put your hands right on the three things that you need and get out of there? The busier you get, the more things you are juggling, the more critical this becomes. As a matter of fact, time becomes so important that you’re often willing to pay more for a few items just to avoid making multiple stops and save that time.

About two years ago, maybe three but it seems like less, my grocery store moved the cheese. And the orange juice. And the bread. As a matter of fact, they moved the whole store, because some consulting company had convinced them that they needed a new layout for a more progressive look or something. After they did this, I got to know a lot of shoppers in the aisles as we all stumbled around trying to figure out where we were and where they’d put the products we needed. We all complained, thought it was ridiculous, didn’t see the benefit of the move, but we eventually adjusted and were starting to find our way around again easily.

Then they did it again recently. I walked in one day to find them tearing all of the aisles up again, putting products in carts and marking them for clearance. I went into a panic, asking an employee why they were rearranging the store again. She responded by telling me that some consultancy had studied women’s shopping behaviors and pitched a new layout that was supposed to be more intuitive for women. Several weeks went by until they were finished. When they were, I found myself commisserating with fellow customers again in the aisles, all of us agreeing it was the most ridiculous thing we’d ever seen and mad that it was taking us three to four times longer to get our shopping done.

Is this intuitive for anyone, much less women as a single customer base: The little spice packets for things like stew and tacos are in a different aisle from the rest of the spices. Dried raisins are with cereal, but other dried fruit are off in some other aisle. Organically sourced  cereals and snacks are several aisles away from the rest of their category counterparts.

It got so bad that within a very short time, the store hired an army of extra help wearing bright yellow shirts emblazoned with the words “I Can Help!” on them. Their sole  purpose was to effect the change management needed and cut down on the frustration of shoppers by directing them to products in aisles where they’d never have guessed their quarry would be. These people seemed to have weathered a storm of snide commentary from customers in the course of their navigating duties, but I must commend them for retaining their smiles in the process. One time, I saw two managerial-looking gentlemen wandering around surveying the process, so I stopped and gave them a piece of my mind. The store manager told me that it wasn’t his idea.

At the KM World Conference in November of 2009, one of the keynote speakers – I think it was Andrew McAfee – said that any new tool that you introduce to your stakeholders should be ten times better than whatever you’re replacing or you shouldn’t bother. Of course, in regard to technology this is particularly true because innovation is occurring so rapidly in that area, but I think it is a good question to ask ourselves whenever we are changing things for our customers, regardless of product. Facebook has found this out when they’ve changed their interface. Coca Cola found this out when they changed their formula and packaging for their signature product. Drew Carey claimed years ago that he had to go back to wearing his glasses even though he’d had lasik surgery, because his fans didn’t recognize him.

When the grocery store changes the layout, they put themselves back in the unfamiliar category along with all of the other available stores. It’s as though I’m new to the area again and free to choose whichever store I’d like, because I’m going to have to invest time to relearn the layout regardless. It’s like having a winning stack of chips at poker and putting the stack back out in the middle of the table again. Even worse, the woman who told me that the new design was ostensibly “woman friendly” also told me that the store was now considered a concept test store, so they might change it whenever they had these silly ideas or seemingly nothing else to do – like source good products at reasonable prices. I’m seriously considering taking my fourteen year purchasing habit elsewhere.

Whether it’s a grocery store or a user interface, talk to your customers ahead of time and get their opinion. Let them tell you whether what you’re about to do is ten times better than what you’re replacing. Otherwise, you’re putting your chips back out on the table.

Posted in Customer Service, Information profession, Technology, Usability | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cellular Customer Service” is an Oxymoron

I’m finding myself muddling over the concept of mediocrity this week. While I try my hardest to be a patient and understanding person in all situations, I can’t help but notice that I seem to be running into it a lot lately. This time it concerns a cellular services company and its insurance provider. I’ll refrain from mentioning names, because it probably doesn’t matter. In the area of customer service, they really all seem to have their own horror stories.

I had been having troubles with my Blackberry recently – Java script errors when running the GPS service on it, the battery draining after one or two short calls, the need to reboot the thing by pulling out the battery all the time. Finally, it just died, refusing my efforts to revive it and just blacking out, teasing me with an occasional lighting of the screen but going blank as soon as I’d touch the screen. My husband reminded me that we’ve been paying insurance on the thing at the rate of $7.00 per month for as long as I’ve owned it, and that I should take it in and get a new one if need be. I decided to head into the store and find out what I needed to do, so I packed up the phone, my PC in case we needed it, and my purse and headed on down. Turns out, they can only deal with battery issues at a “regular” store, so they referred me over to another store in the area that is designated as a “repair” store with a technician on site. So I packed up, got in the car, and headed over there.

Turns out, there is little sticker under the trackball on a Blackberry, and this sticker is normally all white. If for some reason your device has been exposed to any type of moisture, be it steam, water, rain, wet hands, even humidity, this sticker gets pink in parts. My sticker was pink at the very top, nowhere else, but this still qualifies as “water damage” and basically gets them out of doing anything for you for free. However, I was told that if I wanted to stick with the same device, and I didn’t want to upgrade with the commitment of a new, two year contract, I could pay $100.00 and get a new phone from the insurer by filing a claim. The technician explained that this was a great deal, because even though the same device with the new contract was available at a price of $49.00, a new phone without the contract was listed at and would indeed cost me about five hundred dollars. Therefore, the $100.00 replacement offered through the insurance was a great deal, according to the technician and the other person in the store. Ok, I’m currently out of work and in need of my device, and I don’t want to get sealed in to a new contract , so I bit the bullet and shelled out the hundred bucks.

A couple of days later, the new device arrives at my doorstep. I hesitated when I opened the box, because it had the name of the insurance company on the box that the device was in – it did not say “Blackberry.” I’m confused now, wondering if this is a reconditioned phone, and if so, why the $100.00 charge for a “new” phone was hyped to me as such a great deal.

As I’m running my son around to doctor’s appointments (that’s another post), I take advantage of an hour’s lag time to go have the technician help me set up the phone and see if, by some miracle, we can transfer some of the data from the old phone. No luck on the data transfer – my old device was DOA – but he did something really quick with my phone, told me that my browser would pop up in an hour, and sent me on my way.

Four or five hours later, no browser, no email, nada, so I called the toll free customer service number for some help. A nice gal in the Phillipines spent about a half an hour on the phone with me, walking me through the steps I needed to take to set up the wireless service on the phone and get the parts moving. She even surprised me with a call back to make sure that I was receiving calls ok. Turns out the other guy hadn’t done a thing.

I didn’t have any numbers to go by, so I resorted to my Gmail contacts and devoted all of Friday evening to entering as many of them by hand as I could find listed. For the others, I sent a general email to many folks asking for their numbers. They replied quickly and were happy to oblige, expressing their condolences at my agonizing, manual process. By the time I was done, I thought I’d need either carpal tunnel or thumb surgery, or maybe a couple of cortisone shots in the hands.

That’s when we decided to go ahead and plug the phone into my laptop via the USB cord to save my hard work, in order to avoid this nastiness again. Nice thought, but it wasn’t meant to be, because as it turns out, the device’s port was defective and couldn’t transfer the data. We found this out when we made another trip to the official “repair” store and they tested the device. Hence, the need to file another claim, request another phone, and yes, re-enter all of the numbers by hand because the connection to the laptop won’t work.

At this point, I was mad. I’m asking for a new device rather than a reconditioned one, because apparently they don’t even recondition them, they just throw them back in a box and ship them off to the next sucker on the list. The only new device they’ll send me, though, is listed at a retail price that’s $200 less than the model I turned in, and has less functionality. So I agree, not too confidently, to another reconditioned “new” device, and upon receipt of it, I’ll have to go through the whole thing on the phone with the gal in the Phillipines, key in all of my contacts and their numbers again, and reload all of my applications. I asked them if they were going to reimburse me for my time and didn’t get much of an answer to that either.

So why does no one care what type of experience or service I receive as a consumer of this company’s products and services? Why is it necessary to misrepresent to me that a “new” phone is really a reconditioned phone? Why do I feel that if any of us opened up the trackballs on our Blackberry after a bit of time, we’d find pink on that sticker so that they don’t have to really cover anything? This is the stuff that trust is made of, and I have none in this company.

Maybe mobile is in the driver’s seat right now, but companies are rethinking the length and breadth of their strategic plans because technologies and the ways in which we consumers access and share information are evolving at exponential rates, and becoming bogged down in inflexible plans when adaptability is the name of the game is the equivalent of Darwinian suicide.

I’m a customer of this company because they are the “devil I know,” not because I like them or their products or services are differentiated from their competitors. Wouldn’t it be nice if mobile companies could find a way of keeping consumers in their court by way of engagement, instead of by tying them to their apron strings by way of contractual balls and chains?

The bar is set pretty low. It seems as though anyone who wants to set a new standard in customer service only has to study the failures of cellular companies to know where to start in terms of making inroads and improvements. Take a look at any of the social media channels using the names of these companies as keywords, and you’ll feel a visceral kinship with the expressed frustrations of consumers there. Do the opposite of what they’re complaining about, price it reasonably, be innovative, and you’ll be the new standard bearer in whatever it is you’re about to undertake. As a matter of fact, use the same channels to ask consumers to help you brainstorm and paint a picture of what utopia looks like from their end of things in relation to your offering. The really good companies are listening, and consumers will support them in their efforts. If you open a mobile service company, let me know. I’ll be over.

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“Field Sense” as the product of the professional…

I’ve read a lot of books about what the ease of access and distribution inherent in social media channels means for organizations and professionals in intermediary roles. From a diplomacy perspective, they level the playing field and eliminate barriers by providing bridges for knowledge sharing in cyberspace. Everyone can be a publisher, everyone can find information, and everyone can build a personal brand if they’re willing to put a little time into learning how to use these simple technologies and integrate their messages among them. We’ve seen marvelous examples of this process in action – from the protests in Iran in which Twitter served as a medium for sharing events globally in real time when other avenues were shut down to the cascading power and visual appeal of photos, videos and live streams shared virtually by anyone who chooses to hold themselves out as an expert in some aspect of living and working. There’s a little portion of each of us that champions the underdog’s ability to rise to the surface alongside more powerful competitors with millions of traditional advertising dollars behind them. That’s why we love movies so much – because they provide us with these stories in compelling ways.

I’m pondering this theory that’s circulating about the need for professionals going away. It goes something like this: If everyone’s a publisher then we don’t need newspapers, magazines and journalists in the middle; If everyone can get information, then we don’t need librarians and information professionals in the middle; If everyone can advertise and do their own marketing, then we don’t need agencies and marketing professionals.

When the movie industry was worried about VHS tapes, Blockbuster was figuring out how to monetize the opportunity. While the music industry was focused heavily on playing whack-a-mole with file sharing services like Napster and Kazaa, Apple was figuring out how to create a win-win situation for all involved, and the rest is history. Forrester Research calls the Blockbuster and Apple approaches “energizing the Groundswell”; Brafman and Beckstrom do a great job of capturing this important cultural difference in approach in their book, The Starfish and the Spider. I recently saw an interesting post and video about how Wired Magazine is preparing to remain relevant given the new digital realities of engagement. It was cool stuff! They aren’t planning on going away; Instead, they are looking at the playing field and listening to the trends, and they are reinventing their approach to publishing in order to align with and capitalize on the (r)evolution (I include the parenthetical “r” as a nod to the fact that there is an ongoing interplay of words around whether this is an evolution or a revolution, not that it matters).

My experience has been that most people who are working full time jobs become consumed in their daily activities, and they don’t have the time to keep up with daily changes and additions to the rapidly evolving landscape of information technologies and resources. They are like desert travelers finding an oasis when presented with options that have been narrowed to the best and most efficient, thankful that someone is watching for them and making sense out of it all.

In the athletic world, there is a term known as “field sense” that has been attributed to great players such as Wayne Gretzky, Lebron James and others. It refers to the ability of a player to sense what is going on around them – such as where the other players are on the field, how and at what speed movements are going to occur, how to compensate in a seemingly intuitive way for factors that would seem unpredictable to others. This skill emanates undoubtedly from some combination of innate and highly practiced behaviors (read Gladwell’s books Blink and Outliers to get a sense of this). I can tell you from experience in my earlier life when managing a sales office that there are some skills that can be trained into a person and some that can’t, and in the latter category you’ll find personality preferences and passion. Professionals, whether they be journalists, information or marketing professionals, have passion for learning about the tools and other elements of their world, even as they are changing at warp speed. They have acquired experiences and knowledge around their subjects that add credence to their intuitive judgments that they can pass on to others. In a very real way, they are able to deliver “field sense” to their stakeholders in order to support better choices and decisions in ways that deliver bottom-line benefit.

Take, for example, the fact that digital media allows us to copy, share, embed or otherwise distribute content in multiple formats in almost effortless ways. Most people in organizations, and very educated people at that, just go ahead and do this without question, not figuring in the copyright implications of their actions. The professional attends workshops about this, talks to vendors at conferences, reads journal articles and has a built-in sense of questioning around this subject. Field sense isn’t necessarily limited to those with degrees and certifications, but it isn’t something you can pick up overnight if you haven’t been immersed in the inventory of the trade.

So this is, I think, the sweet spot for the professional – the ability to share one’s own acquired “field sense” around an area of expertise, and the ability to pare the plethora of choices down to the best, make sense out of the content, and make it available in relevant ways so that the client goes out on the field well prepared and knowing where the other players are, what the conditions of the field are, and at what speed the ball is moving. It doesn’t mean that others can’t use the same equipment or play in their own leagues, but they’ll have to ask themselves how many sports they really want to play.

Posted in Information profession, Social Media, Technology, Trends | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Legacies and social media

Back around November 1st of 2009, my sister-in-law went quiet on me. I mean that literally and figuratively. She is someone who checks in with me fairly regularly, and I noticed that I hadn’t heard from her in quite a few days. I finally broke down and called my brother-in-law on a Sunday afternoon to find out why, and was told by him that she had taken ill with some type of flu and was upstairs with body aches, fever and chills. No respiratory or GI problems, just those symptoms. Ok, so H1N1 came to mind – it was the topic of the year regarding airborne pathogens, but the lack of other symptoms made me pause.

The next morning, I was riding the train into Chicago and decided to text message her to see if she was feeling better. You see, I had found out a few months earlier when leaving a message with her via text late at night, thinking that it would wait until morning, that she is still the proverbial mother, waiting for an urgent missive (only these days, as every parent of a GenY knows, in the form of a text) from her adult daughter in Washington, so she listens for and answers texts about 99.9% of the time, at any hour. This time, though, no answer came back. Neither did the phone call that I placed to her home in the next instant get answered.

It turned out that, about an hour after I had spoken to my brother-in-law on that Sunday, he had found his wife in respiratory distress upstairs, and but for a few miraculous incidents that transpired which I won’t list here, she would have been dead within that hour. She spent the next three weeks in an ICU on a ventilator, fighting a “Superbug” infection that is with us all in our environments, while we waited with baited breath to find out whether she’d wake up, what her life would be like if and when she did, and what we could do to cope and help her family in the meantime.

I was traveling all over the place at the time, and I needed to do something to help. They have lived in three or four cities by now, so what my brother-in-law said he needed help with, and what he knew I was capable of, was a way to cut down on the hundreds of phone calls he was receiving from all over the country from well-meaning friends by providing updates to all of them at once, so that he could focus on helping his family.

That’s where this blog comes in.

I know that there are CarePages and CaringBridge available to patients’ friends and families for just this purpose. I went and looked at them. What seemed easier to control and customize, and much quicker to do at the time was to gut this blog’s contents and use it to rally the troops around my sister-in-law’s recovery. A phone call with my niece who was on-site with her mother confirmed that this seemed like a good choice, so the process began. My niece and brother-in-law shared the link with the various groups of well wishers and supporters, and within hours we had a centralized news and resource hub for this catastrophic episode.

My sister-in-law was on the ventilator for about 17 days. On the day that the ventilator was removed and she started breathing on her own, this blog had over 500 visits. Those visits consisted of neighbors new and old, in multiple states, parents of children with whom her children had attended school, childhood friends, people with whom my brother-in-law had worked in multiple states, some of the young adults who are friends with her children, teachers from her son’s school, and miscellaneous others. I know because they left hundreds of supportive and loving comments here. They shared pictures, we ran a poll guessing what she’d say when the vent was removed, I shared resource links about where she was and what she was suffering from, and quotes to help us all along as we waited.

I am an information professional. It is my business to study trends in how information is consumed and shared, among other things. I have read many of the books and listened to lectures from knowledgeable people that talk about the concepts of “disintermediation” and “mass amateurization” – the fact that everyone can be a publisher these days and all of the related discussions that arise around the historical roles of professional intermediaries and whether they’re still necessary and in what regard.

In this case, I think it was the “best of times” in terms of a demonstration of the reach and accessibility of social media and the fact that everyone felt welcome to contribute. I saw facets of my sister-in-law’s life come alive on these pages that I would never have otherwise been privy to; I got to know her friends in a virtual sense and to love them for their support of her and her family. What was beautiful about it was the fact that many of those people loved her enough to put themselves out there in cyberspace, to put their fears about technology and security aside if they had them, regardless of age or gender or level of experience, and rally around this spot where they knew they could find others. It became its own social network. There are very good justifications for needing professional involvement when the objectives are strategic and accuracy important, but people can come together now, for a little while or for the duration, from anywhere and at any time and without any expense, for truly good purposes. Now that’s heart-thumping stuff.

People have told her that the blog was what they lived by during that time. Some of her friends who were able to visit her in the ICU told her that the blog existed when she still had tubes in and couldn’t talk, and about how many people were writing and sharing. We printed everything off and gave it to her as a testament to the love that she generated. And as a “welcome back” gift, many of us chipped in and gave her what we thought was a fitting gift, an Amazon Kindle for her long term recovery.

Now this blog will become something else again, beginning with this post, but for me it will have this lovely legacy. And I’m glad she’s here to share it.

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