Conversation about National Theatre Wales around the web

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales and people who belong to their community – including office staff, production staff, cast, venues and “people formerly known as audience”.

Last year we built the community side of NTW’s website on Ning, with graphic design by the folks at Elfen. (Hoffi made the front page and listings pages.)

It’s worth noting that members of the community have the clear choice of making their posts public (open to be read by anyone who is looking) and many are doing so. The community is open to anybody on the web who wants to sign up.

But obviously with the web as it is, people are publishing their own stuff about National Theatre Wales and its productions around the web – not just on NTW’s community. We want to encourage this, it’s part of what NTW wants to achieve.

In fact, with NTW we have purposefully assigned a short tag to each production for use around the web – of the form ntw01 for production one, ntw02 for production two and so on. People are starting to use these tags already, in order to make their thoughts and posts more findable.

We also want to help the community to be aware of this other interesting stuff – videos, Twitter posts, blog posts, photos, audio – where relevant. “Online conversation” is a metaphor that has become popular on the web – and it does have some explanatory power. We want to give that conversation the best chance of being seen by groups of people who might be interested, so they can take part if they wish – wherever they choose to post their responses.

Here’s Tom’s post on the NTW site about the production tags and how posts, photos, videos and so on are collected on the NTW group for each production (and also a Netvibes page):

Take a look at the group for ntw01, A Good Night Out In The Valleys for an example of live search results from around the web. If you’re wondering how the live searches work on the groups, we made them with Yahoo Pipes. There is a chance of a few false positives turning up, as with any web search. But on the whole we like the way they’ve turned out.

We’ve included the services which seem to be the popular ones for discussing theatre. In theory more publishing services, e.g. Audioboo, could be added to the results if those services start to become popular.

So there you go, one small part of NTW’s online strategy which we’ve been working on.

Cafe-shaped conversations – for the rest of us

Tom and I meet a lot of people asking:

“OK, so what’s this social web all about?”
“Is it all a bunch of hype?”
“What about software tool or gadget abc or xyz…?”
“I don’t need to know about it! Isn’t it just for nerds and tech whiz kids?”

This blog post for Pop!Tech by Chris Brogan is an instant classic. Mass communication through TV and the like is a fairly new idea in the history of humanity but we can’t let it constrain us in how we converse with people. He gives some potted examples from the nascent social web across business, charity… and the unseen world of virtual graffiti.

Here’s the key paragraph for me.

Business at the speed of the web is now a human game. I’m not Googling these relationships. I’m finding them online in social spaces. Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter aren’t just marketing channels. They aren’t places to swap resumes. Instead, these new tools empower rapid connection, and allow people to feel heard.

I recommend reading the whole thing. His analogy with a French cafe holds well.

Additionally, I find it interesting how a lot of the technological innovation that supports these shifts is coming from USA, specifically California. (The history and culture of California and how it relates to these issues is a whole different blog post – which I’ll leave to someone else.) Although of course it’s not uniformly the case that USA is driving these shifts. Nevertheless this is insightful:

In America, everything is big, everything is repeatable, everything works on the “it looks like the one in my town, so I know how it will operate” perspective. We know how to order at any McDonalds. We understand how the Wall Street Journal will look from day to day, no matter where we pick it up or on what day. In other countries, small and personalized businesses are more obvious.

As much as I’m a fan of American culture in all its forms, having earlier had my lunch in a local independent cafe instead of a chain, I love this.

If you live in Wales like me, you will instinctively understand this and grasp hold of it.

Substitute UK, Europe or “outside the USA” into that last sentence if you want. Although I’ve lived in Wales a long time. It’s March and we’ve just recently had our national day, St. David’s Day. He was the one who popularised the slogan Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd (Do the little things in life). That’s another hypothetical blog post, where in among the hard observations I might risk indulging in some blatant sentimentality!

The focus on “doing the little things” is not to say we don’t try to build our projects to make big successes. It just means that we’re tuned into to the subtleties, nuances, eccentricities and character traits that make up individuals. That is increasingly the future of how we will approach working as well.