if you read this site, you are likely a techno dweeb like myself (or for some odd reason came via a really bad google search result). i say that because when we geeks talk about 'community' we generally mean user groups, online forums, etc...you know geek community--joining together others who know nothing about each other but only commonality is their desire for all things geek.
well, last week i went golfing with scott (who i met via community and have become friends with) and we were chatting about wives and stuff and what people do to fill their time in their lives if they don't have 'real jobs' (i say this in gest because if my wife is reading this, darling my dear, i know your job is tougher than mine :-)).
anyhow, i started telling him about my wife and what she's done to build community within our community. i know that sounds odd, but allow me to explain. first, a little bit of back story. my wife is a banker...or was. she worked in lending for 15 years with wells fargo and is a master of all things numeric. seriously, when we bought our two houses i had no idea what she was talking about with regard to different financing options, etc....but i digress. anyhow, this past year we had our second child, zane. when zane was born my wife decided she'd keep working (she'd been working out of a home office for the past 5 years by this point) and take care of our new son at the same time. i thought she was nuts. i told her i was okay if she didn't work...we've been really blessed in our lives and she wouldn't necessarily have to (albeit she'd have to cut down some trips to the mall as well). she didn't want to, and i honored her thoughts. well, it turned out to be too much and she decided she'd quit effective december 31, 2006...which she did. her biggest fear was that she'd be bored (and that she wouldn't have a computer because i'd be using them all -- we solved that, picked up a thinkpad on ebay for $400 that rocks). well, i'm here to say she is busier than she has EVER been and that she spends more time on the computer than i ever thought she would (sometimes i think more than me). okay, back to the story...
so how is she busier now that she isn't working? community in community. you see, we all live in communities (geographic), but is it really a community if you drive in your garage, close the door and only give the occaisional wave to the neighbor you can't quite remember their name? ours isn't...and i like to think my wife has a big part in that.
so i proceeded to tell scott what my wife does within our community...giving the analogy that she's basically a user group leader of about 6 different user groups. here's a run-down of what she has established...
- queen creek friends -- this is the ultimate in local user groups--about 177 women involved in this one (and only limited to our neighborhood). my wife saw a need for people to casually communicate with others, get recommendations about things, etc. after me seeing her address emails to about 100 people i informed her of better ways of doing things...she now uses yahoo groups. she established a yahoo group she calls queen creek friends. anybody who is anybody in the 'hood is on it ;-). seriously though, this is *the* social network in our neighborhood. need a plumber? landscaper? piano tuner? you name it, this network has it. she approves membership and moderates as needed (more on that later). it is an amazing network from which more have blossomed. under this umbrella group she's been able to establish group discounts, special pricing for different events, etc. -- power in numbers.
- freezer meal club -- about 16 women in this one. may sound odd to some, but my wife was sick of cooking all the time and wanted to come up with different ideas.
her idea? CORRECTION: my wife said this wasn't her idea...she joined in on the idea that her friend KristenJ came up with. get 5 women together and exchange meals. this sprouted from one trip to one of those 'girlfriend kitchen' ideas. she figured she could do it herself. so now she is a part of one group (this one is set up in groups of 4-5) where each month she cooks 5 meals for a family of four...freezes them and waits for the exchange. on exchange day, she brings her five meals, as do others...boom, she now has 5 other meals for the month...wash, rinse, repeat...we get some unique dinners...some are good, some not-so-good, but the idea brings new social ideas to our neighborhood -- and as i noted, others have established other "fmc's" in the 'hood.
- card club - 24 involved in this one. okay, my wife is a scrapbooker...she scoffs at things like scrapblog.com -- 'it isn't the same' she says. she's hard-core man...i mean, seriously...she's got utility belts full of scrapbook stuff...construction paper? puhlease. anyhow, she wanted new ideas here as well...so heck, another user group she thought. she got 12 ladies together also sharing the same passion and each month they each have to make 12 homemade cards for a given theme...then exchange them. so every month each member gets 12 new homemade cards for different occaisions -- we don't buy hallmark anymore -- these are major posh. it gets the ladies out of the house, they gossi...er, i mean, socialize...and have fun.
- book club -- 12 involved in this one. oprah-style book club. nuf said. i'm not a fan of this one because a) i hate oprah and b) i don't read. but this has made my wife a reader...our nightstand (okay, just hers, mine has the tv remote on it) currently has about 12 books on it, which will be completed next week. she's become more learned through this book club i think.
- babysitting co-op: the grand-daddy of ideas. about 40 involved in this one. now that she was stay-at-home full time, she quickly realized the need for the occaisional baby-sitting job when grocery shopping, haircut, <fill-in-the-chore-you-don't-want-to-take-your-kids-on>, etc. she floated an idea by some others and the co-op was born. what is it? simple, anyone can join (must have kids). when you join you get 20 popsicle sticks (the currency of the co-op). the sticks are branded 'property of babysitting co-op' so you know what they are for. 1 stick == 1 hour of babysitting for 1 kid. how does it work? yahoo groups again. you need a sitter? put in a post like 'sitter needed for 2 kids age 1 and 4 on thursday from 1-3' (note: this would be a 4 stick job). people respond and you pick who you want...appointment made and you are done. what's the catch? none, when you are out of sticks, you have no currency. this motivates everyone to enter into the cycle. you watch, you earn, you use...wash, rinse, repeat. the system is supremely amazing and everyone loves it. she's had to do some alterations, but it works and it rocks. this is the holy grail of any neighborhood with growing children.
- ad-hoc stuff: she occasionally does ad-hoc stuff and here is one example. we have a pool. we have children. we want our children to learn how to swim. there is a cousin of a friend in the 'hood who is an instructor. my wife's idea? host swim lessons at our pool. she organized, solicited, and scheduled different age group classes (via queen creek friends). so this summer for 4 weeks (last summer was 8) from 8am-5pm every half-hour there were kids coming through for lessons...96 in all. yes, my pool broke, we are currently waiting a new chlorination part. but the community was served. parents didn't have to drive to the closest center (about 40 minute drive) to do anything...just in the 'hood.
- hoa - while she doesn't do this anymore, she started it. people were getting a little chatter on the qcfriends list about homeowner association (hoa) stuff...she branched it into a new community (another yahoo group). it is now the better place to receive/discuss information about the physical community/neighborhood than the hoa itself.
so to me she's nuts, but it keeps her busy and crazy. like all other user groups she has had to learn some struggles about building community. early on the qcfriends group started getting forwarded spam jokes, etc. i taught her snopes.com...now she moderates (but put a rule in place as well). people started emailing to the group daily about their stuff they wanted to sell (these are people who don't know/use ebay or craigslist)...so she put a rule in place about that so stuff can only be listed for sale on a post delivered on saturday...we call that portion qcbay :-). the system works. she's pissed some people off, but most tell her she does a great job. and it doesn't slow her down at all. she's received the nickname of 'cruise director' in the 'hood...which is pretty accurate when she goes about doing something.
so you see, community is key in other areas of our lives. what we face in thinking about and building communities in the technical areas (whether they are offline or online), we'll face different needs, people, thoughts (i.e., technology preferences), but we're all there for the same reason -- we share passions and want something out of it. whether that is friendship, learning, networking for jobs, whatever...if we continue to foster communities, we'll all get out exactly what we want. make sure you know about the technical communities in your area...be a part of them. and not just your favorites...branch out and help others as well. don't know where communities are in your area? check codezone.com, meetup.com, eventful, whatever.
people have also asked why my wife uses yahoo groups and not social networks like myspace, facebook, whatever. simple: yahoo groups works...and is simple to use for the novice user. most of her members *only* know how to use email...they get easily confused by different sites, etc. this setup that my wife has enables her to quickly do what she needs and keep it simple for everything...