Keeping it Real about Virtual Living

As far as I am concerned, tens of thousands of people who are actively creating new stuff are more interesting than millions of more passive participants. Howard Rheingold

I'm a Fanboy (for a TTW post)

I had to contain my fanboy self last week at OCLC’s symposium “Who’s Watching YOUR Space,” because on the ticket (and sitting next to me on the stage) was Howard Rheingold, someone I consider to be an authority on virtual communities, deeply involved in the genesis of online social groups, and the forecaster of the whole social software things with his recent book Smart Mobs. I actually got to sit and chat with him a bit throughout the day. I didn’t spill my soup on him, thank goodness.

In “Ten Things I’ve Learned as a Blogging Libraraian,” I used Howard’s definition to support my thoughts on the Biblioblogosphere as a VC:

The LIS Blogosphere is a Thriving Virtual Community

Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community, published in 1993, defined the Internet as an interconnected computer network utilizing Computer-mediated Communication (CMC) to link people all over the globe in open discussions. He defined “virtual community” as “social aggregators that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace.”

We got it all folks: via the Biblioblogiopshpere we, LIS Bloggers, are linked together from points all over the world. Conversations play out. And no one could argue that we don’t have significant human feeling in our dealings. And, yes, there are many webs of personal connections. I’m amazed at how easy it’s been to establish connections with folks I might never have met in my library career because of blogging and the flattened world in which we write.

For more about Howard, see

Recently, Rheingold stopped by CNET’s Second Life bureau for a conversation in the crowded theater there. He talked about his current work, his teaching, his thoughts on the future of online communities and much more.

Q: To start, how do spend your time these days?

Howard Rheingold: I hang out online, a lot. One thing that most people don’t notice is that nine months of the year, when I am hanging out online, I am also barefoot in my garden. About 20 years ago, I wrote “A slice of life in my virtual community,” and I have been working on updating that. So I am climbing the learning curve and putting together a video. I e-mail, IM, the usual. I also have about 100 feeds in my RSS reader. I maintain three blogs, a couple wikis, and I stash URLs in Delicious. I still hang out in virtual communities, and after teaching myself video, the next on my list is learning my way around Second Life. And now I teach one day a week. Fall at UC Berkeley, winter at Stanford. I do a week as a visiting lecturer in the UK in the fall. And I pay my rent mostly through speaking gigs.

What are you teaching?

Rheingold: Participatory Media/Collective Action at the UC School of Information — Smart Mobs 101. And Digital Journalism at Stanford. It’s an expensive hobby–professors don’t get paid too well–but it’s really a thrill, and scary. It’s easy to give one of three talks to different audiences around the world. It’s another thing to walk into a room full of students weekly who have paid good money and expect me to teach them something. And with Wi-Fi in the classroom, I have to be more interesting than Facebook, Second Life, World of Warcraft and IM at all times. But we use wikis and blogs a lot in class, and I try to make it as participatory as possible.

I feel the same way sometimes walking into a room full of students! Thanks Howard!