…But What You Can Do for Your Community

If you’ve been anywhere near your computer this week then you already know about the Stewart/Colbert rally coming to D.C. at the end of October.  On the off chance you missed the new just know that the denizens of the web were elated.  It wasn’t without good reason – the whole idea was born on the internet from a community.

I’ve mentioned Reddit.com here before as an online community that I look at frequently to learn from.  While they admittedly have a very different agenda than our work here, exploring the dynamic range of movements that occur within that community gives me some insight and inspiration as to how an online community can work together.  I mention them now because they single-handedly made the Stewart/Colbert rally possible.  Frustrated by the news coverage of the Glenn Beck rally held on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a member of the Reddit community suggested that Mr. Colbert, the wildly satirical host of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report, hold a rally of his own to counter what some perceived as the equally farcical rally of Mr. Beck.  The community responded;  first by flooding Colbert’s email, then creating a Facebook page and finally appearing at a taping of his show to alert him to the movement, just in case he hadn’t heard.

Ultimately Redditors realized that internet tomfoolery could only go so far.  To show how serious Reddit was they discovered that Mr. Colbert was on the board of DonorsChoose.org, a website designed to raise money for school teachers who lacked access to basic supplies for teaching elementary school courses, and put their money where their hopes were.  In just under two days Reddit managed to raise over $200,000, breaking the record of any given donations in a single day and eclipsing the fund-raising efforts of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Thanks to their effort we all have something to look forward to at the end of October.

This is just the latest example of the power that sits in front of the computer.  In May of this year the online community at Metafilter.com got there own chance to be internet heroes.  In may a user posted a question in the AskMeta section of the site looking for help.  Normally Mefites use this part of the site to ask for recipes, or how to rewire a lamp, but this particular questions was a little more serious.   Two of her friends from Russia appeared to have been the victims of a human trafficking ring upon entering the U.S..  Tons of good advice showed up in the comments but the message board began to record the entire affair in real-time.  Updating the comments as they worked, Mefites living in New York were able to track down the people behind parts of the operation and provide a safe house for the women while they worked with the Russian consulate to arrange for travel back home.

I’m not suggesting that the Commons community should direct its efforts towards internet vigilantism, but I do think these two events from other online communities do a great job at illustrating the true capacity of an online community when it sets it mind to something.  We offer a variety of tools to help you connect with other members of CUNY and share you work and your passion with the world, but we hope to be more than just a convenient set of features.  Our job here is to build a place for you to work with everyone and for us to work together.  As we grow (Over 1200 members!) we look forward to finding new ways to connect people to ideas and perhaps provide the opportunity to do something just as big in our own way.


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