Common Threads: Online Community And Summer Camp

On the first day you’re a little nervous. You don’t know anyone here, but one of your friends highly recommended trying it out. You have one friend for now and you can think about making more later (or not). The person who seems to be running the show approaches you and introduces themselves. They ask where you’re from, and what kind of things you like to do. They seem really nice, and their genuine welcome makes you feel more comfortable immediately. You decide to explore, and make a great discovery. There are lots of people here who have the same interests as you! And they all like to play! Soon you’ve made new friends, and you’re inviting your other friends to come try out this place too. You’ve become part of the community, and that feels great.

Having spent thirteen summers as a camper or camp counselor, the process of becoming part of an online community felt very familiar. In both cases groups of people with similar interests are brought together to talk, bond, and play. Both types of community offer a valuable opportunity for learning. Given the specialized focus of summer camps and online communities (ie. Yelp or SoundCloud) those present have been prescreened, in a sense, for having common interests. One type of community has campers and counselors, while the other has users and community managers.

You probably get the picture by now.

So what compels me to make this comparison? Having been involved in both types of community I believe that community managers can learn from the structure of summer camps. The methods used by camp counselors when communicating with administrators could contribute to enhancing the interactions between CMs and engineers. User support reminds me a great deal of hearing out the complaints of concerned parents, while honors given to outstanding campers remind me of the Yelp Elite and Foursquare Superusers.

I can’t exactly pinpoint what CMs can take away from this yet, but once I can, I’ll let you know.


Late Night Thoughts On The Importance Of Coloring Books

I was feeling a little too grown up tonight after getting caught up in searching for jobs online. I forced myself off my laptop and headed home. As I walked past the beautifully ornate Waterstone’s bookshop on Malet Street I found myself drawn inside. Standing in front of the store directory sign I surveyed my options. Ground floor: fiction. Second floor: boring. Third floor: serious. Fourth floor: children’s. Yes. That’s where I was headed. I made my way up, flight after flight, reaching the top floor with the rising childish sense of excitement I used to feel when entering a toy store. The room was bright and colorful in contrast with the rest of the building. Inviting. I stood before the wall of coloring books and smiled for the first time in what felt like hours. I flipped through them, applying an absurdly eliza judgement process by which to make my decision. Too easy, too detailed, not interesting. Perfect. “Draw Me a House: Architectural ideas, Inspiration, and Coloring” by Thibaud Herem. The book was filled with homes designed by the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright and that absurd contemporary architect who builds round tree houses.  I’d seen the book once before but considered the twelve pound ($19.14) price tag a bit excessive. I held it while I continued searching. My Very Own Hungry Caterpillar Colouring Book. Oh yes. Do I want them both? Yes. This will balance out the grownup-ness of the other coloring book. Great logic. As I pay, I internally laugh at myself a little for spending seventeen pounds ($27.19) on coloring books. I also applaud my inner five-year-old for making herself heard. She’s the one who makes sure I don’t get caught up in school and jobs and complaining about the lack sunshine in London. Luckily I’m not five anymore, and I won’t waste my near thirty dollars worth of coloring books by scribbling out pages to reduce the overwhelming number of coloring page options (five-year-old eliza logic). No, twenty-one-year-old eliza wants to color them all, starting from page one.

I’ve reached a point where I’m no longer intimidated by the plethora of options in my life. Instead, when I’ve successfully diverted the daily stresses  (ie. London’s lack of sunshine…) that try to distract me from all the exciting choices I can make each day, I’m entirely exhilarated. For me reducing that stress can mean going to the gym, seeing my friends, or investing a weeks worth of grocery money in coloring books. No matter how old you are, or how hard you work, I think it’s important to step back once in a while and do something that forces you to be in the now. Indulge your inner child. Work hard, play harder.

I’m vowing to stay off my computer for the rest of the night for a change. So if you need me, I’ll be coloring.

My Father, The Vagina Doctor

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been identified by my last name, I’d have a lot of nickels.

The exchange usually goes like this:

Teacher/Administrator/Receptionist: “Eliza Dropkin… Hey are you Dr.Dropkin’s daughter?”

Me: “Yep, that’s me.” I smile politely while thinking “aaaand that’s more than I ever really needed to know about you and my dad, but it’s cool, this happens all the time.”

Sometimes they respond with, “oh, he’s my… doctor,” in a tone of voice set aside for women who have just realized the potential awkwardness of identifying themselves to the daughter of their gynecologist.

These slightly awkward exchanges are far outweighed, however, by the number of hilarious instances that have arisen due to my father’s profession.  Having been in practice since age 26, my father has seen thousands of patients, and developed a well-respected reputation in the obstetrical community.  His penchant for remembering names, however, is about as strong as his penmanship. Which is to say that if my father’s signature had been any better I may not have been able to forge it at age 9.

Occasionally, while running errands in Albany, often shopping at the sports retailer “Dick’s” or our local wholesale club “BJ’s” (I kid you not with these names) we would run into previous OB patients of my father with their tiny munchkins in tow. “Oh, I delivered her,” my dad would say as he spotted the approaching mom (whose children could literally range from two weeks to several years old). “Hello there, how ya doing?!” He would exclaim enthusiastically. After listening to the usual response of, “Oh we’re doing great thanks!” followed by the patient turning to her child and saying, “This is Dr. Dropkin, remember how we talked about how he delivered you?” My dad would seize the opportunity to get out of identifying the patient’s name by turning to the child and exclaiming, “You are a LOT bigger than the last time I saw you!” We would then escape unscathed by a potentially awkward social situation to stock up on shin guards or economy-sized bottles of Diet Coke.

As our private school was located a few minutes from one of the hospitals my dad made rounds at, he would often drive us to school in the morning. Sometimes during the drive patients would call and my dad would pick up on speakerphone. “Hi Dr. Dropkin, So…[partner’s name] and I were having sex this morning and there was some bleed-” “Ah [insert patient name here]- hold on one sec!” my dad would cut in, switching off the speakerphone. My brothers and I would stifle our pre-teen laughter while my dad finished the conversation. When my older brother tells this story he concludes by saying, “I was shocked! I didn’t even know you COULD have sex in the morning!”

Then there was the knowledge that my dad had delivered the majority of my high school peers, including my ninth grade crush and tenth grade boyfriend. No, no, they were two different people.

While all of this could seem potentially awkward I’ve never been bothered about it in the slightest. My dad loves his job because, while so many medical professions involve very sad situations, delivering babies is one of the happiest. At the end of the day my only hope is that whichever career path I end up on, I hope it brings me as much joy as my father’s has to him.

Though hopefully with fewer vaginas.

Experiencing Online Community, Offline OR Why I Love Yelp

yelp life

I learned about the Yelp Elite community this past summer while watching Ligaya Tichy’s TED talk on rethinking startup communities. I was intrigued by the images of fellow Yelpers eating and partying together in cool venues. I thought to myself, “wow, this is my kind of community”.

I researched the qualifications needed to become a Yelp Elite in San Francisco, and discovered that it was extremely competitive with Elites having reviews numbered in the thousands. This wasn’t that surprising considering that Yelp originated in SF. As a newbie Yelper in SF my chance of becoming an Elite was about as good as my chance of reaching the intersection of Market and Octavia when the light was green during my post-work commute. So although I continued to use Yelp as a resource, I put my dream of becoming an Elite on the backburner.

When summer ended I headed back across the pond to spend another semester studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Returning to my favorite eating haunts, I was inspired to get my review on. If you’ve ever started writing Yelp reviews while procrastinating then you’ll understand how addictive it can be. A few weeks later the Yelp London Community Manger, Alex Shebar, contacted me with an invitation to join the Yelp London Elite Squad.

Needless to say, I was pumped.

Though I was initially somewhat intimidated by the idea of meeting a group of strangers who were older and more experienced Yelpers than myself, I brushed my fears aside and attended the next upcoming event.

It. Was. Awesome.

Suddenly I was making friends with interesting new people who had tastes similar to my own, seeing parts of London I would have never otherwise seen, and best of all for a student: getting to try amazing restaurants for free. The worst part of the experience is that when I leave London in four weeks I’ll be leaving behind an amazing (growing) crew of Yelpers (who have promised to come do some Yelping with me in SF). I’m also comforted by the thought of meeting more Yelpers in Hartford while I finish my last semester at Trinity College.

In preparation for writing this blog post I rewatched Ligaya’s TED talk having now experienced the Yelp community first hand, and it blew me away. Instead of summarizing the points she makes, I’m going to include her TED talk here:

Looking at the Yelp community experience from this angle, all I can say is that everything Ligaya says in her TED talk is absolutely true. The genuine friendships I have formed through the offline gatherings of the London Yelp community have enriched my time in London like nothing else could have. I feel so lucky to have had this experience, and I will continue to advocate becoming active in the Yelp community to my friends, acquaintances, and readers. If nothing else, I hope you will consider getting out of your comfort zone and trying something new.

You never know, there could be free food.

Becoming A Grownup On The Internet

For as long as I can remember, I have held one internet truth to be self-evident: Do not reveal your true identity on the internet, because the creeps will find you. This concept was drilled into my head by my parents, teachers, and everything I read or heard in the media. The way I understood it the quickest way to being abducted was to tell the strangers on the internet anything about your own life.

So I didn’t.

For the better part of nine years I roamed the internet under the guise of a number of quirky and questionably spelled usernames. I stayed out of chatrooms and always used the highest levels of privacy settings for my Facebook and Twitter accounts. The only space I was interested in occupying on the internet was a personal bubble that could be reached only by those I handpicked (preferably via real life interactions). But then something happened that I always knew would happen but still surprised me nonetheless: I grew up. No longer a pre-teen with a MySpace account, but a twenty one year old soon-to-be college graduate investigating career paths that heavily rely on establishing credibility both on and off the internet. So although I may still enjoy being a kid at heart, from here on out I’ll be working on curating content I find relavent and interesting, with the occasional treat thrown in (for example: grownup fake tattoos).

To finish out this inaugural blog post I’ll leave you with a TED talk on the importance of usernames given by a new friend, the Yelp community manager in London, Alex Shebar.

You can find out more about Alex here.