The idea to build Collonies began a few years ago, when I attended the CreateBaltimore unconference. The unconference format is very participatory, where the attendees themselves select topics and set the schedule for the day. The focus on this day, was on finding ways that we could work together to help improve the lives of everyone in our city. There were a variety of sessions selected, each focused on different problems and different ways to address them.
There was an amazing gathering of people there. We had subject matter experts, advocates from local non-profits, people looking to learn, people motivated to get involved, and even a few local government representatives. All were giving up their Saturday to see if they might find a way to make a positive impact on their community. They were all in the same room, all exchanging ideas, and coming up with all sorts of plans to take on the challenges before us.
It was exciting to see such energy in the room, with so many interesting educational sessions, so many people connecting, and so many interesting ideas being born. However, when each session ended, and the doors opened, it was as if you could feel all that energy dissipating out of the room. People scrambled around, trying to exchange cards, or facebook information, or email, in an attempt to try to stay connected and get some of these things done. As much as everyone tried, there just wasn’t a good way to keep everyone together to take action on these great ideas.
As I sat in one afternoon session, observing all the things that people were trying to do to connect there at the end, as people grabbed up their backpacks and water bottles, as they headed towards the door, it occurred to me that we were missing out on a lot of opportunities here. People wanted to continue the conversation, and put all that motivation to work, but it was difficult. There wasn’t any effective way to just get together later and start working on it. As I sat there wondering about the problem, I realized that I had some skills myself that I could apply to address this particular need.
In my professional life, I had nearly 20 years of experience in designing and building collaboration tools. I knew how to build software that enabled teams to share and organize information. I knew how to create a space where people could focus on their tasks, and exchange ideas, and get things done. I knew ways to foster good communication between people who might be separated by distance or time. I knew how to get technology out of people’s way so that they could worry about their real world problems, and not have to struggle with complicated tools. I was already experienced at solving these problems, so what if I just applied similar solutions to help everyone at this gathering to get connected and to work together? So, I floated the idea around to a few folks who were there, and I received some really encouraging responses, but I didn’t build it yet. It was still just an idea.
Fast forward to about a year or so later, and my wife and I went to a “Parent’s Weekend” event. This was put on for special needs families, and included people from all over the state, some from as far as 6 or 7 hours away. It was a bit like a conference, with talks, and experts, and breakout sessions. There were lots of people sharing their stories, and helping each other find resources or strategies for overcoming the various challenges that their families face. It was educational, but it was also about building relationships and supporting each other.
Connecting with other parents of children with special needs was one of the most valuable aspects of the weekend, but keeping and maintaining those connections can sometimes be difficult, with busy schedules and the distances involved. How would we continue to stay in touch or share information or ask for help from the community when we needed it?
As the weekend-long event drew to a close, I had that same feeling of the energy draining away. I saw the same scramble of people trying to figure out the best ways to stay in touch, and I saw the same failures. Social media groups or emails weren’t going to be enough to keep all those good things going. They weren’t really designed for that. We needed something more. So we decided then, that we needed to take a serious look at how we might create something that would address the need.
In every advocacy group, or social group, or school group that I’m a part of, I see the same patterns repeated over and over. Perhaps you’ve experienced this as well. People want to work together on something, so they jump right in, and gather up emails and phone numbers, and they create an online chat channel, and maybe they start a social media group, and someone starts an area for some online documents, then maybe a file repository, and someone creates a YouTube channel… and of course, there are all those chain email conversations. This might all seem great at first, technology can be an enabler, but this is actually an anti-pattern that’s rather ineffective, and it can even make it more difficult to work together in some instances.
You often have a variety of these different channels where information might be collected or accessed. There may be different methods for getting in touch, some people using part of one tool, others using part of another, and you have to just know or remember what tools people are using for what, or dig around, and they don’t always lend themselves to an easy search. There’s little context around things like old emails, which makes it difficult sometimes to know if what you found is the current or correct version, or if it’s even from the right group. Imagine a new member joins up, and one of the group leaders has to try to get them up to speed, so they have to resend things, and the new member has to struggle to put it all together. Now multiply these challenges times the number of groups people are involved in!
More often, we end up losing information and time and these ‘solutions’ become more hindrance than help. So how to we fix this? How do we enable communities and advocacy groups or social organizations to effectively connect and work together on the things that are important to them?
What Collonies aims to do is to create a solution where people can use a variety of easy-to-use applications, all integrated with each other, in order to connect and organize and share and to enable people to get things done together. Collonies creates a single point of trust for the information that the group curates, and makes it available to all the members. It puts context around the information to better understand it, and makes it searchable and easy to find. It’s not a one-size-fits all standalone app, it’s a menu of tools where the community selects the items that are best suited to their own needs. It includes easy to use versions of many of the classic professional collaboration applications, like document libraries, events calendars, discussion forums, FAQs, task management, and others. Collonies is a project designed to empower groups of people to come together to accomplish their goals, with tools designed to make them effective and have a greater impact on their world.
We are currently working on an updated version to our initial beta, which is to be released in the coming months. Please take a moment to sign up for updates and announcements if you like. I promise we’ll won’t spam you. We plan to make the new release available to as many people as we can initially, so sign up and we’ll get you set up with your own Collonies page to use with your community. I look forward to sharing this with you and I would love to hear your ideas for custom apps, or tools you think might be helpful for your groups, or any thoughts you might have on our mission. You can send an email to me directly, and I’ll be happy to talk about it. dave at collonies.com
Get your community connecting
Get started on building your own places to collaborate. Collonies.com is free for group members and anyone to sign up, and during the Beta, it’s also free for community leads to create new groups and invite their members to join.
We know that each community is unique, and we offer a variety of collaboration tools that you can select from for your group. As we grow, we invite you to use these tools, and occasionally we’ll ask for specific feedback. We also welcome your ideas, and we will evaluate requests for changes and new apps as they come in. We want *you* to help shape what we can do to help your community to grow, and to thrive, and to make a greater impact.