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(man on talk show tells host) I got famous the same way everyone else does these days: my Reddit IAmA got turned into a blockbuster summer movie.

IAmA Cartoon. AMA

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If you hang out on Reddit, then you’re probably well acquainted with the phenomenon of the IAmA. It stands for “I am a…” and usually ends with either “AMA” (“ask me anything”) or “AMAA” (“ask me almost anything”).

It’s also one of the most fascinating things the web’s offered in a while – which, given that it’s entirely text-based, is pretty remarkable.

The concept is simple: someone steps forward, identifies something remarkable about themselves to the Reddit community, and invites questions — for instance, “IAMA former DisneyWorld employee… AMAA“. And then the questions and answers start to fly.

The results are often glimpses into worlds we often don’t see; as I write this, an IAmA from a man who “was in a BDSM 24/7 total power exchange relationship for 3 years” is having a frank discussion with a few dozen Redditors (including a few admirably measured responses). Or maybe you might have enjoyed “IAmA Nerfer – I mod Nerf guns for enhanced function and occasionally alter appearance for costume pieces.” Or “I am youtube user Cotter548, AKA the inventor of the Rickroll. AMA.

It’s not all wonderful. Some IAmA’s don’t catch fire, and most get their share of dumb comments and idle banter. But the actual conversation, particularly from the subject of the IAmA, is often riveting.

Sometimes the appeal is voyeurism. Sometimes it’s the chance to open up to someone who shares some deeply personal pain of yours.

But mostly, when it works well, it’s because IAmA lets us connect with another person on some of their most interesting terrain, or broadens our understanding of a phenomenon of the moment. I was one of those who was blown away by Zach Wahls, the 19-year-old whose articulate, powerful defence of his two mothers became a viral rallying point for supporters of marriage equality. Coming across his IAmA was a little like actually getting to meet the guy. (And it happened thanks to Sushubh Mittal, who pointed me to it on Google+… and thus helped to spur this cartoon.)

We get very taken with technologically intensive ways of making digital conversation more appealing and engaging. But it’s worth remembering that some of the most compelling interactions we have — whether they’re in tomorrow’s 1080p 3D video with aroma-enabled augmented reality, or the kind of extended plain-text comment thread I could have read 30 years ago on dial-up — are the ones that let us share a little of each other’s authentic lives.


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Open Community is a terrific new book from Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant for associations that want to dive into the world of online community – and it includes cartoons from yours truly. To celebrate its launch, I’m running a new cartoon from the book every day this week.

“This above all, to thine own self be true,” said Polonius… shortly before winding up skewered by one Prince Hamlet in the arras, prompting centuries of snickering by high school students. (Funny thing: Mr. To-Thine-Own-Self died because of concealment and mistaken identity; a little transparency on his part could have made a big difference.)

But for organizations that want to engage with their audiences all Wikinomics-like, how to be true to yourself isn’t necessarily obvious. How do you maintain an authentic identity while releasing significant control to your members and supporters? Where’s the line between openness and allowing your supporters to define you and your mission?

The answer will vary – dramatically – from organization to organization. The important thing is to know going in where your line is… so you don’t wind up trying to be somebody you’re not. As countless family sitcoms have taught us, that may be a road to zany complications, but it won’t lead to authentic relationships.


(Baffled by the title? Find out about the nptech tag here.)

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Not that long ago, you’d write a blog post and a handful of people might comment on it. Some of those comments might be one-line approval or disagreement, but others would go some length to engage with what you’d said.

These days, though, I’m finding you’re more likely to get a retweet: “RT”, title of your blog post, and link.

Don’t get me wrong: I love seeing those. Love, love, love them. By all means, retweet away.

But what blog comments give you that retweets can’t (unless the retweeter opts out of Twitter’s retweeting feature to add a few words of their own) is conversation. I love to hear what people thought of what I said. I love for them to agree, disagree, point me to new ideas, or take an idea and run with it. And while we can do that to some degree on Twitter, the 140-character wall is pretty limiting.

I’ve been pretty lucky, actually; since I launched the cartoon, I’ve been attracting a small but growing number of deeply-appreciated comments. I have a few tools that let me import related tweets into the comment stream. And Twitter brings a lot of people here.

I’m hoping that continues… but I have a feeling that bloggers everywhere have to adjust to a world where Twitter means blog comments, and the rich conversation that can come with them, are the exception.

What do you think? Have you seen comments drop off on your blog? And if so, is Twitter the issue, or is something else at work? Comment below… or tweet me.

(P.S. – Was I clear enough about liking the retweets? No? I LIKE THE RETWEETS.)