Let's Party Online! What? How?

You could predict that if someone asked what kind of Web site would ask the question, “What’s the best way to throw a party online,” the answer would be, “A Web site that is hosted by PBS.”

And you’d be correct. I love PBS and its ugly logo, but it does have a habit of taking even fun things and making them just too serious to endure. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and PBS was new, a commercial television general manager told me the problem with PBS was that many of the stations were owned by universities and they expected viewers to sit still and take notes. Very true, back then. A little true today.

So it’s natural the Idealab page at PBS. org is helping a group called Awesome Knowledge get a handle on how to have a good party via the Internet.

Awesome Knowledge, an organization that gives away little grants every month to a group or organization that helps spread knowledge, doesn’t have a good way to let all of its far-flung members and friends share in the award celebration. "We promote projects that bridge the gap between research & real life," its site explains. "In other words, projects that enthuse and inform about science or nature, or that implement research findings in practice. This can be in any discipline, from history to quantum mechanics and from civil engineering to psychology."

It's fair to guess it is not group that holds chugging contests. So it’s “Party On!” requirements may look different, in real life and online, than yours would.

To put it another way--in a PBS way-- Awesome Knowledge member J.Nathan Matias writes, “We have a vast proliferation of platforms focused on producing high-quality conversations, but far fewer systems to foster community. Shared calendars, video chats, word processors and spreadsheets make real-time collaboration possible with almost anyone in the world, across almost any distance. These technologies have profoundly reshaped how we get things done, from crisis mapping to telecommuting — but when we optimize for content quality, we tend to get something like this:”

And the “this” that follows is the Monty Python bit in which Oscar Wilde and his friends throw around decreasingly witty witticisms, starting when Wilde responds to a fawning admirer of his new play proclaiming that all of London is talking about it. “There’s only one thing worse than being talked about,” he says, “and that’s not being talked.” It goes straight downhill from there.

That's not a fun party.

But how to party online, in a way that people all over can feel a part of it without being too much a part of it?  It’s a question Awesome Knowledge is seeking a real answer to — and answering that you can’t do everything via the Internet doesn’t seem to cut it.

But some of the alternatives sound pretty scary.

“Great parties need capable hosts,” Matias reasons.  “Most work in online facilitation focuses on the quality of content with tasks like upvoting good answers or eliminating spam. Over the last few months, Media Lab colleagues, Computer Clubhouse leaders, and I have been testing group facilitation practices on Google Hangout, starting with simple introduction and party games. Many classic games and activities need to be modified for video chat. Mimicry games, for example, can work well when you shout out someone’s name rather than point to them. Charades is another video chat favorite.”

Charades! You see see where this is headed. Right to Rob and Laurie Petrie’s living room in New Rochelle, that’s where. Help these guys. 

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