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Lisa Kimball of http://www.groupjazz.com once told me a story about a jazz violinist. He made incredible music WITH his violin. He did not know how to make a violin, but he understood how it produced sound, how to restring and tune it, how to care for the violin. He loved his violin, but he was not a violin maker.

Online we are faced with a variety of tools that can scare us. We may not see ourselves as technologists or geeks. Some of us may be technophobic and say "we can't do that stuff." But in fact, we have to and we can.

There are three areas to consider:
  • Choosing tools for ourselves and others
  • Using tools
  • Bridging between tools

Example:

Some useful practices:
Using Tools
  • Love it or leave it
  • Learn enough to get started, experiment, play with tools
  • Don't be scared of technology and don't be ashamed of "partial knowledge"
  • Find techie friends to learn from
  • Stretch your tech comfort zone. Try a new tool every X months

Choosing Tools:
As you look at tools, think about them in context of your group's goals or needs. Here are a few questions to keep in mind.
  • What is the main activity or function that a tool might support for you? (i.e. information exchange, idea creation, decision making, social/group building experiences.)
  • As you look or experiment with the tool, think about how easy/hard it is to figure it out. How might your potential users react to the tool?
  • What do you like best about the tool? Least?
  • Will your users have the machine power and bandwidth to successfully utilize the tool? Does the tool work on both MAC and PC platforms? Do they have to have always-on internet access? High bandwidth?
  • Is it "pushed" to the user (i.e. alerts of new messages or full content delivered to the user both on the web and via email box) or must the user go to the web and "pull" the information to themselves? If it is pull, what will be the trigger? The attention holding plan?
  • Do you need asynchronous tools? Synchronous? Both?
  • Does the system support fonts and interfaces in other languages? (Some of these issues are tool based, some are browser based.)
  • Is the cost reasonable? At what scale?
  • If the tool is deployed for a time delimited event, is there a "snapshot" utility to archive the interactions (ie. for a CD or other type of static archive)?

Bridging Between Tools

Discussion starter questions:

  • What tools do you currently use? How did you get started with them?
  • How do you learn how to use tools?
  • What are your practices for experimenting with tools?

Resources
http://www.fullcirc.com/community/tooltour.htm
http://www.thinkofit.com/webconf/index.htm
http://www.opencommunity.org/
http://www.gilgordon.com/resources/products1.htm
http://kmwiki.wikispaces.com/Km+tool+selection
note this link now refers to http://kmwiki.wikispaces.com/ where I can find no equivalent page
http://www.technologyforcommunities.com