How “Ambient Awareness” Can Strengthen Your Community

“Why should we do things online when we all live in the same place, and meet up at the synagogue (or JCC or havurah or Hillel, etc.) in person? Online can never replace the face-to-face experience!”

I hear this often, and spend a lot of my time explaining that an online experience is a complement, not a replacement, to face-to-face experiences. In our rapidly evolving world, two things are happening simultaneously which I believe are critical for the Jewish communal world to understand.

  1. The reality is, Jews are using these online tools to shape an increasing amount of their day-to-day experiences. If the Jewish community does not offer the same convenience for initial and ongoing engagement that our members take for granted in other aspects of their lives, they may never walk through our doors to experience the power, importance, and value of the face-to-face experience our community can offer. We simply cannot afford to not be in the game. Furthermore, we need to learn how to use these tools as effective gateways – one of many points of access – for engaging and connecting people in a community.
  2. Culturally, our use of new technologies is evolving into more social experiences. Human needs, emotions, patterns of socializing, innate cues, etc. are essential to the universal human experience. Recent trends in technology the “web 2.0” phenomenon (aka social media) can be summarized as making the web more social and people-centered: friendly, casual, accessible, democratic. And not only are the technologies evolving, but the ways in which we use them are changing as well.

    Clive Thompson recently wrote an article in the New York Times, “Brave New World of Digital Intimacy,” about the evolution and success of Facebook and other social tools like Twitter. Thompson discusses the birth of the Facebook newsfeed,

    a single page that like a social gazette from the 18th century delivered a long list of up-to-the-minute gossip about their friends, around the clock, all in one place. ‘A stream of everything thats going on in their lives,’ as [Facebook founder, Mark] Zuckerberg put it.

    While users were initially uncomfortable with details of their private lives being broadcast, they quickly learned the value of it, and adapted accordingly. Thompson provides a larger context for these types of short-hand communications:

    Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it ambient awareness. It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does body language, sighs, stray comments out of the corner of your eye.

    Though each Facebook status update or Twitter post (“tweet”) may seem insignificant, Thompson suggests that “taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends and family members lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting.

    In an age where people are very busy, with both parents in a family working, it is hard to squeeze in time for engagement with the Jewish community. Often it is not that we don’t want to, it’s just that it is not always convenient enough to rise to the top of the priority list. This is critical for the Jewish community to understand. Developing online relationships is not about watering down or distilling. It’s about widening the doorways and strengthening ties.

    “[T]he ultimate effect of the new awareness,” Thompson writes, is that “[i]t brings back the dynamics of small-town life.” What more do we want in our local Jewish communities? It is not enough to see a person in the single context of a study group or a synagogue service. Rather, we need to recognize the whole person, and be seen as a whole person, in order to form the tight bonds of community we crave. Facebook, Twitter and other technologies are tools that can be used in support of this.

    Through these tools I keep up with friends from Pardes and Livnot U’lehibanot who are all over the world, youth group and camp friends from the congregation where I grew up, Rabbis I admire, and friends who I will see at next week’s tot Shabbat. And when I see them, we’ll pick up the conversation as though it had been hours since we last spoke, not weeks.

    Curious? Sign up for Facebook and search for 10 friends from various areas of your past and present lives. Get a taste of Twitter – if you need someone to follow, I’m lisacolton (be warned: this is my personal life, not strictly professional, but I invite you nonetheless – you’ll be more ambiently aware of me!). And be sure to read Clive Thompson’s article in the New York Times article for more.

    Postcript – Social Media in Action
    This blog post was written on a Friday afternoon based on an article in the New York Times that was already available online but which was not accessible in print until delivery of the Sunday magazine section. The sequence of events that led to this blog post were as follows: the New York Times publishes the article online, budtheteacher “tweets” about it on Twitter, Caren Levine, Director of Darim’s Learning Networks, sees the tweet, reads the online article , and updates her Facebook status referencing the article, with a nod to bud’s tweet. I notice Caren’s status update, and as I know her recommendations are always home runs, I read the article, gears turn, and I compose this blog post, which you’re now reading. The information is valuable, but it’s made possible through the connection of the people.

    Welcome to Web 2.0.

    What We Can Learn From How Google Is Introducing Chrome

    Google Chrome Comic

    Google is introducing a new web browser, Chrome.

    Knowing that people seek, access and absorb information in many different ways, they have offered many different points of entry for learning about the browser. The most important part of their campaign is how they are inviting us inside to understand the process, not just selling their product.

    Through cartoons, video, and text (blogging), they are telling the story of why and how they developed a revolutionary new offering. And it’s powerful. As a user/reader/watcher you are invited inside the process and the story — and invited to become part of the story by actually using Chrome.

    In addition to these storytelling offerings, Google also has produced videos to introduce you to the features of the browser – a “how to” guide.

    So… What can we learn from this?

    First, “how to” may be necessary but it is not sufficient. Logistics are only part of the story, and the personal connection (even to a developer in another state from another generation who is using words that sound Greek to you) is critically important to feeling engaged. American Jewish World Service has done a great job of this with their videos developed with See3 to show the real experience of real people who are involved with AJWS. Donors, volunteers, staff all have powerful and important stories to tell.

    Megillat Esther, by JT Waldman
    Megillat Esther, by JT Waldman

    Second, visuals, and especially video, offers more momentum than plain text. While I would be hard pressed to READ the whole story, I’m delighted to watch a few minutes of video. JT Waldman transformed Megillat Esther into a comic book (it’s kosher!) which has engaged young (and old) in a text that they otherwise might not have ever studied. (BTW, he’s now working on the Tagged Tanakh project — way cool.)

    There are many circumstances when we have a hard time capturing the attention of our audiences for important things. The congregational meeting, for example. Introducing a new staff person or board chair. Showing the added value of the new classrooms that are under construction to fuel the final stages of a capital campaign. Sharing the impact of participating in a mitzvah day. Orienting new families to the traditions and customs of your congregation.

    What do you learn from these various approaches? How do you see it applying to you work? Got something to share? Tell us!

    See below to hear the Chrome Story for yourself:

    Be On Top of Your High Holy Day Web Site Game

    While congregations spend a tremendous amount of time and energy preparing for the community to walk in the doors for the High Holy Days, it’s important to remember that your web site is a critical destination for members, prospects and the community at large at this time of year. Think creatively and carefully about how you can deepen the holiday experience, serve your members and strengthen relationships. While the logistics of the season may seem obvious to you, making sure you’re offering clear and easy to find information can be more valuable to your members than you might think. Consider:

    • Basic info like times and locations, with links to or an image of Google Maps or Mapquest;
    • Parking information, restrictions, suggestions;
    • Opportunities to increase comfort, such as a downloadable definition of terms, transliteration and translation of common greetings for the holidays, and brief tutorials on traditions, like the symbolism of apples and honey;
    • Support for self-guided reflection — though many people may not attend selichot services in person, how might you provide questions to catalyze pre-Rosh Hashanah reflection? Could be a question per day on the home page, or one per day emailed from the Rabbi;
    • Provide links to additional opportunities like sign ups for adult education classes, and resources MyJewishLearning.com or Babaganewz.com to deepen members’ experience;
    • Provide background information and any logistical details that might be helpful to the community at large and neighbors who live or work near the congregation

    Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington has made great use of their home page with quick links to more info, a few reflective questions, and an invitation (note: not an announcement, but an invitation) to join selichot services

    How are you using your site this high holy day season? What would you add to the checklist above?

    The Skinny on Microsites

    Flickr photo credit: <a href=
    Flickr photo credit: dawnzy58

    Lets say your organization already has a website, but you have a project that needs some extra attention. It might be a capital campaign, a special event, a call for action, volunteering opportunities, a new publication, or a resource that is just aching to stand out from your general site. Consider the use of microsites, online sites that supplement an organizations primary web presence. Microsites highlight a product or service associated with an organization and is usually accessed at its own unique web address

    Microsites became popular in the marketing community to tout new products and to house extensive marketing campaigns. Nonprofits and social service organizations are using microsites to engage with their communities in powerful ways.

    Consider, for example, Temple Sinai in Oakland, California. The synagogue uses microsites for its capital campaign, and for its big Spring Fling fundraiser. As you can see, general information is available for both events on the primary site with additional, more focused details available on the customized microsites:

    Primary site: Temple Sinai Expansion Project
    Microsite: Temple Sinais Campus Expansion Project

    Primary site: Spring Fling Fundraiser
    Microsite: Temple Sinai Spring Fling March Madness

    Potential benefits of a microsite:

    • Provides more specific information about a product, service, or opportunity than is found at your organizations primary site
    • Targets niche audiences who might otherwise not get noticed on your primary site
    • Opportunities to create and embed niche content, including multimedia and other digital storytelling techniques
    • Specific departments of an organization can own the site and respond quickly to changes and visitor feedback
    • Use of keywords facilitates better search engine rankings
    • Easier for visitors to bookmark that specific website rather than a particular page on the primary site

    Here’s another reason for entertaining microsites: Is your organization thinking about upping the ante with your website, but isnt quite ready to make the leap? A microsite might be one way to minimize perceived risks and gain valuable feedback by using it to implement incremental changes as you refine your vision and further develop your organizations web strategy.

    Learn More:

    The Micro-Site Isnt Dead. (Its Just Not Useful) from LogicEmotion
    Microsites are Becoming a Macro Idea
    from Direct

    Preparing for Successful Technology Change

    Adding a new technology to your organization’s toolbox is not as easy as it might initially seem. In addition to research and making a decision about which tool and vendor to select, the project management often takes more skill, time and focus that one assumes. Furthermore, management of a technology project really is quite different than other projects, so making sure you’ve got the right person on the task can make an important difference.

    Implementing the technology in your organization isn’t like flicking a light switch. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges discusses how change is situational, but transition is psychological. It’s not just enough to launch a new web site — all stakeholders (staff, board, members, volunteers, etc.) need to move through the transition to maintain and use the new tool smoothly and effectively. Bridges gives many suggestions about how to do this, and recently Dahna Goldstein from PhilanTech has offered her own useful insights and advise on the NTEN blog:

    “In our personal lives, we tend not to like change, particularly changes over which we feel we have no control. The same is true in organizational changes.

    People may be concerned about how a new technology will affect their jobs or day-to-day work life, or may be worried about their ability to learn the new technology. The most important element in mitigating anxiety related to organizational changes is to understand that it exists.

    Anxiety can also be mitigated through good communication, involvement and empowerment, creating opportunities for feedback, and allowing people to voice their anxiety in a safe way so that they know that the anxiety they feel about an impending change is understandable, normal, and manageable.”

    She expands on the following points:

    • Set a clear direction from the top.
    • Tie tech changes to mission.
    • Communicate early and often.
    • Involve and empower staff.
    • Tech changes need champions and influencers.
    • Recognize that change causes anxiety, and work to mitigate it.

    Check out her post to learn more. What have been your tricks to manage successful implementation of new tools? What have been the challenges? What have you learned?

    Imagine the uses of the URJ’s “Chai Dictionary”

    The URJ is promoting an online dictionary that’s part of their Chai Curriculum. While it’s pretty simple, and not terribly extensive (maybe I should say “there’s room to grow”), it’s a very useful tool for those learning Hebrew, or wanting to brush up before the High Holy Days or for any other reason.

    Sample of the Chai Dictionary

    Broken into 7 levels, words are listed in alphabetical order (in transliteration – which is exactly the way to do it for the intended audience). It offers the Hebrew spelling with vowels, the translation and… audio! Furthermore, there are notes in some entries about where the word or phrase is found, or contextually used, which is really helpful.

    The one thing I wish they included was a search function. For users who have a word in mind but aren’t using this tool specifically with the Chai Curriculum materials, one might need to toggle through the seven levels to a) find the word, or b) determine that it’s not even on the list.

    I’ve also found a number of Jewish organizations who employ non-Jews who need a Hebrew tutorial here and there, and interfaith couples where the non-Jewish (or not raised Jewish) spouse is seeking clarification of something. Not to mention the very-common (and exciting, I’ll add) moment when kids come home from Hebrew school knowing something their parents don’t! And I’m sure there are many other uses. How might you use this online audio dictionary? What do you think could make it even more useful?

    What is “marketing” and “communications”?

    While many people think the word “marketing” refers to trying to sell something, it’s really much more beautiful than that. We can look at the Jewish community in 2 different ways. Commonly, we see institutions which are trying to get people to become members, attend events, and make donations. Through a different lens we see groups of people with common interests, needs and locations coming together to form communities. And as these communities grow, they need some structure to support their activities.

    The mistake we make in thinking about marketing and communications is that we put the institution first, when we should be putting the individual, and the community needs first. It is a subtle but important difference. The exciting thing about “web 2.0” — both the technology tools and the culture evolving with it– is that it brings us back to the centrality of the community over the institution.

    Our Learning Network session tomorrow for Darim member congregations is a first step in examining this shift. “Communications” are more than a standard issue bulletin and the phone tree. Communications today is about weaving together the community. It’s as much about listening and responding as it is about hawking your wares. If you are a member can can’t attend our session you can find useful resources and an archive of the webinar in Dirah. If you’re not yet a member of Darim you can learn more on our website.

    Coming soon – some reading recommendations for rethinking your assumptions about marketing and communications. Stay tuned.

    Jewish Education 3.0: Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

    Last year at the CAJE32 conference in St. Louis the Lippman Kanfer Institute convened a think tank of fantastic educators to think about the future of Jewish education. A strong theme throughout the 3 day sequence was technology, and in response, Jonathan Woocher and his incredible team have launched a new think tank called “JE3” (Jewish Education 3.0). The group has flexed its collective muscle to steer the conversation away from technology per se, and towards the implications of teaching and learning about Judaism in our current and rapidly evolving digital landscape.

    The group hopes to publish a paper and many sub-papers on the topic in the coming year, and at CAJE 33 we invited additional voices to join the conversation and contribute to the wiki-based project. We strongly value the face-to-face discussion, and Monica Rozenfeld expertly captured the fruits of our labors and added them to the wiki. If you’d like to get involved in the project or want to learn more, contact Monica or visit the wiki, sign up and add your thoughts!

    Jonathan Woocher, Esther Kustanowitz, Cheryl Weiner, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, Iris Petroff and others discuss teaching and learning in a digital age at CAJE33
    Jonathan Woocher, Esther Kustanowitz, Cheryl Weiner, Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, JT Waldman, Deborah Grayson-Riegal, Iris Petroff and others discuss teaching and learning in a digital age at CAJE33

    Darim Educators Meet For the First Time

    Darim hosted two sessions on Monday — Web 2.0 in Education with case studies from three congregations, and the first ever meeting of the Darim Online Educators. This group includes classroom teachers and Directors of Education from middle and high school supplementary school settings. You can learn more about the program on the Darim web site.

    Those who are at CAJE33 gathered to share a bit about themselves, their work, their ideas, and where they would like support from the group. An ambitious and creative bunch, we had a great time getting to know one another and our work (why did one person decide NOT to put a computer lab in his school? And how did another get computers, networking, a server, a projector and a smartboard through a $4000 grant plus donations?).

    In a world where much of our work here at Darim is virtual, it’s a real treat to meet members of our community face to face, and for them to meet each other! Over the coming months these 13 educators will develop projects incorporating technologies into the curriculum — stay tuned to learn what they’re up to, how it’s going, and to contribute your ideas to their work!

    Web 2.0 is Everywhere

    This is our first post from CAJE 33 and I have been amazed by my first experience of a CAJE conference. Though my attendance at the conference is being sponsored by Darim Online, Caren and Lisa said I should pick sessions that were of personal interest in addition to sessions that would be relevant to Darim work as well. So I did and Monday night I went to a session done by Torah Aura publications on Israel education. So what’s the point…well I walked in and in addition to all of the standard presenter contact information right there on the board was the address to the Torah Aura wiki. Already my interest was peaked and when I found out that Torah Aura puts their teacher’s guides online in wiki form, so that teachers could learn from the publications and each other, I was hooked. Wow, I thought, web 2.0 is even here.

    But that was not even it for the evening. Tisha b’Av was closing and Storahtelling was facilitating the final program. As the session I was in starts, the stage is set with a blogger from Buenos Aires. The story connected to Tisha b’Av from there but again it was a web 2.0 reference in a non-technology track session. Web 2.0 is all around us at CAJE 33 so I’ve caught the bug so I grabbed my computer and got to work.

    Stay tuned for more on synagogue Web 2.0 later in the week.