I think I just discovered one of the greatest and most interesting apps ever. Nexus friend grapher. It takes your facebook friends and draws a graph of the mutual connections between them. This is my map:

nexus map 1I’ve identified a few groups already. Groupd form when I have a number of connections with people who have mutual connections among each other, but not with the rest of the map.

The two big groups are where I’ve spent most of my life. Piet Retief and The University of Pretoria. The University is wher eI have the most links, this is where I started using facebook. The links with friends, and connections with theological students. The Piet Retief crowd and the University crowd has little to do with each other, although there are quite a few links, since some of my school friends also came to university. Oh, and right between these two you’ll find my parents and siblings, whom have a lot of connections to both sides.

Currently I’m pastoring in Kameeldrift. So there is a lot of connections that has formed there. However, the Kameeldrift crowd consists mainly out of 30+ers and under 18’s. So the number of people on facebook is not very high, and this group is probably not a very good presentation of reality.

Then there is the Dutch Reformed pastors. I know a lot of them from various meetings, and try and remain connected with them as they join facebook. They seem to share a few links with the University. This might be because we share the links of lecturers at theology, the student pastors at the student congregation, and theological students, whom obviously also connect strongly with Dutch Reformed pastors.

The South African emerging crowd (by lack of a better term) seem to constitute a very distinct crowd. These people share few links with the people with whom I spend my day to day live, but it’s a distinct group that also know each other. They consist of many Pangani folks and South African bloggers. What I’ve called the Emerging Bloggers crowd is bloggers all over the world who are connected to each other, but obviously have very little to do with the rest of the people in my life. Some of them to connect with other South African bloggers as well, and some of the more well-known ones connect with some of the Dutch Reformed pastors as well.

Go on try it. What do you think? Is this of any use to anyone?

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twitter of faith

November 23, 2008

Adam Cleaveland Walker started it. I’ve thought along similar lines many times. Edward de Bono inspired me. He talked about simping. It’s not ignoring the complexity of things where they exist, but consciously simplifying something.

So, if you had to write a statement of faith in 140 characters, what would it be? This really isn’t something new, Paul, and actually a pre-Pauline tradition, did this. They said: “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phillipians 2:11). This 19 characters (in Greek) had some really powerful implications. On the one hand by using the same word which was used in the Septuaginta (the Greek Old Testament) when talking about God, and applying this to Jesus, and on the other hand by using the same word that was used to talk about the Roman Ceaser, and applying this to Jesus. This short phrase was able to say that in our ethics we live by the way of Jesus, not of Ceaser, in our theology we follow the way of Jesus, and not the theology of first century Judaism.

In this day and age, what would we say? And they have made it easier, you get 140 characters, not just 19 (OK, the Greeks had the advantage of not using spaces in their writing, which you would probably have to use). 140 characters to write your statement of faith. What would it be?

Here’s the challenge:

  1. If you’re not on twitter yet, click here to see what it’s all about and why you should be.
  2. If you’re on twitter (or just joined), log in and tweet your personal statement of faith…in 140 characters or less.
  3. Add the hashtag #TOF somewhere in your tweet. That will actually make it 136 characters, but it also makes it easy for us to find and compile all of these statements.
  4. Encourage your friends to take the “Twitter of Faith” challenge, too – imagine how cool it would be if this meme spreads, proclaiming the gospel across the internets (well, at least across twitter).

Adam, Mark, Chad, and Wendy have all posted this to their blogs. Neal has blogged it on the presbymergent blog. There’s also a facebook page and corresponding event, too, and even if you’re not on Twitter, you can click here to scroll through the many TOFs that have been filling up the web in the past few hours.

I’ve been meaning to do this for months now, to set up a twitter account that provide people with usefull links to blogposts. You see, I have a lot of friends who don’t read blogs, and probably won’t for a long time still, or ever. Sometimes I send them a mail with a link I think they might find usefull. Sometimes I post a one paragraph post with a link I found usefull. I generally never get round to writing a roundup of the posts I found usefull during a week, I have to do it immediately, or else I forget. But following over 100 blogs mean that you generally find usefull stuff out there from time to time.

After sending another email like this this morning, I suddenly decided just do it. So, if you are a twitter user, you can follow mylinks. If you are not a twitter user yet, you can sign up here. If you’d rather use an RSS reader, the feed can be found here, and if you’d prefer to get the links by email you can sign up here.

For the non-South African readers, I’ll try to keep you in touch with some of the South African posts, and for the South African readers, in touch with non-South African posts.

OK, I finally got around to writing the draft of my contribution on “Theology and the virtual world” which will happen in October. It’s a first draft, written in the last two days. I will deliver it to probably the largest yearly gathering of pastors of our church. This will be part of one of three open sessions, and I’ll have only a few minutes. In these few minutes I have decided to make the case for blogging as an important tool in the “virtual world”. I’m expecting a 40/50 something crowd, highly intellectual, but with little to no Web 2.0 experience. I’m using a number of different types of sources, academic journals, books, a TED video, blogs etc, so my referencing is still a mess. Well, for the past two years I’ve been formed by the blogging community, so if you are reading this, input will be appreciated, either as comments, changes to the wiki space or as email. You can download the PDF version of the paper here, or visit the wikispace where I’ve uploaded it here. Happy reading, it’s about 2000 words.

Network society, blogs, and the church

Cobus van Wyngaard

 

Introduction

The Internet is more than a new technological medium, it is a new world. This world is transforming our way of communicating, our language, our attitude to writing, our social relationships, our relationship with space and time, our way of learning and much more (Bazin & Cottin 2003:3). Working from the theme “Theology and the virtual world”, I will focus on the Internet, the most popular manifestation of the virtual world (Bazin & Cottin 2003:2), on what has become known as Web 2.0, and especially on blogging. What is currently happening in the Web 2.0 sphere can rightly be called a revolution, both technologically (O’Reilly 2007:17), but also in the way people organize themselves (Shirky 2005:19:50-20:05). The virtual world is not longer only virtual, it’s effects can be seen all over society. In what follow I will explore some of the possibilities of blogging in this network society.

What is Web 2.0?

With the dot com collapse in 2001 many thought that the heyday of the Internet was over. Today this is seen as the shakeout where a new technology was ready to take centre stage. Enter Web 2.0 (O’Reilly 2007:17). The term Web 2.0 does not refer to any technological innovations, and is therefore seen by many as a meaningless marketing buzzword (O’Reilly 2007:18). However, the millions of citations of a definition of Web 2.0 (O’Reilly 2007:18) and countless conversations, posts, wiki’s and pages on this is just some of the markers of a growing consensus that a totally new understanding of the Internet has emerged. Although a final definition of Web 2.0 is still eluding us, and this paper won’t even try to attempt giving one, some understanding of the shift that has taken place is critical in this conversation when looking for the place of theology in the virtual world.

By the end of 2006 the Time person of the Year was “you”, it was everyone who participated in web 2.0 (Grossman 2006). Time talked about a story of community and collaboration, called it a revolution, said that it has just got started. This new Internet is characterized mostly by collaboration among users. It has given rise to, among others, social networking sites (for example Facebook), wikis (wikipedia being the most notable example) and blogs, which we will discuss in this paper. This said, it should be clear why the words of Bart Decrem (2006), the participatory web is appropriate to describe Web 2.0, as opposed to the web as information sharing.

Blogs and the blogosphere

It seems like a popular understanding of blogs by those who are not involved with the blogging community is that blogs is online dairies. This understanding has it roots in some truth, but underestimate the influence of blogs. A Blog (shorthand for web log) is a website with different entries, called posts, with the latest post displayed on top. Blogs has evolved to become much more than an online dairy, with Bloggers blogging about whatever topics matter to them (Gill 2004:3), and the influence of blogs on mainstream media, business and politics have been seen on many occasions (Bailey & Storch 2003:3-8).

Blogs is considered an important part of Web 2.0 (O’Reilly 2007:24). Essential to Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, turning the web into a kind of global brain. Within this the blogosphere, the term coined by Bill Quick to represent the intellectual space that bloggers occupy (Bedner 2004:7), is the equivalent of a constant chatter in the forebrain (O’Reilly 2007:26). “Weblogging is a classic example of mass amaturization, it is deprofessionalized publishing. Want to publish globally? Anything you think today? It is the one button option that you can do for free.” (Shirky 2005:15:57-16:10). Some of the important characteristics of blogs is the already mentioned reversed chronological order, regular date-stamped entries, links to related articles and blog entries and blogs (the latter called blogrolling), archiving (the old content remain available), and ease of syndication (RSS feeds) (Gill 2004:2).

If these characteristics are used, and obviously exceptions on almost all of them would be found within the blogosphere, the very important factor that blogs is not only monologues, but actually conversations. One of the things which make this possible is a technology called RSS (Real-Simple-Syndication), one of the most significant advanced in the architecture of the web. RSS make it possible to not only view a blog, but to subscribe to a blog, and be notified each time the content is updated. Furthermore, RSS readers provide the ability to bring any number of blogs subscribed to onto one interface, reading posts as they are published. Although this might seem trivial it was essentially the piece of technology that turned blogs from “an ease-of-publishing phenomenon into a conversational mess of overlapping communities” (O’Reilly 2007:25).

Christian blogs in a network society

The classic answer to how we get a group of people to do something was to find an institution, get some resources, and coordinate the institution into doing a certain task. In this approach everyone taking part would then be incorporated into the institution (Shirky 2005:00:37-00:57). However, the reality with which churches are currently faced is what Dwight Friesen (2003:15-16) describe: A woman gets together with some Christian colleagues once a week over lunch for encouragement and to be spurred on to good deeds. She reeds a book by Thomas Merton, volunteers at the midweek children’s program of the local Baptist church, usually attends an Assembly of God service, although she sometimes opts for Russian Orthodox, while her membership is still at her parents Lutheran church.

The reality is that people do not necessarily commit to a single institution, and, following Shirky (2005), Web 2.0 technologies further enable people to make such connections, to form connections within networks. A network is a set of interconnected nodes. Although social networks are as old as the human race, it has taken on a new life under what Castells calls informationalism. “The network society is a social structure made of information networks powered by the information technologies characteristic of the informationalist paradigm” (Castells 2001:166). In this world blogs, and similar spaces, become meaning-giving clusters to which people are linked (Friesen 2003:15-16). Contrary to what might be commonly assumed, a strong network is not made up of a few strong links, but of many weak links. Such a network is both stronger and more enduring (Friesen 2003:16).

At this point an important distinction needs to be made. The virtual world is not so virtual at all. It is real people connecting with other real people. These connections have a very definite influence on “real life”. Blogs provide the tool for believers to create a network of sacred places. This Tim Bedner (2004:7) call the cyberchurch, a subcategory of the blogosphere, although we should probable add groups on social networking sites and other similar sacred spaces created through Web 2.0 to this.

Blogging and the church

The Internet is more than a tool that we must learn to use, it’s a new phenomenon (Bazin & Cottin 2003:29), a new world (Bazin & Cottin 2003:3). Adapting to the network society involves more than adding a website to an old process; we should rethink our entire process (Himanen 2001:25). Blogs can help in tasks of the local church. It can be another medium for communicating with congregants. Blogs can help in giving in giving a personal feel to a large church, give people a window into the heart of the church, and help pastors connect with congregants. It can be a way of sharing stories and the vision of the church, and hearing the response on congregants (Bailey & Storch 2007:18). This is using blogs as a tool to connect people to the institution, something blogs can definitely help a church with, but from the above a different understanding also emerge. But the use of blogs must be seen from a totally different angle.

The moment you enter the blogosphere you open yourself up to a global context. I regularly blog about the congregation in which I serve, but a very small percentage of readers come from my congregation. Rather, my blog has become a node to which a number of people connect, all of them also connecting to other nodes. The moment that I enter the blogosphere I have the ability to create a meaning-giving space, a sacred space, to which anyone with internet access can connect. This, to me, seems to be the primary way in which church should interact with the virtual world through blogs. More than strengthening the communications of the local church to it’s local congregants, it becomes part of a strong network consisting of many weak links. When pastors blog they take part in this process. When this happen relationships are formed and friendships result. We take part in the endless chatter going on, voicing part of the conscious thought in the Web 2.0 brain, theologizing, posting and commenting, but most importantly, we create a sacred space where people can connect.

Conclusion

The virtual world, in this case the Internet, and specifically the use of blogs, is not the way in which we do church better. A revolution is taking place, and a new approach to how groups connect together is happening all around us. Theology in the virtual world mean that the church also take part in the endless chatter, form nodes and clusters, sacred spaces people can connect to. From an insiders perspective it would seem that the question is no longer whether this is happening, but rather who is taking part.

Bibliography

Bazin, J N & Cottin, J. 2003. Virtual Christianity. Geneva: WCC Publications.

Bailey, B & Storch, T. 2007. the blogging church: Sharing the Story of Your Church Through Blogs. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bedner, T. 2004. We Know More Than Our Pastors.

Castells, M. 2001. Epilogue for The Hacker Ethic. London: Secker & Warburg.

Decram, B. 2006. Introducing Flock Beta 1 (http://www.flock.com/blog/introducing-flock-beta-1)

Friesen, D. 2003. Scale-Free Networks as a Structural Hermeneutic for Relational Ecclesiology. Washington: George Fox University

Gill, K E. 2004. How can we measure the influence of the blogosphere?, http://faculty.washington.edu/kegill/pub/www2004_blogosphere_gill.pdf

Grossman, L. 2006. Time’s Person of the Year: You. Accessed 15 July 2008, http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1569514,00.html.

Himanen, P. 2001. The Hacker Ethic. London: Secker & Warburg.

O’Reilly, T. 2007. What Is Web 2.0: Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation of Software in Communications & Strategies no. 65, p17-37.

Shirky, C. 2005. Coordination Costs, Institutional Loss, and Cooperative Infrastructure (TED talk, http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/TEDTalks_video/~5/331825158/ClayShirky_2005G-[None].mp4)

I’ve been meaning to get round to wathcing the TED talks since I first heard about them. So I finally started. I’ll most probably be downloading quite a number of them in the coming months, so for the South African readers, who all have limited bandwidth, if you want them, let me know. Maybe we can make an exchange, since my bandwidth is limited as well.

Anyhow, this one REALLY got me (70mb). Maybe it’s because I’m currently working on the Theology and the Virtual World paper I told you about, and this really hits home, I don’t know. It’s Clay Shirky talking about what’s happening with Web 2.0 (although the term is never used), and this is used as example for how things might be organized in future.

Thing is, Shirky didn’t really say anything that I didn’t already know. I’ve experienced what he is talking about. I’m already sure that he is right, but still I think we like to hide from the reality that institutions is on their way out! What I did realize is that the church don’t yet know how to deal with this. I’ve been reading emerging literature for quite some time now, and even in this, I don’t think I’ve found anything which really deal with all of this, or maybe I just didn’t understand it when I read it.

So, questions: Is emerging really a theological movement (which I like to believe, but which I doubt after seeing this), or is it more a sosiological thing happening (which I think I can live with, already can see some light at the end of the tunnel)?

Jurgen Moltmann begin God fora  Secular Society with the following fabel which he got from someone else. I don’t have the book with me, so I quote from memory:

At the beginning of the modern society three good fairies came to mankind, giving humans Individual Liberty, Social Justice and Prosperity. However, by nightfall a bad fairy came along, and told the humans that they can only keep two of the three. So, the modern West chose Individual Liberty and Prosperity. The modern East chose Social Justice and Prosperity. But (and this he adds himself), the Theologians and Philosphers chose Individual Liberty and Social Justice, and thus never found Prosperity.

One of the Google fancy people said things which seem to imply that we are moving towards an internet where you again pay for content. Will this happen? Would we move into a time where  you have to pay to read the most popular blogs? I remember the first time I heard about the CSIR internal journals, and about someone doing research who needed some of their articles, but couldn’t get access. I found it extremely strange! This was because of my background in theology, where you wouldn’t even think of keeping research from others. Research are done to be shared.

Reading The Hacker Ethic you find the same thing, where people do things because they love to do this. I write because I cannot do other but write. I blog because I love to blog. I spent a lot of time doing this, not because I’ll get paid for it, but because I love it. At least for the theologians and philosophers, who are used to the idea that prosperity is not something which need be attained, and for the hackers things can work in a different way, where content, good content, is generated simply out of passion, and in order to provide something usefull for our peers. Or maybe the world has changed so much, that we can never go back.

I’ve been intrigued by the Web 2.0 developments for more than 18 months now, trying to understand it, trying to follow the developments, and trying to see the implications. Most of this has been in blogging, and more and more I realize that I simply do not seem to have time keep up to date with everything happening and changing.

Although I’ve been a huge wikipedia fan, as you will find out if you follow the links I use to, for example, movies, I think I’ve only made one contribution ever, and that was the birth date of Anne Clayborn on the Mars Trilogy page, if I remember correctly. Recently, however, I’ve been introduced to wikispaces by someone in the congregation. We started generating the content for our new church website on wikispaces, and then I set up another wikispace for an alternative camp we are attempting in July.

But my current idea is to actually produce my whole mini-dissertation which need to be written in the next few months on a wikispace. It will be on something like: David Bosch as Public Theologian: the public role of the church in the theology of David Bosch. As I proceed I’ll publish parts I’ve written, and thoughts I have, there, which would provide the opportunity for anyone interested to fine-tune my thoughts through questions, alternative formulations, thoughts I haven’t had yet etc. Obviously in the end I’ll have to publish a final version for which only I can take responsibility, but by then I’ll have the advantage that many people have sharpened my thoughts.

So, if you have interest in the topic, or interest in the idea of producing the dissertation like this, or interest in David Bosch, do follow the wikispace here, you can also sign up for the RSS feed.

What do you think? How would copyright laws and plagiarism rules and everything apply to this? Is this possible? Can I legally do this within a university system? Would anyone even think of actually taking part in the conversation around an others Masters dissertation?