Reinhold Grether on 17 Feb 2001 15:30:09 -0000

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<nettime> Task Force Communities

[Groups or communities of distributed mobile people can
coordinate their endeavours by virtual wireless community
platforms like Upoc <>
Dan Shafer, Senior Co-editor of the Online Community
Report <>
has labeled those mobile instant messaging communities "Task
Force Communities". - To get a more elaborate theory about
the "primacy of connectivity over content" don't miss Andrew
Odlyzko's fascinating article "Content is Not King" in this
month's First Monday
<> best, rg]

Task Forces: A New Kind of Community?

By Dan Shafer
Senior Co-editor, Online Community Report

A family of five goes to an amusement park. Two of the
teen-aged youngsters want to go off on their own, Mom
needs to nurse the newest arrival, and Dad and the toddler
are off to a special ride. Through the course of a day at the
park, this family might come together and break apart in
various combinations many times for various reasons. It
would be great if they could stay in touch with one another
to arrange to meet, delay a planned meeting because of a
long line, alert each other to special events, and other such

The five Women of Westwick are a regular Shopping Dalton
Gang. Any time there's a big sale at one of the local department
stores, they get together, car pool to the store, carve out
territories to attack, and go after bargains with the vengeance
and tenacity of Martha Stewart in search of a use for a cut-up
credit card. They miss lots of opportunities to buy unexpected
bargain items for each other because there's no easy way to
communicate while they're on the shopping spree.

A new President has been elected and is being inaugurated. A
large number of people who believe the election was illegitimate
are gathered together in the nation's capital to stage a protest.
They are scattered but they want their action to be concerted.
They also want to keep track of things like where the federal
police are setting up new checkpoints and barricades, where
there are concentrations of military personnel, etc.

All of these are examples of what I've come to think of recently
as Task Force Communities (TFCs): groups that come together
around a specific task or cause, work together much like
other virtual communities, but disband or go into hibernation
between the events and causes that trigger their gathering.
And as far as I know, two of the three examples are strictly
the conjurings of my own imagination. The exception? The
third case involving a group that called itself The Resistance
and which used wireless services through Upoc
<> where they formed a community.
With burst text and voice messaging, they were able to keep
a group of nearly 100 protesters in constant contact during
the highly fluid situation at George W. Bush's inauguration in
January. (See separate story in this issue for more details on
this action at
<> )

I have written in the past about my sense that wireless interfaces
don't have a major role to play in the development of online
communities. It may well be that in the formation and
disintegration of TFCs, we will find the kernel of great
utility for wireless access. Notice that in all three of my
examples, the members of the communities have some common

They are not physically located near their computers and keyboards.

They are not stationary in one place even during the need for the

They have a number of things in common but have somewhat different
tasks, goals, or agendas.

Communication need not be preserved for future knowledge
enhancement; instant messaging and chat are perfectly utilitarian
vehicles for what they need to accomplish.

Group members are part of a community that transcends the place
and time where the TFC is useful, yet the TFC is necessary to the
accomplishment of some specific and immediate goals.

Wireless seems like the perfect choice for these kinds of
communities. Some of the cell phone companies have begun
to recognize the importance of these groupings by offering family
plans and free cell-to-cell communication as a way of supporting
and encouraging ad hoc contact within the community. Most
of the communication that needs to take place within the context
of a TFC is probably very short-duration stuff:

"Hey, Mom, can we do this ride once more?" "How long will it take?"
"About 20 minutes." "OK. We'll meet you at Atrium C."

"Jeannie, do you want one of these sweaters? They're 75% off!" "What
 are they made of?" "Angora" "Yeah! One blue one, size 3, please!"

"New checkpoint at 16th and L" "How many police?" "Five marshals"
"OK, avoid that area."

Interestingly enough, Upoc, which positions itself as a wireless
online community provider, already has seen some users form
groups that consist of kids shopping at a mall and "scoping guys,"
for example. Casey Van Maanen, senior manager of business
development at Upoc, says his team is watching what people
do and why they do it to better understand this phenomenon.
"There are no rules. There's no right way to do things. We're
just making all of this up as we go along," Van Maanen says.
Some of the user groups you can sign up for at the Upoc site
deal with movie reviews, bands, night clubs, politics, shopping,
and even a joke-of-the-day service.

Van Maanen says the most successful wireless communities
in the near term will be those with a compelling subject that
demands or benefits from immediacy, and which are headed
by a compelling group founder who is a great self- and group-promoter.

Such communities will, of course, be difficult to track and
probably impossible to monetize directly. But there are some
intriguing possibilities.

For example, suppose the amusement park provided wireless
devices usable only within the park for families to use as I
described above? They could surely find tons of ways to
monetize peoples' use of the devices. Similarly, department
stores could offer shopping teams (I'm told by my wife that such
things actually exist!) a way to communicate while in the store
and then push special sales only to those people using them.

Convergence is also beginning to happen between these TFCs
and more persistent online presence. Not only did Hicks find
his group turning, quite inadvertently, into a news service during
the inaugural demonstration, but Van Maanen of Upoc points
out that a highly popular Web site, dotcomscoop
<> , started as a Upoc group.
When its founder, Ben Silverman, broke the story of the layoffs, the group got national attention and
started growing. The result: a Web site that augments
the wireless community.

There's something here. I'd be interested in hearing your
experiences, ideas, thoughts, plans and reactions.

Dan Shafer can be reached at <>~

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