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That was the central question posed at our internet charette, which was held Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
What is an charette exactly? I really had no idea, but it turns out it’s a creative space in which a big giant brain dump/intellectual distillation can take place. You invite a lot of different people with different experiences and perspectives and ask them to spend some time ruminating on a certain subject, in this case what our internet presence should do and be. Everything from the big vision stuff to the nuts and bolts. No rules except that you should leave all preconceived notions at the door and feel free to break whenever you need one.
There was an intense amount of cranial power gathered in the room. Had we been able to physically tap it, the collective mind could have powered Burlington’s electric grid, I’m sure.
Our good friends at EchoDitto organized the event for us. They’re the people responsible for the Howard Dean campaign internet phenomenon. So right away, we’re off the charts talent-wise. To this auspicious beginning, we added the guys who created MeetUp, a few of the good folk from Twiss CR, several Second Lifedesigners, IT ace Teresa Langston, and Las Wengell, founder of Know Your Source. Also joining us were Michael Dupee, veep of Corporate Social Responsibility for Green Mountain Coffee Roasters; Jed Smith, founder of Drugstore.com; and Barnaby Dorfman, current Chief Product Officer for Peerflix and former VP for Amazon.com, who joined us via live video. On the activism front we had Jared Duval , of the Sierra Student Coalition and Bekka Economopoulos from Greenpeace Greenpeace.
Then we had our own folk, including Jeffrey, Gregor, brandmother Courtney, consumer relations ace Sue, Julie from HR/Finance, Sarah T. from sales, Nancy from IT, and me, the writer guy. As I said (with the exception of that last dubious participant) the brain power was as awe-inspiring as it was just plain inspiring.
For two days, we pondered, pontificated, and proposed. We dreamed, discussed, and dissected. We looked back, forward, and sideways. We thought big, and we thought small. But mostly we asked questions: What do we want the internet to do for us and for you? How can we best harness its power to create change? How can we use it to empower ourselves and others? How can the whole e-world thing be tapped to facilitate community in the real world? What are the best ways to incorporate it into our systems, to truly integrate it into the new business model/paradigm we’re creating? How do we make it not about marketing but also a part of our R&D process, our education mission, our activism goals, and everything else we do? What are the technological possibilities today, tomorrow, and beyond? What should we do? Where should we go? How should we get there?
We talked about everything from web components that basically function as a glorified brochure to a wiki-like web presence to creating virtual environments like Second Life. I really think we just about covered it all. But then again, everytime I thought that during the charette, someone introduced another impressive idea.
Had we designed a web site when it was all over? No way. That wasn’t the point. The point was just to ask the beginning questions, see what possible answers were out there, digest what emerged from this thought-stew, and use that knowledge to begin the actual design process in the coming weeks. No matter what that design ends up being, I think it’s fair to say it’s going to be impressive. Even most of the minor ideas flying around the table were eye-opening. When you have that kind of beginning, you’re headed for a great place.
But here’s the thing: Can you spot the one element missing from our conversation? The one person missing from the table?
It’s you. As in all of you guys and anybody else who uses our web site, buys our stuff, and believes in our ideals. We couldn’t quite figure out how to find and invite some of our consumers to the show, so your voice went missing from the mix.
Which is why I’d like to open up the floor here for comments, suggestions, ideas, input, and inspiration about what our web site should look like and be like and act like. Got any cool models to share? Any examples from your virtual travels that we should take a look at? Anything you’d like to have us do on-line? Any role you’d like our web site play? Anything you’d like it to faciliate? What’s your vision for our digital future?
What do you see?
Lay it on us right here…