Hi, I'm Derek

Defining “Community Building”

I’m incredibly fortunate to be a member of a small Facebook group of thought leading “Community Builders“.

In my opinion, that term deserves quotation marks simply because it’s widely thrown around, and at this point it’s largely undefined.

I actually hate Facebook less because of this group of “Community Builders“.

It’s a group that basically comprises thoughts and questions about being a “Community Builder” or “Manager”.

It’s a discussion about managing people’s expectations, loyalty and happiness as a day job, in the context of the transparency and access that the web provides. It’s a group that’s small and intimate by design, and it’s fortunate to include people managing some of the internet’s largest communities. I would namedrop if it was appropriate but obviously it’s not.

Anyway, the subject of Community Building came up a short while ago and I wanted to repost it because it’s interestingly literal; at it’s core is a question about “Communities”…from someone who I know and respect in his approach to and respect for the “space” (another word that simply deserves quotations because it’s so awful). He’s an unsung hero of Community.

This was his question to the group:

When you’re first starting off building your community (literally a handful of people), how do you demonstrate the value you envision the community eventually creating for members?

How do you community build?

The first response was from Ryan Paugh, who embodies the undefined concept of “Community Builder” better than any written definition I’ve ever seen:

I think that trust is most important. After that, passion. After that, it’s all about fulfilling your promise so people keep coming back for more.

Which got me thinking and keeps me thinking, but this was my response:

I agree with Ryan on passion; if you’re an early member of something you’re passionate about, show it. But…there is no value to defend. A community doesn’t have value until the community decides so. That’s the misperception of community building…it’s not sales. It’s bringing people together and figuring out what they are together, and where the value is as a result of the community they appear to be building. In an early community you’re just a community member…you’re not orchestrating. You’re listening, and celebrating. As a member, you’re sharing your vision of the value that’s happening, but you’re doing that to inspire input, because in the end you don’t own the community.

What do you think?

Because I’m thinking there isn’t an answer right now.

How do you do community building?

I think my answer is that doing community building is building something new for people.

You think they’ll like it.

What’s important to the field and tools and people working at it is how you do that successfully.

Being successful and delivering incredible value for the people you’ve brought together (on and offline) is about listening to them, and letting them be who they want to be. Letting them show you what makes them happy…and then working hard to keep making them happy.

The best people I see working in “Community” are incredibly humble and dedicated to the delight and inspiration of others.

A number of them are in quiet, thankless early stages of their communities. A growing number are at the top, well known, and deliberating trying to define what it means to be great at being responsible for communities. Deliberately trying to raise the bar on the role someone plays when they’re fortunate enough to become responsible for a great community.

The best people I see working in “Community” are still debating how to do “Community”.

I like that.

I like that because I think that means that the best minds in “Community” realize that it’s not about them.

*all emphasis is mine

Written by dshan on May 25, 2011

Teams Make It Great

I’ve had my head down lately for a few reasons, but the main one was that I’ve been beyond the point of managing the things I’m involved with alone, especially as we grow Foodtree and its community. I spend most of my time on Foodtree lately, and one of the things I wanted to avoid this year was letting 20 Something Bloggers suffer because I needed to focus my time.

This has already been an exciting year for Foodtree. We’ve just released a souped up website, signed a number of new customers, and opened an investment round. Our community of eaters, food producers, organizations and investors are all really excited about what we’re building and the collaborations we have planned are going to mean we can continue pushing forward as the world’s food map and database. Things are getting more and more exciting every day:)

There are some incredible things happening for 20 Something Bloggers. We’ve just announced our latest blogger awards, contested by hundreds of bloggers who were nominated by their peers, and voted on by hundreds more.

I’ve spoken with a lot of the leaders of communities that make the world a better place for young digital adults, including Brazen Careerist, BlogFrog, GenPink, SocialMediaClub, and numerous others which should foster exciting collaborations and continued thought leadership around improving our community. We’ll announce details on an exciting event later this year made by and made for our community members…I am so, so excited.

The thing is…my excitement as of late is mostly about the teams of people who’ve joined me to make all this great stuff work. They are an amazing group of people…everyone involved in both Foodtree and 20 Something Bloggers is involved because they believe in an idea, and they want to be a contributor to the communities we exist for.

I would be completely lost without these people.

My gratitude for everyone involved with these projects is deeper than I might wish to express in a blog post. I hope you all know how righteous I think you are.

The Foodtree Team

Maryam, Jonny and Ida have put in an incredible amount of effort these past few weeks as we executed on our vision and evolved our website. They’ve sprinted development, informed design decisions, and actively engaged our community. Their ownership of the product, company, and community is exciting validation for us founders.

You guys crack me up, put up with my rants on blogging, and always seem to have snacks. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

The 20SB Team

I’ve got a five awesome teams working on 20SB. These are them, and why they rock.

The Community Team

These guys have already shown incredible dedication to making new members feel welcome and keeping their eyes and ears open around the community. They’re managing our forums, which see hundreds of posts a day. They’ve demonstrated commitment to our Social Contract and it’s wonderfully clear that they care that 20SB is the best place for bloggers to hang out.

The Events Team

One of my biggest issues in the past was organizing and launching events in our community, and these guys have already taken the reigns from me, planning upcoming events and coordinating some of the great things we do every month, like our Featured Bloggers and Staff Picks. They’ll be an integral part of this year’s offline events too, which will put our previous meetups to shame.

The Social Media Team

In a matter of days these guys had all of our social media outlets organized and got started with reaching out. They’re like a bomb exploded in our social media toolkit, and you can already see the impact. Our engagement metrics are up two-fold and every day they’re surfacing great content and conversations from within the community.  I haven’t seen initiative like this since Charlie Sheen decided he wanted to BE the story.

The Blog Editors

With particular recognition to our new Chief Editor, the blog is now in the hands of a team of insightful editors, with a deliberate mission to make Twenty Twenty, our official blog, a killer resource for young personal bloggers. I’ve always hoped for this, but been unable to get much published beyond important community announcements. Alongside expanding coverage of things like our featured members and events, they’ll be publishing guest posts from community members and resources and tips for bloggers and our wider audience.

The Biz Dev Team

The partnerships and sponsorships we get to do as a community is a testament to how great it is, and these guys make all of that work. Thinking constantly about collaborations and the various opportunities we might bring to members of 20SB is a lot easier than making those things happen, and if I didn’t have these guys working their butts off to push us forward, we’d miss out on most of the great stuff we’re going to do this year.

Founders & the Tech Guru

Special thanks always goes to Tony & Lisa, who are invested in these projects at the founding level. Neither would exist without you, and you both know that.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t thank Nico for his undying tech support across my digital web…to say this stuff wouldn’t exist without you is as simple as saying you’ve save my servers, and as complicated as trying to describe how incredibly selfless you are.


I know this seems a little like a roll call, and it says nothing of the people around these projects who cheer them on and, in many cases, support me personally.  But people give me a lot of credit for various aspects of these projects, and even more often they ask me how I ‘do‘ everything that I ‘do‘ (hint: part of it is that I don’t sleep or eat enough)…but in the end it’s that these people make these awesome things a reality, not me.

If I deserve any credit it’s that I’ve convinced these people to collaborate with me.

The greatness of a project is the greatness of its team.

Thank you all. Sincerely.

Written by dshan on March 5, 2011

Lemonade Stand Founders

Kids who start lemonade stands aren’t all that different than the guy who started Zynga or Google, although one could argue that a lemonade stand is a deliberate attempt to make a margin and starting something that’s useful for people before you even have a revenue model is deeper.

Thing is, I don’t think kids post up lemonade stands to make money, so much as they throw up lemonade stands to have people take a few minutes out of their day to recognize what they’re up to.

I think most lemonade stands are exercises in business education handed down from up high.

Lemonade stands are lesson plans.

But if you started a lemonade stand where people got something more than lemonade, those kids would be sitting in their plastic chairs on the corner of the neighborhood cul-de-sac selling more than lemonade, in order to sell lemonade.

The lemonade stand might be a place where you got points towards your influence on community politics, for instance.

You stop by and grab a fresh drink and you got yourself ahead in the running for the neighborhood mayorship.

Your mayorship meant you might represent your neighborhood at County Hall when they were deciding on where to build family-friendly parks.  The Mayor with the most points was carrying a lot more votes, and maybe that Mayor’s votes represented the overall participation that their neighborhood had delivered in the previous couple of months.

They had their points, which made them Mayor, but they’d need their neighborhood’s points to really have influence.

The whole community could empower their leaders to have a say in local government.

They could do that on their way to their important jobs that let them afford to live in their neighborhood.  They could do that knowing that two bucks at the corner was a way to be at City Hall on Tuesday night while they were travelling on business.

A lot more lemonade would get sold, I think.

A lot more kids would see the value of thinking about the world in an entrepreneurial way.

Why is it that only outcasts find themselves motivated to build things that disrupt our experience?

Something is wrong if removing yourself from the mainstream is a prerequisite for trying to change the world.

Written by dshan on June 6, 2010

Generation BlahBlah

I’m not holier than thou, or anyone for that matter.  I haven’t made it, by any measure, as a writer or a professional.*  I was really good at soccer a long time ago…that’s totally irrelevant to this post, but I will be honest when I think I have a measure of authority.

This was deliberately written before I’d caught up on any of your blogs, going back months.  It’s not directed at anyone in particular, at all. It’s loosely influenced by conversations at SXSWi, but also in the way that I everyone I met there (and in reflection, everyone I have met from the net in general) to be such inspiring and smart people.

I’m probably wrong about all this, honestly.  I don’t consider myself to be “in the audience” of the content that I’m addressing, which is probably enough to just write this off and go have a cup of tea.

But my gut is telling me that there are a lot of people out there focused on describing, quantifying, and motivating Generation Y, and they’re misplacing their talent and time.

Gen Y Is Bored With Gen Y

Maybe it’s just that I’m 30, but this talk around Generation Y was not around while I was in my early and mid-twenties, and that was fine.

I wouldn’t have read it then anyway, and if I had I think once I’d made it to 30 or so I’d have wondered whether “live the dream or bust” or “respect our uniqueness” or “the new work/life balance or lack thereof” really made much of a difference as to where I ended up.

More and more Gen Y’ers are getting comfortable with their post-college lives and I think we can all move on now.  It feels as if our collective voice is just repeating “blah blah blah blah“.

We’re Really Not That Different

Sure, we’re a bit** more agile with technology, but everyone else is catching up fast.  Sure, that’s given us a bit of a unique profile when it comes to brands that want to sell us things and employers who want to keep us happy, but that’s their rat race.

You’re still buying things, and you probably work for someone.

Age Is Irrelevant

For the few years while young adults aren’t ready to take life by the balls and make it their own, some “we’re all in this together” stewardship can be helpful.

Then we all grow up and have real problems, and require real thought leadership that tackles the challenges that life indefinitely keeps throwing at you.  You are all the people who need to start thinking about this stuff and doing so without considering age.

We’re tackling these challenges lot later than our previous generations, and don’t think for a second that the world’s going to reward us for it.

Thought Leadership Is Action

This is more a message for the brilliant writers I think are wasting their talent writing about Generation Y; color commentating our segment of the population is and could continue to be a great way to build an audience and make a life of it.  If that’s your goal, I step back.  I hope to say I knew the Voice of Generation Y when I’m 80 and looking back.

My concern is that I think a lot of you have bigger plans…you want to make real-life differences for people…you want to tangibly lead people and companies into an exciting future; I think you should start doing that.

Aligning yourself with a generation makes you a Narrator.  You’re talented enough to be a Novelist.

It’s The Same Amount Of Work

In my mind, there’s a reason that leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Chris Guillebeau, Gwen Bell, Tim Ferris, Brian Solis, or whomever else floats your boat seem so innovative and sharp. They’re trying to push an envelope that’s not tied to an age group.

It’s interesting because if you’re in their wagon, they’re trying to push that wagon up a mountain.  They’re tackling a piece of life…not the process of life.

Both endeavors take lots of work. Being a leader, thought leader, author, blogger…it’s all a lot of goddamn work.  All of those people work really, really hard.  (They party hard too, by the way.)

A note as well; I mention these big wigs because I very honestly think a number of you guys could join them.  I think you are incredibly talented and smart people. I wouldn’t have wasted nearly a thousand words on this if I didn’t.

Stop The BlahBlah

I think the rhetoric has reached a bit of a stand-still and thoughts are being regurgitated.  The Generation Y Writing Movement has plateaued. Call me wrong…I very well could be.

My feeling, for what it’s worth, is that the buck needs to stop.  If what you’re saying or doing needs to be qualified with a Gen Label than rework it.  Think about it differently. Take it out of the age context and find what’s really interesting.

Stop the BlahBlah and get to the meat of the issues. You can see the meat, and that’s what makes you different.

That’s your edge.

Soon the everyone else will figure it out.  Soon, they’ll see the same world you see.

And they won’t give a rat’s rear end who you are anymore.


Image by Mike Baird.

I hope that my respect for all of you, anyone who’s blogging in fact, is obvious in this post and elsewhere around the web.  If we’ve met or meet, I hope that’s clear in person.  If I’ve offended anyone at all, please don’t hesitate to email me and tell me, because I will attempt to rectify it.

*You show me a 50 year old who’s never heard of twitter and I’ll show you a 28 year old who doesn’t know how to use it.

**I work for “myself”, which some might offer up as evidence of success.  What that really means is that I have very little money and hope to heaven that what I’m working on works out.  I’m writing this having spent a pretty sizable nest egg to end up with almost nothing a few months ago.  I’m writing this with almost nothing to point at to say, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about.”  You might suggest that my experience with 20 Something Bloggers gives me a measure of credibility, but I’d argue that I didn’t make it was it is…I just try to make it better.

Written by dshan on March 23, 2010

Love Harder

Just before I left to ‘visit’ Canada, I got wind of a little internet awesomeness that was going to happen right around my departure, and I couldn’t resist being a part of it.

Check it out below.  It’s really cool.  I sing, people.


The quandry: We feel terrible. Just horrible. And oh so helpless… if only there was something we could DO for them.

The answer: Ummmm. Did you forget that WE ARE THE INTERNET?!?!!??! And also, Yes We Can!!!

The result: Brandy and your Hot Awesome Dude… this one’s for you. Love, The Internet.


Our Plea

Our friend Brandy is a brilliant writer, a wonderful teacher, and a generous friend.  And she is in love with a man who has just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma.

Bloggers are rallying around en effort to raise money for the Multiple Myeloma Research Fund in his name.  For the price of a cinnamon dolce latte, half-caf, hold the whip, you can be part of an effort to cure a disease that affects approximately 750,000 people worldwide.


Every dollar brings us a dollar closer to a cure.  And every donation brings a sliver of hope to a girl who needs all the hope she can get.

What You Can Do

  • Give. Be part of a worldwide effort to cure a disease that affects approximately 750,000 people worldwide.  Every dollar helps.
  • Pass it on. Forward this story to five people.  Share this blog post.  Become a fan on Facebook.
  • Love harder. Life is short, love is unbending, and no one knows what could happen next. Tell someone you love them today.

Where Your Money Goes

  • The American Institute of Philanthropy recently named The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation one of the best organizations to give to in terms of their accountability and use of resources.
  • By working closely with researchers, clinicians and partners in the biotech and pharmaceutical industry, the MMRF has helped bring multiple myeloma patients four new treatments that are extending lives around the globe.
  • The MMRF has advanced twenty Phase I and Phase II clinical trials. They need your support to advance these clinical research programs and accelerate the development of better, more effective treatments.
  • The MMRF’s Multiple Myeloma Genomics Initiative recently became the first to sequence the multiple myeloma whole genome in its entirety.
  • A whopping 98% of your donation to the MMRF will be used immediately to support high-priority multiple myeloma research.
  • With diminishing funding for early stage drug development and the next myeloma treatments not expected to be approved until 2011, the MMRF desperately needs your help.

You can see Brandy’s Story here.  Trust me, it’s not something you’ll want to miss.

DONATE: http://www.loveharder.org

CONTACT: theloveharderfund@gmail.com

FACEBOOK: http://facebook.loveharder.org

MORE INFO: http://www.themmrf.org

The blog community is an amazing one…I’ve said that for years.

For a bunch of people who’ve largely never met to come together in secret to make a video for someone they largely haven’t met, just because it’s the right thing to do, says a lot about everyone involved.  I feel fortunate to have joined up.

Written by dshan on January 20, 2010

A Thought That Counts

I stayed up last night for about an hour trying to nail down a thought that warranted writing about.  I don’t usually do that…I usually sit down and write and it works.

I was largely distracted by a full day of reading an extensive array of thoughts on the best ways to highlight members of a big and growing community (namely 20SB).  There’s plenty of commentary around the web on the subject, and I dropped in my own thoughts here and there, and as such I won’t get into it here.  I know you guys aren’t all bloggers.

Still, I’ve got quite a lot happening right now.  I have a ton of things I could and will write about…a ton of it stuff that I’ve censored over the last few months as a result of the changes my life’s experiencing as we speak.

Last night none of it wanted to be said.

Today I’m handing my blog over to Brandy, because it’s a better use of the space than anything I’d write.  She doesn’t know I’m posting this, and I think she’s probably overwhelmed at how many people have.

If you’re not a blogger, herein lies a glimpse at the power of connection, online or otherwise.  If you’re a blogger, this is someone in the community asking for a thought.

It’s a thought, or a prayer if that’s your thing.  Intentional thoughts are good for the soul.

My name is brandy. And I have a blog.

And a plea.

I use my blog to showcase the crazy I meet everyday, share the stories of the kids I teach and document my love for tequila, dairy products and the abdominal muscles of Ryan Reynolds. Rarely do I talk about personal issues on my blog- as personal as the dude that I adore (who I actually met through my blog- single ladies, let that be a very good reason to blog, the possibility of meeting someone as wonderful as my man), but I need your help. And it involves my dude.

He’s a guy who made math comics for my class, so they would love learning about addition. He’s the kinda guy who sends my friends gift cards when they are having hard times, who remembers every story I ever told him, who was the first person I celebrated with when I got a teaching job. He’s the guy who sent flowers to me at school- dozens of my favourite pink roses just because he loves me. He’s a guy who has spent a year patiently explaining (and re-explaining) everything there is to know about football during the important games when silence is preferred. He’s made me word puzzles and comics and stayed up late playing Scrabble with me (even though I beat him almost every time). He’s listened to me cry about school and family and jobs. He is everything I never knew I needed and everything I always knew I wanted.

The holidays have hit us hard. He’s recently been told he may have something called multiple myeloma- an incurable cancer, that gives a person an average of five years of continued life. Though this news has came as a shock, he continues to be exactly who has always been- spending his time worrying about me, rather than worrying about himself. He’s the most selfless individual I know- (he stayed late on Christmas Eve to work, so his co-workers could leave early) and a post like this would never be something that he would promote or encourage but when I’m overwhelmed and feeling helpless, the blogging community has always given me tremendous support and comfort, two things I desperately need at this time.

As I write this, the future is uncertain and we aren’t sure what’s happening. He’ll need to see an oncologist soon, to verify what’s going on in his body. My hope is that everyone who reads this think positive thoughts and if you are a person who prays, could you add him to your list? (You can refer to him as ‘brandy’s hot awesome dude’). If you don’t pray, please keep him in your heart.This cancer is only a possibility and I believe that the prayers and positive thoughts of people can make sure it never becomes a reality.

I want to give a big thank you to the blog owner who scraped their original blog plans and graciously put this up. My goal is to get as many people as possible to see and read this post. If you are reading this and want to help, copy and paste my plea into your blog or send a link through twitter, so more people can keep him in their thoughts. I would be so very grateful (even more grateful than I am to my friend who first showed me the picture of Ryan Reynolds on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. If you haven’t seen it, google it. You. Are. Welcome).

I realize this all sounds dramatic, a Lifetime movie in the making- but this is life. Right now. And I’m throwing away any hint of ego and am humbly asking for you to pray or think kind thoughts. If you are able to pass this on, thank you and if you know anything regarding MM- please email me (my email is on my blog). This isn’t a call for sympathy or a plea for pity. It’s just one girl hoping you can think positive thoughts for the person she adores. If my current heartache provides you with anything, let it be with the reminder that life is short, love is unbending and no one knows what could happen next. Maybe it is silly, but I really do believe that positive thoughts can make a huge difference. Thank you for reading this and if you haven’t already? Please tell someone you love them today.

I did.

No need to comment here.  Brandy’s email is brandyismagic@gmail.com and her twitter’s @brandyismagic.  Hell, just send a positive thought.

Image by kennymatic.

Written by dshan on December 30, 2009

Conversation Geek

I’m quite a conversation geek.

I know that stems from my father, who to the bone is a relatively anti-social intellectual whom, as he’s matured, places far more value on discourse than he does on emotional interfacing.

He writes plays, as a hobby, and he writes the kind of plays that explore deeply philosophical topics.

He’s not purely interested in high-brow conversation, but he’s also not immune to the geek rush he gets when someone engages him in some sort of argument that explores the intricacies of American history, human thought processes, or sociological implications of the generation gap and emerging technology.

I’ve inherited that geek tendency.

Lately I’ve had the fortune of great conversation.

I’ve met people like Nate and Mari and Nicole and each new conversation boasts excitement around what’s possible tomorrow.

Writing plays is an effort dedicated to pointing at humanity and saying, “Wow!”.

I like people who feel the excitement about human potential that I do when I look at what people come up with when they contemplate a better tomorrow.

What gets you riled up?

What ideas are you excited about?

I want to know.

Written by dshan on September 29, 2009

What The Who

I’ve reached the point at which I just am the internet.

I’m at the tail end of eight months of planning a blogger meetup in Chicago, most of that time spent circling back and redoing nearly everything I’d already done or set in motion.  You want to talk about an “I’d do it all differently if I started over” feeling?  Multiply that by the number of Skittles in the world and you might be able to see me up here on the moon dancing around in my space suit mumbling incoherent truisms about digitally savvy millennials.

If you fall into the category of a young adult who’s online interacting with your peers, and facebook friends, and famous people on twitter, and creepy weirdos on myspace, well, it would probably blow your little skull wide open if you knew how much I not only talk about you but how much I think about you.


Okay, some of you.

Just take a quick glance up there and imagine all those columns, or stacks, as PeopleBrowsr likes to call them, moving constantly.  That’s just twitter.   Check out the Google Profile links to the other places I find myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig this netizen life.

This connectivity and interestingly awesomesauce people all over the world spitting out ideas and sentiments and projects and roadtrips and Love.  Truly great stuff.

Providing what I think is now the best online community for twenty somethings to the world.  It feels pretty good.

And don’t even get me started on the relationships I’ve plucked off the web.  There’s almost too many to name.

There is too many to name.

But I launched a charity campaign with an incredible woman I’ve never met, and I run a massive community of wonderful people with another young lady I’ve never met.

When I asked for some help, this entire group of people from all over the world raised their hands!

And I know I’m not unique.

When you hang out in any group you realize that amazing people are everywhere.  Everyone’s busy.  Everyone’s got ideas and the best of people shines through the ideas they’re pursuing.  It becomes addictive, seeking out people who think in cool ways.

I’m definitely addicted.

But I also throw myself at projects I believe in like Perez Hilton throws himself at attention.

And when I circle back to the beginning of a run that began with a simple blogger meetup, and now has me trying to make 20 Something Bloggers warm and fuzzy for good honest personal bloggers, all while hoping to integrate my professional life and ever widening network of people worldwide into a manageable, real world of connection and interactivity and friends and resources…

…I find myself finally at a point at which I can take stock of how far I’ve come and what the next few steps might be and


…I’m going to start with a deep breath.

Written by dshan on June 17, 2009