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It might be free but it ain’t cheap – UPDATE

UPDATE: I wrote this post in haste while upset and worn out after a meltdown of a system I’ve been caring for for a long time. After talking to some people in the network, who I insulted with my brashness, it’s clear that I’m burnt out and much of this response comes from that. I’m sorry and also not sorry for this public display. Humans are emotional creatures, we are real and we mess up. I’m in a challenging place in my life right now and I let it get the better of me. For that I forgive myself and I hope you’ll understand dear reader.

Look, it’s not as dire as I make it out to be. Actually things are amazing, power is drawing to the edges of this network away from the center, away from me. I fear that what I’ve created for the network will break and leave people behind, and while we have much word to do, it’s not as bad as it seems to me. There are new excited people who are taking up the slack. This network is full of amazing people who will handle the mess of wires I’m leaving behind.

While I still believe that the recent failure should light a fire, it’s also true that even if all this tech stuff disappears tomorrow ALC and the network of people doing the work wont. What I’ve created, with the help and support of many fantastic collaborators is doing an amazing job 98% of the time. I’m proud of what I’ve built here. Things are changing, that’s all, and I’m changing, my involvement is changing.

From where ever it is in the world I am behind a screen the good things can seem so small and far away while the problems near me so big. It’s a mistake of perspective. Perhaps it says more about me than anything else. Perhaps it’s weird for those of you who are new, but I’ve never been involved in anything where I can feel safe to be a messy idiot and still find love and support from the people around me.

We are surely building something amazing together and it will be fine.

Redactions are struck through while additions are in underlined

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The ALC website went down today. I’ve know for years that this day was coming. A malware bomb that exploited something and was able to get into our system and blow up. The good news is that it’s gone, the site is back up. The bad news is we don’t know where the hole was and thus we don’t know if we plugged the leak or just made room for more water to pour in. We are very fortunate to have had Loren and Dan available to jump in and save the day, I would have not been able to do this on my own.

This attack happened at almost the same time that our server hit a limit of “script executions” which is a fancy way of saying lots of people are doing stuff on our website, more than our $12 per month hosting allows for. Which, of course, is good news. We are growing, there are more people than ever using the site. These things are just growing pains.

So, my dear network of agile learners and facilitators and parents, it is time to have the talk.

There is a joke in my nerd world that free software is free as in kittens, not as in beer. A beer you get, enjoy, and are done with it, buzzed and not a dollar lighter. A free kitten is a gift of responsibility. You have to take care of it, feed it, make sure it doesn’t die. It’s a burdensome gift. It’s also a gift that returns more love and affection than a single beer ever could.

Agile Learning Centers is a kitten. We, the volunteers behind the scenes, did you a great disservice not warning you adequately. We made it all look so good and clean and put together—and it really is in many ways—but we’ve mislead you. You have, possibly unwittingly, become You are the co-owner of the ALC kitten. Now your kitten is a bit sick, vomiting on the nice rug, and the vet bills are going to start coming in.

That is to say that we now have a great opportunity. It’s time to create the network. There is no staff at the center, there is nothing but a few overworked volunteer knowledge holders who have been around just a little bit longer than you have. There are no leaders but yourself. What I’m asking—demanding—of you now is to take on more responsibility, more work, more time, more costs. I can’t tell you how you’re going to do it, though I might be able to support you, make suggestions, warn you about what didn’t work in the past, but mainly I’m going to talk to you about websites and servers.

In a funny twisted way the website binds us together and it will be, I hope, the catalyst for taking the ALC network to the next level. We can no longer support the website on volunteer time. I have written a detailed breakdown of the current state of technical infrastructure and my recommendations for what to do next. I suggest you skim it, just to get a sense of what’s going on behind the scenes. To get a sense of what you now co-own own and are responsible for.

There is a lot that needs to get done, but it all starts with you coming together with your fellow co-owners and building out a body that can determine the will of the network. This is certainly already happening all across the network.

Have you noticed that there is no mission or vision on your network website? I can’t publish a vision because we’ve never made one that was truly representative of the network. Why? Because the network hasn’t come together yet to make it happen. I think we all share a mission and a vision, only it hasn’t been articulated.

The network hasn’t come together to outline what is important to it. What it wants it’s website to DO. I’ve been stuck for a long time with hundreds of different facets of the website I could have worked on, but never knowing what is actually needed.

Now it’s time to force take account of the issue, because we need direction, we need a plan, and so we need a body to get that plan together. This website needs to be updated, it needs a strategy to maintain it, it needs resources to keep it going. You have to provide those resources, you have to make the plan. The website is a reflection of everyone and right now it’s sick, it’s going to die, your kitten is sick.

Because this isn’t Facebook or Google, you aren’t a product to be mined for data and sold to the highest bidder, you are the creator, you are the driver, you are the owner. YOU the person reading this YOU HAVE TO DO IT, dissolve this illusion that there are other people who are in charge, we’ve all got to get it together. Some of us have been around a little bit longer but we don’t know! No one is going to provide this for you, it’s just like the ALC you are a part of. It takes everyone to make it happen.

Sorry if you didn’t sign up for this, but it’s on you now. The website is going to fall apart or not keep up with your needs if we don’t all take an active role. The beauty of this problem is that it is also an opportunity to create new celebrate the new leadership in our network and form the processes for us to all take collective ownership of this cute little kitten.

How?

I don’t know how you’re going to do it.

Here’s what I suggest: build a spokes council. (Borrowed from a long tradition of decentralized organizing)

  • You are going to talk to the people you see every day about this post. Get them to read it. Discuss what you think it means. Discuss what I’m asking of you. The parents, the kids, as many of the people around you that co-create whatever version of ALC you are making real.
  • You’ll choose someone to represent your cluster, your ALC or startup group. The group of stakeholders you share space with. Their first job will be to connect with all the other people who have been chosen as spokes. Many of you are already connected with other people in your region throughout the network, that’s a good start.
  • Now the spokes will start to figure out how to meet together, how to have a conversation. Start to meet online, do it often, swap out the spokes often too. Just start sharing digital space.
  • Maybe it’s only the ALCs in your time zone for now, but the beauty of the spokes council is that you can have those spokes select another spoke to represent the regional group, then start the process over. The regional spokes will get together, meet up and talk about the needs of their regions.
  • Repeat this process until there is a meeting of spokes that can speak on behalf of the whole network.

Once you have that then it’s just a matter of creating a feedback loop.

  • Local ALCs sit and talk about what’s present for them, what they need or can offer the network. A spoke is selected to represent those views.
  • The spoke goes to a regional meet up of other spokes, and those people have a conversation on behalf of their ALCs.
  • If need be, those regional meetings select a spoke to meet with other regional spokes and speak on behalf of their regions.
  • The spokes report back, and the cycle repeats itself.

Then take ownership of the network and tell me what you want the website to do. Tell me how we are going to solve the problems I’ve outlined and all the challenges I have no idea about.

This might take a long time, you are busy, I know. It might no look anything like what I suggested above. It can be slow, but something needs to happen.

“Who if not you? When if not now?”

One comment

  1. Profile photo of Marc-Alexandre

    Hi Drew, I read about 2 thirds of it (because life). I would say that we, at Mont-Libre, decided to join the ALC network for four main reasons: it is not expensive, it offers a network of support, the agility idea and the free webiste for us and our teens. For this reason, I would like us to find a ways to keep that cost low since the accessibility and how friendly user the wordpress is made it easy for us to strat something and to also show to parents that teens could do exciting things quite easily at the centre, in this case, building website. So I have two suggestions, each centre could pay 12,99 each year to improve the capacity of the network. Assuming that you are refering to is helping everyone manoeuvre through their webiste and blogs as not being cheap, we could potentially use a sliding scale for each centre where depending on the profit each centre make they would pay small percentage of it to ALC to help with IT if that makes any sense.

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