A comment in a facebook group got me thinking. It said “One of the things that makes a difference to the formation of any team is where you form it. Slack would encourage some people, Facebook encourages others, at a bar is a preference for others… there is no “one size fits all”.
I’ve experienced various online collaborative groups since I began working at a distance in 2000, starting with a need to communicate from London with people in rural Nigeria, so the comment struck a chord. I thought I’d trawl back through some of my archives to remind myself what platforms we’d used, and why. It’s proving to be a longer job than I’d hoped, so this isn’t a polished post, and it only covers four areas of collaboration,but it will give me a good starting point for a shorter version some other time.
- OOCD 2000+ and Yahoo chat
- Fantsuam Foundation: typed group chats on Yahoo and Skype (Google chat and WhatsApp as backups)
- Teachers Talking Anniversaries and Dadamac Days: Yahoo chats, Minciu Sodas chatroom, Skype, audio and visual fragments, Meetups, Webinar, storytelling.
- Minciu Sodas and First Thursdays, From 2007 in chatroom via Skype, Etherpad, and Kabissa Forum to 2016 on Facebook.
1 – OOCD 2000+ and Yahoo chat
One time, probably around 2002 or 2003, when I was in Ibadan someone took me to a cyber cafe to get a new email address, one that would be easier to use while I was in Nigeria. This was in connection with Oke-Ogun Community Development Agenda 2000 Plus (OOCD 2000+) All my OOCD 2000+ online contacts in Nigeria had hotmail or yahoo addresses. For no particular reason we tried to register me for a hotmail address but there was some kind of glitch so I finished up with a yahoo one instead.
Later, back home in the UK, I was taught how to use Yahoo chat, by David Mutua, the OOCD 2000+ project manager. He was based in Ago-Are and had to travel to Ibadan to use a cyber cafe there. Travelling to Ibadan from Ago-Are can take the best part of a day, once you factor in all the waiting time down at the motor park. There is no knowing how many hours you’ll need to wait until the taxi driver will be satisfied that he’s got enough people to pile into his taxi to make his journey worthwhile. When it comes to the return journey no-one really wants to risk travelling on the road between Ibadan and Ago-Are after dark, so going back and forth to send an email was a two day task. Once in Ibadan David would try to find a cyber cafe that offered “night browsing” – the cheapest rate. If I knew in advance the date when he’d be trying to get to the cyber cafe then I’d stay online until very late that night in the hope that he’d turn up and we might exchange several emails before a power outage brought his over-night browsing session to a sudden end.
On one such session David used our to-ing and fro-ing of emails to tell me about Yahoo chat and to teach me how to get set up for it. That kind of learning (David in Ibadan teaching me in London on a one-to-one basis) is what I usually think of when I refer to my learning online and teaching (rather than “doing online courses”) From then on, for several years, yahoo chat was our preferred communication channel. David would do several yahoo chats in parallel. Given the slow download speeds available to him in Nigeria at the time he found chats (preferably several in parallel) much more effective than downloading a series of emails and replying to them.
2 – Fantsuam Foundation: typed group chats on Yahoo and Skype
Google chat and WhatsApp as backups
When Nikki Fishman and I started to connect regularly (on a weekly basis) with the team at Fantsuam Foundation we used Yahoo group chats. That was around 2007. I forget how soon we started to use Skype as well. Usually we started on Yahoo, but if it let us down for some reason then we’d reconvene on Skype. Gradually we moved away from Yahoo to use Skype all the time. We have used google chat a couple of times when Skype let us down, but now we use WhatsApp if we need an alternative. (More about the UK-Nigeria weekly meetings )
We never use an audio or visual channel for our regular meetings. The bandwidth on the Nigerian side couldn’t cope with it. We always used typed chat. We get through a lot in an hour by typing, and afterwards there is always a full archive for reference. Over the years we’ve developed effective strategies to make the most of our time together. The possibility of getting photos has completely changed now too, with the advent of smart phones.
The dynamics of typed meetings are unlike meetings using speech. For a start there is no need to take turns. When we hit an agenda item then everyone can type their contributions at the same time. Questions can be addressed to specific people – and there is no need to wait while they find a reference or whatever.
People can also drop out of a meeting and and back in without causing disruption. When they come back they can quickly read the archive to catch up with what they’ve missed This is an important benefit. The need to drop out of a meeting for a while often happens in Nigeria, where visitors tend to arrive unexpectedly and need to be greeted courteously. Emergencies may also happen than need immediate attention. Even if we did have the bandwidth for speech I doubt if we’d use it given the dynamics and cultural context of our meetings.
Skype used to present problems if anyone needed to join the weekly meeting from a cyber cafe, because Skype wasn’t available at cyber cafes. This is less of a problem now that people can access Skype on their phones.
3 – Teachers Talking Anniversaries and Dadamac Days:
Yahoo chats, Minciu Sodas chatroom, Skype, audio and visual fragments, Meetups, Webinar, storytelling.
Dadamac Days are celebrated each November, usually onlne. They grew from an annual celebration of Teachers Talking
The first celebration was in 2005, a year after the first Teachers Talking course. We had a last-minute idea of having an online re-union to celebrate the anniversary of TT by having a yahoo chat linking some of the participants in Nigeria with a couple of us in the UK. There was no way to send invitations by SMS or email to the TT participants scattered around Fanstuam – and there was no reliable postal service there either. On the Fasntusam Foundation side it took a volunteer two days of driving around on a motor-cycle to contact the people who had participated and deliver their invitations. Amazingly some managed to turn up and to participate in a UK-Nigeria yahoo chat.
Over the years our annual reunions have developed. See Dadamac Days on 2008 and 2009. By 2009 we were using the Minciu Sodas chat room for the interactions between the particpants, and at the same time we were having a private skype chat between the UK and Fantsuam Foundation (FF) event hosts to keep things running smoothly. At FF the participants were contributing via a “group scribe”, and were watching on a large display thanks to a projector, instead of being huddled round a small screen. These early Dadamac Days usually consisted of an online get-together of the Dadamac virtual community (scattered far and wide) connecting with people at an on-the-ground group celebration at Fantsuam.
The write up fpr Dadamac Day 2010 was on posterous, a platform that is no longer supported. Fortunately we were able to move our posterous archive to Tumblr but that’s not so easy to search so I have yet to read what I wrote fro Dadamac Day 2010. I wonder if it was the year we did Dadamac day as a fringe event at Africa Gathering. Whichever year that happened the Africa Gathering Fringe event was a special Dadamac Day. The main connection was via the Minciu Sodas chatroom, We also managed a brief audio and video link (probably thanks to Skype). There was a prize winning choir singing at FF and we were able to hear part of their performance. We also managed to do some waving and smiling, with all the excitement of seeing familiar faces, but we couldn’t do that at the same time as having the audio channel open. The bandwidth wasn’t up to it. (Although I think probably all of the bandwidth of the FF VSAT was being committed to Dadamac Day at the time).
Dadamac Day celebrations in 2013 and 2015 were unusual because they were Face-to-Face celebrations held in London, and sponsored by Impact Hub Westminster. The 2013 event was held in collaboration with GlobalNet21 and was an opportunity for John Dada to meet some of the people that Nikki and I were connecting with here in London- See Globalnet21 meetup – Changemakers GlobalNet21 and Africa: Challenges and Opportunities for Innovation (see the comments too – which include links to video comments, and to blogs that attendees wrote following the event).
The connection with GlobalNet21, and with meetups, and our first face-to-face celebration demonstrates other unusual features of my online collaborative journey. Going online was never done as an “add-on” to an existing organisational structure. It was always essential aspect of who we are as a collaborative community and how we are developing. The starting point for the network was Nigeria, not the UK. Connections in the UK developed slowly and on a one-to-one basis, not within the community of formal International Development and large NGOs .
2014 was with GlobalNet21 again – this time it was a webinar – Africa & Change Group Webinar
Dadamac Day 2015 was a collaboration with Academy of Oratory bringing together several UK-based African changemkers to explore the practicalities and importance of telling their ongoing stories. (Video of Dadamac Day 2015)
Dadamac days are a celebration of friendships and collaborations, and of people working and learning together, in ways that were never possible before the Internet.
4 – Minciu Sodas and First Thursdays
From 2007 in chatroom via Skype, Etherpad, and Kabissa Forum to 2016 on Facebook.
The Minciu Sodas (Orchard of Thoughts) chatroom was the first online home for the First Thursday Group. See Start here for First Thursdays
It was ideal because it could be accessed from a url – so there was no need for any software download before hand, and it was therefore accessible at any cyber cafe. I particularly liked the way that different contributors could choose their own colour for typing. This meant that several conversations could be going on in parallel and it was comparatively easy to pick them out from each other. Given that people used to join First Thursday from some African locations that were poorly served by the communication infrastructure, there were often considerable time delays. This meant there were mismatches between the pace of the “main conversation” and the input from poorly served contributors. Different colours were especially helpful then.
Another benefit of the chatroom was its link to the MInciu Sodas wiki. Andrius Kulikauskas regularly encouraged new First Thursday contributors to do an introductory write up about themselves on the wiki . This served to make it easier for people to introduce themselves to each other in subsequent meetings.
Sadly the chatroom closed.
Over the years First Thursday has had various online homes – see First Thursdays which covers our move from the chatroom to Skype (typed) and then etherpads. Some of the archives survive. This one First Thursday August 1st 2013 – full chat archive was posted up for a particular reason, but can also serve to give a flavour of the informality of First Thursday meetings and their role in keeping different people in touch with each other.
Last year we were trying something completely different for First Thursday in collaboration with Kabissa. This worked well for some people but there were access problems for others and so we didn’t do a full move over to that space.
In a recent Skype call Fola suggested we should restart First Thursdays on Facebook and we are just beginning to do so (currently a closed group). For more about Fola see
For more about First Thursdays see One day between Christmas and New Year sets the direction for 2013
- Fola popped in through google chat
- Patience, evidence, visibility and collaboration
- Gerry Gleason and First Thursdays
- Sasha, bee-keeping in Serbia and New Zealand, and January’s First Thursday
- Jullliet, Kenya and ICT4D
That post ends: So – at the end of the day – no blog post with a great over-arching plan for 2013. Just more of the ongoing story of people in the Dadamac community, as we go forward into the New Year, learning from each other, and sharing what we know.
I never know how to explain what I do, other than – “I’m learning” – and what I mean by that is the kind of “learning from each other and sharing what we know” that I’ve described here with people in my online network..